REVIEW | Land Rover Defender 110 County is a go-anywhere family hauler
Amazing how various derivatives of the same model line can have completely different personalities.
Take the Land Rover Defender for example. Equipped with a V8 engine in flagship guise, sporting a dark shade and rolling on huge charcoal 22-inch wheels, it is sinister. Exactly the sort of vehicle a James Bond villain's henchmen would drive. The 5.0l brute is an angry, muscular Rottweiler in vehicular form.
Whereas the 110 in D250 SE County specification is rather like a cuddly St Bernard, huge, yes, but with a more relaxed and cheerful temperament. A big, yet docile creature that is part of the family.
The County package is about as authentic as you could get in Defender terms, in honouring the core values of the original. You get a set of glossy white steel wheels (20-inches) plus an exterior graphic with subtle striping across the side, echoing a trait of the previous Defender.
Finished in a shade of Tasman Blue, the Defender has a friendly, unfussy demeanour, one that looks at home in provincial outskirts, comfortably donning a coat of mud. It is a hugely charming vehicle.
One of those cars you fall in love with, enamoured by how it blends an old world spirit with modern trappings.
While the D250 SE grade is about as basic as you can have a modern Defender, that does not mean it is barren on the equipment front.
Electronically-adjustable air suspension is part of the deal, so is a 3D surround-view camera, 360º parking aid, lane-keep assist, keyless-entry and wireless charging, among other things.
Off-road capability is firmly intact. With the suspension in its highest setting, ground clearance is 290mm and wading depth is 900mm. The twin-speed transfer box is electronically operated, the Terrain Response system is pretty foolproof, priming the vehicle appropriately based on your conditions.
Our vehicle upped the ante with an advanced off-road capability pack comprising a more advanced iteration of Terrain Response which is more configurable, as well as all-terrain progress control, which is cruise control for bundu-bashing. This cost R20,700. Our vehicle also had an electronic active differential for R15,000, which really should be fitted as standard considering what the Defender is about.
Other optional items fitted to our unit included a sliding panoramic roof (R33,200), Matrix LED headlights (R15,300), front fog lamps (R2,000), electrically deployable tow bar (R7,400) and a driver assistance package with a rear traffic monitor, basically a digital rear-view mirror, costing R8,900. More on how that works later. It is odd that you would need to tick fog lamps and a tow bar on a vehicle designed for adventuring. Perhaps Land Rover South Africa product planners should tweak their approach with regards to standardising certain equipment. The vehicle offers seating for five, but six- and seven-seater arrangements are optional.
Inside, the Defender reveals a modern, sophisticated cabin, but with tough and minimalist flavours speaking to the essence of the classic Defender. A chunky steering wheel, exposed door rivets and durable surfaces lend a sturdy appeal. The floors are rubberised. Luggage capacity is 857l for the five-seater.
Taking centre stage is a 10-inch screen, through which the Pivi Pro infotainment system is operated. It is an excellent set-up, as we have written before, slick in operation with a high-resolution display and menus easy to navigate.
Over-the-air updates are dispatched when required. While testing, our unit advised us a latest installation was available. You accept and wait for the car to do its thing. Climate control, suspension adjustment and audio volume are operated via physical controls, which is exactly how it should be. There are no analogue dials in sight, as the driver's instrument cluster is fully digitised.
Driving the Defender 110 is an empowering experience. This is a large vehicle — though you can still have the even bigger 130 version. The 110 has a length of 5,018mm, a width of 2,105mm and a height of 1,967mm. Its approach angle is 38° breakover 28° and departure 40°. From behind the wheel, you feel sufficiently confident to mash over just about any obstacle in your path.
The benefit of air suspension is a more cushy ride and the Defender handles rutted dirt roads with ease. On asphalt, it behaves as well as you could expect from a 2.4-tonne vehicle.
There is no shortage of grunt, thanks to its in-line, six-cylinder, turbocharged-diesel unit displacing 3.0l. Outputs are 183kW and 570Nm, shunted via an eight-speed automatic. Land Rover claims a 0-100km/h sprint time of 8.3 seconds, which is brisk, factoring the size and heft. Our unit returned consumption figures at the 10.3l/100km mark.
Getting accustomed to the girth and length of the Defender, especially when parking, will take time.
That digital rear-view mirror takes some getting used to from a depth perspective, but credit where due, it offers a crisp display.
You realise its true benefit upon switching to the standard glass display with a view obstructed by the spare wheel.
The D250 SE County comes in at R1,565,900 before options. A five-year/100,000km warranty and maintenance plan are standard.
It offers a lot for the money, playing in the same price point that would get you into slightly smaller D-segment sport-utility vehicles (Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE). These are sharper on the road but less capable off-road.
But then we also have to be mindful that the average Defender buyer would not be considering those options in the first place.
They want the Land Rover because of its cachet, heritage, capability and rugged charm.
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