Breathtaking update for loved 4WD
Most new cars are just like the model they replace - whether a Toyota Corolla, Jeep Wrangler or Porsche 911, the majority of launches represent evolution, not revolution.
But the new Land Rover Defender is nothing like its predecessor.
Discontinued in 2016, the old Defender was an anachronism without hope of meeting the latest safety or emissions standards.
Like the reborn Mini Cooper or VW New Beetle of the early 2000s, Land Rover has cooked up a retro-modern tribute with a modern take on classic looks.
Forget the truck-like steel ladder chassis, live axles and recalcitrant manual gearbox of the old Defender, replaced by a sophisticated aluminium structure with variable-height independent air suspension, mild hybrid power and a slick eight-speed auto.
A nine-model range starts from $69,626 plus on-roads for a basic Defender D200 powered by a 147kW/430Nm four-cylinder diesel engine. Better-equipped D240 models with 144kW/430Nm of power run from $75,536 to $102,135 plus on-roads, while the premium Defender P400 brings 294kW/550Nm of six-cylinder petrol power for $95,335 to $136,736 plus on-roads. That's not cheap, but the cars are well equipped.
All three engines have mild hybrid assistance to boost torque, reduce turbo lag and improve fuel economy. Diesel versions use 7.6L/100km of fuel, while the petrol model needs just shy of 10L/100km. But the P400 is much quicker, claiming a three second advantage in its 6.1-second dash to 100km/h.
Standard hardware in the cheapest model includes variable-height air suspension, low-range four-wheel-drive, and a broad selection of off-road driving modes. You also get LED headlights, smart keys and a 10-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and android auto.
Auto emergency braking, lane keeping assistance, a 360-degree camera, parking sensors and other safety features that should land a five-star safety rating.
Premium versions get luxury features such as three-zone climate control plus heated and cooled leather seats with electric adjustment. Owners can customise their cars with an impressive array of extras including an external winch, bull bar, snorkel and roof access ladder.
Diesel models are sold out for now, so our test drive was powered by the new in-line six-cylinder petrol engine. It's a punchy unit with a flexible power band, smooth response and creamy acoustics.
The new Defender's driveline compares favourably with the likes of 'Benz or BMW, whereas the old car might draw parallels to John Deere or Massey Ferguson. It's also comfortable on the road, with impressive resistance to body roll combining with crisp steering and an impressively resolved ride.
Clear visibility and light controls make it easy to place the car accurately around town, on country lanes, or in the bush.
The latter is where the Defender truly shines.
It blends solid four-wheel-drive foundations such as generous approach and departure angles, almost 30 centimetres of ground clearance and 900mm of water-wading ability with sophisticated electronic sensors, locking differentials and multi-terrain drive modes.
Cameras on the front of the car allow you to use the 10-inch infotainment screen to look through the bonnet to the ground below, avoiding obstacles such as sharp rocks.
The car can automatically adjust its behaviour to suit snow, sand, rocks or just about any other ground you're likely to experience.
Like an ocean swimmer rising to their tiptoes as they enter the sea on a chilly morning, the Defender's suspension raises automatically to protect its undercarriage if you drive through water. We splashed through creeks, dug through mud and scrambled up rocky hillsides in the Defender, coming away impressed not just by its off-road prowess, but its composure in tricky environments.
The new Defender combines the go-anywhere ability of a classic Land Rover with luxury-car refinement. Seven-seat practicality and a five-year warranty should ensure its popularity, though traditionalists won't like its tech-heavy approach.
LAND ROVER DEFENDER P400 VITALS
Price: From $95,335 plus on-road costs
Warranty/servicing: 5 year, unlimited km / $2650 for 5 years
Engine: 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo, 294kW/550Nm
Safety: Not yet rated, auto emergency braking, lane keeping assistance, 360-degree camera
Cargo: 916 litres
Spare: Full size
Originally published as Breathtaking update for loved 4WD