Giving the all-new Land Rover Defender the beans in Namibia
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Land Rover Defender 110 D240 S
- Instant icon: first new Defender in 72 years
- Impressive new Terrain Response system
- Subtle but clever heritage styling cues
- Premium product so premium prices
- High-tech might put old-school 4x4 people off
- Still haven't driven this new model on the road
This event took place March 1-8 and the story was originally scheduled for publication in line with a global embargo of March 25 – the day New Zealand went into lockdown. We decided to wait until a more appropriate time.
There’s a lot of British flavour on Land Rover’s Defender Kaokoland Expedition in Namibia. Especially at breakfast.
Day two is a painstaking crawl down the rocks of Van Zyl’s Pass – 10km in just under three hours – and then a sprint across the sand through Marienfluss, a vast valley sandwiched between the Otjihipa and Hartmann Mountains.
No sandwiches next morning at the Elephant Lodge, but plenty of baked beans.
Day three takes us along the Skeleton Coast, which stretches 500km along the Atlantic – otherwise known as The Sands of Hell.
Then it’s through dry riverbeds, a mixture of high-speed surfing and low-velocity vehicle recoveries (14 in one afternoon!), before we end the expedition at Opuwo. Next morning, beans for all.
But now we also have the first all-new Defender for 72 years.
That’s the idealised view, but still essentially correct. The Defender name wasn’t introduced until 1990 (the same year South West Africa became Namibia), to differentiate the model from the then-new Discovery. There were many reboots from 1948 until then, including Series I-III and the change to Ninety and One Ten models in 1983, when the chassis gained a lot more sophistication and comfort (thank you Range Rover).
The Kaokoland Expedition comprises eight rotations of six participants each. Nearly 800km of exclusively off-tarmac driving, at an average speed of less than 30km/h.
This is partly a massive celebration of a momentous model launch and partly a data-gathering final fling for the pre-production Defender, prior to the first customer cars coming off the line.
It’s equivalent to a lifetime of punishment for a customer car.
Defender is supposed to be a tough machine, but it’s also now a premium product. When it’s launched in New Zealand later this year in 110 five-door form, pricing will range from $89,900 for the entry D200 2.0-litre diesel to a heady $164,900 for the P400 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol X version.
These kind of off-road events are often carefully orchestrated: routes chosen and sometimes even created to suit the abilities of the vehicles. The Kaokoland trip was much more in the spirit of an expedition; the route was still set, but the way the conditions changed from group to group due to weather conditions put vehicles and drivers to the test.
Even the experts. Any thought that we’re getting the Autotune version of Land Rover adventuring dissipates when I see not one, but two of our Land Rover Experience guide cars stuck axle-deep in mud during the riverbed drive.
There’s no argument we’re seeing Defender at its off-road best. Our 177kW/430Nm D240 and 294kW/550Nm P400 expedition models are fitted with the Explorer Pack (roof rack, side-mounted gear carrier, raised air intake and wheel arch protection) and a few bespoke items designed just for this trip, like rapid-acess mounting systems for the spare wheel on the roof and a side ladder.
All cars have off-road tyres and air suspension, with a maximum 291mm ground clearance and approach/departure angles of 38/40 degrees.
The company argues high technology will help, not hinder the vehicle’s ability to get out into the great unknown: it’s “live”, so 14 modules can be updated over the air, including engine, chassis and braking. Any time you set out on an adventure, your Defender will theoretically always be the best Defender it can be.
The new Defender also has the most high-tech Terrain Response system of any current Land Rover. In addition to Normal, Rock, Mud, Snow and Sand settings, there’s a bespoke Wade mode and the whole system’s accelerator response, differential control and traction sensitivity settings can now be individually configured.
The hugely varied landscape does reinforce the excellence of Terrain Response. Whether it’s knee deep in mud or powering through sand, the Defender continually surprises with its ability to keep going in situations where you’d swear you’ve run out of options.
This tech means virtually any competent driver who’s prepared to take the odd deep breath can engage in extreme off-roading.
We made it, obviously. The Defender ate it all up, notwithstanding a few consumables. We got three separate punctures on two different cars for example, but that hardly dented Land Rover’s stock of 120 spares for the event. There are some big rocks out there.
The 18-inch painted-white steel wheels on the expedition D240 models are not only a fashion master-stroke, they’re more practical for off-roading. “I prefer them,” says lead Experience driver David Sneath. “Alloys can break. With these, they bend and you can just tap them back into shape and carry on.”
Once these cars get back to the UK, they’ll all be stripped down, inspected, analysed and rebuilt. And no, they won’t be resold; all are destined to work as support vehicles for Land Rover Experience events.
Defender is a fascinating blend of heritage design and the very latest in Land Rover’s off-road technology. Petrol or diesel? I love the earnest clatter of a Defender with a compression-ignition engine, but this is a heavy car at 2.4 tonnes and it’s the grunty six-pot petrol that gives it truly engaging performance, whether you’re creating a rooster tail of sand or not.
LAND ROVER DEFENDER 110
PRICES: $89,900 to $164,900
ENGINES: 2.0-litre turbo-diesel and turbo-petrol, 3.0-litre petrol six
GEARBOX: Eight-speed automatic with low-range, AWD
0-100KM/H: 10.3-6.1 seconds
ECONOMY: 8.9-11.2 litres per 100km.
PROS: Awesome off-road tech, neat heritage styling touches
CONS: Haven’t driven it on the road yet (even after 800km!)