Motoring | Motoring News
Jaco Van Der Merwe
Meet Gerry McGovern, chief design officer at Land Rover. Professor McGovern in fact. While his serene headquarters in the West Midlands of England may not seem like a highly pressured working environment, it was there where McGovern was tasked with one of the most challenging jobs in automotive history. The Briton had the unenviable task of completely redesigning one of the planet’s most iconic vehicles – the Land Rover Defender.
When the final Defender rolled off the assembly line in 2016, it didn’t just mark the end of the L316’s 33-year run which started in 1983. As the L316 commonly found on your roads was based on the original Land Rover series of which production started as far back as 1948, the vehicle’s illustrious production career actually spanned for an astonishing 67 years which saw the production of over two million vehicles.
No pressure then professor. McGovern would have been dictated by the obvious design cues requiring the brand spanking new Defender to be every bit as capable off the road taken into account its rich heritage – with the addition of serious technology at his disposal – and for it to fit into the rest of the Land Rover series.
Interestingly, the manufacturer only started assigning model names after the introduction of the Discovery in 1989. For the four decades leading up to that point, the Defender was simply known as a Land Rover with a I, II and III separating various generations. The Discovery’s arrival brought about the distinction of the 90 and 110 nomenclature followed by the addition of the Defender badge in the late 1990s.
On face value, McGovern’s team scored straight As on both accounts. Not only does the new Defender relates to its siblings, the Discovery Sport and Discovery which flanks it on either side in their model line-up in terms of modern styling, it also pays homage to the previous generation Defender with its distinctive clamshell bonnet design, upright front window and Alpine Roof Windows towards the rear.
Land Rover chief design officer Prof. Gerry McGovern.
Together with a spare wheel attached to the outside of the tailgate and spruced up with raised air intake, roof racks and side-mounted gear carrier, it looks every bit the part on the outside as equipped as it is on the skin. Sporting some seriously impressive off-roading technology, Land Rover proudly proclaims that the new Defender is its most capable vehicle ever.
What was always going to be a deciding factor for McGovern’s final product, is how people would receive his creation. There are few things in the automotive world that divide opinion as much as this British icon has throughout its storied past. And there are very few fence-sitters on this one. You are either bonkers about it, whether you will or will ever own one or not, or you despise it. The latter crowd is mostly heard rambling on about reliability issues.
The staunch pro-crowd, whose opinions are traditionally based on their beliefs that there is nothing more capable of tackling the rough stuff – just think of their famous bumper stickers “The best 4×4 by far’’ – was always going to be the toughest to win over. But there was always very little the design team could do about that besides making the new Defender as capable as they possibly can, which they quite clearly did.
And what Land Rover might lose on the one side through the modern new identity, they’ll make up tenfold on the other in gaining new fans. Judging by people’s reaction during our recent time spent in the new Defender, the car is an instant hit.
Whether it was the 110 D240 S’ unique colour called Pangea Green made even more mesmerising by the stunning Satin Wrap complimented by the Satin Dark Grey 18-ince wheels, the sheer size of the car or maybe the fact that as one onlooker correctly pointed out “pictures simply don’t do it justice”, the response was overwhelming. Pedestrians smiled, school children waved and fellow motorists hooted and whistled for attention just to dish out compliments. A nod of approval even came from one of the said bumper sticker-parading owners of the previous version.
The ride quality was simply superb. The new Defender feels rock solid on the tar, soaking up imperfections like a sponge, while the suspension is buttery smooth over gravel. We did not attempt to crawl over rockeries or climbing up mountains, but for now we take Land Rover’s word that is will conquer anything put in front of it.
The new Defender features permanent all-wheel drive and twin-speed automatic gearbox, centre differential and optional Active Locking Rear Differential to take care of your needs when wandering off the tarmac. Like it’s Discovery sibling, air suspension is standard on the Defender, which can raise the body by up to 145mm. Ground clearance of up to 291mm is possible with maximum suspension articulation of 500mm, which allows the vehicle to take on 45-degree side slopes and inclines of 45 degrees in its stride.
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Wading depth of 900mm is also made possible by a new Wade programme setting. When set on Off-Road height, the Defender 110’s approach, breakover and departure angles are 38, 28 and 40 degrees respectively. Serious numbers for off-road junkies. The Terrain Response 2 system can either be left to automatically adjust to conditions to assist inexperienced off-roaders, of can be manually fine-tuned as experienced adventurers might prefer.
To greatly assist off-roaders of any ability, is the ClearSight Ground View monitor that has been rolled out in other recent Land Rover products. It allows you to “see” the positioning of the front wheels under the bonnet via a projected video image. To assist you in inflating and deflating tyres for various terrains, a built-in air compressor in the massive 1 075-kitre boot as part of the optional Adventure Pack is a must-have for any adventurer.
The area which probably saw the biggest improvement on the previous model is safety, which was the reason the Defender’s production was ceased. While new European safety standards announced in 2015 was the death knell for the Defender, it was already banned from being sold in the United States as far back as 1997 for safety reasons.
Standard on the new Defender is ABS, EBD, front airbags, electronic traction control, dynamic stability control, roll stability control, cornering brake control, emergency brake assist, lane keeping assist, driver condition monitor, cruise control, 3D surround camera and 360 Parking Aid. As an R15 000 option, our test unit was equipped with the Driver Assist Pack which includes Blind Spot Assist, Clear Exit Monitor, Rear Collision Monitor, Rear Traffic Monitor and Adaptive Cruise Control.
Powering the 110 D240 S is the familiar Ingenium 2.0-litre, four-pot, twin-turbo engine producing 177kW/430Nm, which is married to an eight-speed automatic gearbox. As far as fuel economy goes we managed to achieve a number of 12.8L/100km in covering a total distance of 517 km. Taken into account that the car does weight almost two and half tonnes and that cruising around in city traffic with raised suspension, upright windscreen, roof racks and side-mounted gear carrier do not enhance aerodynamics at all, it is very acceptable for a vehicle like this.
The interior features a 10-inch Pivi Pro infotainment system and 12.3-inch high-definition digital instrument cluster and while these, along with the ventilation system might seem par for the course in a Land Rover product, the rest of the cabin is very unique. A combination of various rubber compounds on the dash and door inlays, Khaki Grained Leather and Robust Woven Textile on the seats and soft-touch areas along with open bolts gives the cabin a rugged appearance, yet very much refined and surprisingly plush. And even though the interior theme is one of ruggedness, the plushness of the finishing offers a very competitive alternative to your traditional finishing across premium SUVs offerings.
The only niggle we experienced during the duration of its stay was wind noise generated around the rack at speeds faster than 100km/h. It can become rather annoying during your highway cruise.
At R1 111 142 this car is not cheap, especially after you start adding optional extras which saw our test unit’s bottom line balloon to R1 307 242. But it’s unique presence in the market with no direct alternative should contribute in its desirability outweighing that number. And the sales numbers back that statement up, as in August Land Rover sold 125 units locally, almost three times as many as its siblings, the Discovery and Discovery Sport, were sold combined. And sales should improve even more with the newly added 90 derivatives.
As far as the staunch anti-crowd is regarded, only time will tell whether their historic reliability concerns around the badge will be dispelled or not. We can’t comment on that, as we drove a brand spanking new set of wheels that thrilled our socks off.
But for now, like its predecessor, the new Defender’s fan base also seems to largely consist of two main groups. Those who crave one … and those who’d hate to admit that deep down they’d want one too. Take a bow Prof McGovern!
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