/ By Waldo Rendell /
In our recent article we commended the Defender’s breadth of ability, the way it massages the city grind without showing signs that it actually yearns to be in the great outdoors. We praised the ride quality, the silkiness of the engine, and were impressed by the thoughtful homages to the original vehicle – except for perhaps the rear-mounted spare wheel which adds a lot of weight to the side-hinged door when gravity is working against you.
There’s one area though that we haven’t scrutinised in detail – its suite of off-road systems, a mix of traditional differential lockers and new-fangled technology that make sure there’s something for the novice and expert off-roader to enjoy, a culmination of the brand’s 70 years of off-road innovation.
The Defender’s new proportions signal a departure from a body-on-frame design and solid axles to an aluminium construction that endows the Defender with extraordinary capabilities. Besides helping to cleave weight in critical areas (good for fuel economy and handling), the body still stands up to the same tortures as before, and some new ones thought up by the engineering team, including repeatedly slamming it into a 25 cm-high kerb at 40 km/h. Land Rover says this is the toughest body they’ve ever produced, and based on the test evidence we’re inclined to believe them.
Making a splash
It’s British, so naturally Land Rover has invented new ways of waterproofing the Defender’s interior and electronics at depths of up 900 mm (or comfortably over the wheels, as a visual ‘wow’ reference). By selecting the dedicated Wade Programme using Terrain Response 2, the systems condition themselves to the new (wet) obstacle by levelling-up the ride height, and remapping the throttle, which helps to create a gentle bow-wave ahead of the vehicle. The Wade Programme will even change the climate control to recirculating mode, and once you’re back on dry land the braking system will apply the slightest amount of pressure to dispel any remaining moisture. Another incredibly useful feature – that can prevent potentially embarrassing moments – is the display that constantly scans the water’s depth around the vehicle, letting you know when it might be time to engage reverse and plot a different route.
Cameras and graphics
Camera systems have evolved into advanced 360° systems replete with artificial mapping, but they haven’t been implemented in off-road environments properly, until now. Using carefully designed new architecture, Land Rover has added an off-road section, called ClearSight, to the Pivi Pro screen, that shows exactly where the front wheels are positioned, as well as the terrain a few metres ahead in their path. For anyone who’s tried some leisurely off-road driving, correct wheel placement forms the basis of everything, and this system is particularly useful when you’re off-roading alone with no one outside the vehicle to help direct you.
Visually, the Defender really does just look like it’ll be a great tow vehicle. Tall, boxy and broad, anything hitched behind it is going to travel along as though it’s in a vacuum. Well, looks aren’t deceiving – it boasts a towing capacity of 3 500 kg, enough to haul your new weekend hobby to the racetrack, stables or dam, as if it was towing air. Tow Assist makes achieving precise towing angles easy, as the driver toggles a dial left or right and the trailer follows. Bright red recovery points on our D300X test vehicle certainly completed the look, although these are to be used in the unlikely situation when you’ve got your Defender stuck, or – probably more likely – you’re rescuing another vehicle.
Size and angles
On the highway the Defender hunkers down low on its haunches to its most aerodynamic setting, but with its air suspension raised to the limit, it yields some very favourable approach (38°) and departure (40°) angles, with 291 mm of ground clearance. The only area where the 110 model loses out to the 90 is in the breakover angle, which is reduced from 31° to 28°, due to the vehicle’s longer dimensions.
Electronic torque vectoring has almost made locking differentials seem like old fashioned tools, but when the going gets really tough and slippery, a locking differential has no equal. In the Defender you get two (one at the centre and one at the rear), while the front axle relies on the aforementioned electronics to divvy power between slipping wheels. A third locker can be optioned, used mostly to humble G-Class owners. As with most things on the Defender, there’s a display that shows how the differentials are behaving at any given second, with near-instant agility and speed adjustments mitigating any loss in traction.
Clever air suspension
Air suspension has polarising opinions in the off-road community. Some believe it’s prone to giving trouble, compared to the Defender’s simpler and available coil springs. But the additional ground clearance it provides is a bona fide game changer. True to form, the Defender takes this technology and, by adding a cross-linked design, has found a way to conjure additional traction. When the one side of the suspension is compressed, it’ll feed air into the opposing wheel to push it on to the ground to try and improve traction on that side.
Terrain Response 2
The greatest improvement to Land Rover’s Terrain Response system has been the addition of an Auto mode. When selected, the vehicle analyses the terrain ahead up to 500 times a second to determine the best set-up combination. For those who are a little more pedantic and want to make sure the view out the windscreen best corresponds to the drivetrain configuration, separate modes for Sand, Mud and Rocks can be selected, and, of course, there’s low-range too.
A smooth and whispering straight-six turbo diesel (in our test unit) suits the Defender’s multiple strengths like a glove. It balances fuel consumption (around 11 L/100 km in town) with performance, and the various driving modes ensure it adapts to all demands, stretching from forceful acceleration to a more cushioned power curve that helps it creep over rocks or crawl through water with minimal disturbance. And of course, it pulls just about any load, with the eight-speed auto gearbox keeping the revs in the power and torque band.
Model tested: Land Rover Defender 110 D300X
Engine: 3.0 litre, 6-cylinder turbo diesel
Power: 221 kW @ 4 000 rpm
Torque: 650 Nm @ 1 500–2 500 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Ground clearance: 291 mm (at max height)
Price as tested: R1 722 132
• Functional design
• Helpful off-road tools
• Punchy, silky drivetrain
• Heavy rear door (with rear-mounted spare)