Replacing a legendary off-roader will never be an easy task, especially the Defender. It was a simple, rugged, capable but yet classy workhorse. A combination, very few have managed to achieve. So, the new one has its work cut out – and judging by the press, it is not doing too well.
There is no doubt that as a car, the new defender is brilliant. Extremely comfortable, safe and if you opt for the six-cylinder, powerful as well. However, if you are interested in one you already knew that. What we as outdoor and adventure enthusiasts are keen to know about, is will it be any good off-road?
If you have seen videos of it doing just that, you’ve probably answered my question. Think deeper though, does great off-road ability make a great off-roader? Throughout history, certain vehicles are recognized as legendary off-roaders. The first ones to come to mind are: Land Cruisers, Wranglers, Patrols, the old Defender and 4Runners. Of course, there are plenty more, but that’s not the point. All of these may approach off-roading differently; however, they share the same crucial foundation. What is that foundation? You’ll find out later on.
On Paper, the New Defender Looks Promising
It Has an Outstandingly Good Payload
Depending on the configuration, the Defender can carry up to 1984 pounds. For overlanding, that’s great – It means that you won’t have any issues when it comes to modifying and packing your vehicle for adventure. Modifying you say? There might be a problem there, we’ll get to that soon.
One of the Most Capable Off-Roaders on the Lot
Off-roading ability comes hand in hand with the name Defender, and the new one does not disappoint. Although a different approach to the solid axles and insane articulation, Land Rover’s excellent terrain response system does the job great. Some have gone as far as saying it is better than a Rubicon… But I say, that’s utter nonsense.
Having independent suspension in all four corners, provides great clearance due to the lack of low hanging diffs. Surely, a four-corner independent suspension has its drawbacks, but that’s for a future article.
The Interior of the New Defender is Suitable for Overlanding
Other than it being gorgeous by boasting that retro yet modern look, it is also functional. Us adventure lovers, we tend to like little things like knives, fire starting kits, flashlights and the lot. Well, in the defender there is no shortage of places to store them. Keep in mind that the 110 is a seven-seater; so, there will be no shortage of space in the trunk for larger amenities.
Its On-Road Manners are Beyond What any Other 4×4 has to Offer.
The ride and handling of the new Defender are… Different from those of the old. This is down to the independent suspension combined with the airbags. Overlanding often involves driving long distances on gravel roads. Although not challenging, this type of driving can get irritating in an uncomfortable vehicle. I imagine, that’s what they meant when they said it is better off-road than a Rubicon.
All this looks great, and here is where the average person who is not interested in overland travel gets it wrong. Off the lot ability and clever tech do not make an overlander.
The New Defender has 18-inch Wheels
If you are an experienced off-roader you know where this is going. If not, I shall explain.
Airing down can make a world of a difference on off-road comfort and capability. With the new Defender, the smallest wheel size you can get is an 18-inch – and that’s only on the four cylinder. On the six-cylinder, you’re stuck with a 20-inch wheel.
A 20-inch wheel or even an 18 inch compromise the amount of tire sidewall available. Therefore, you are forced to run higher pressures to prevent pinching a tire against the wheel or even destroying your wheel completely.
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But…The New Defender Also Presents Some Problems
It Cannot be Repaired Easily
When a vehicle is used and abused in the harshest environments, it’s not a matter of if it’s going to break, but when. This is one of two crucial let-downs of the new Defender. In the most remote of areas a vehicle that can be serviced with basic tools and knowledge is priceless. The Defender requires the exact opposite, specialty tools and extensive knowledge.
Paired with the unserviceable mechanics, is the sheer amount of electronics in this vehicle. For example, the air suspension – If a single part running the air suspension fails, the whole car will drop to the ground… Just like that Disco underneath.
Lack of Aftermarket Support
You might have noticed that I used the phrase “off the lot” regularly throughout this article. There’s a reason for that. The new Defender is only as capable as you receive it of the lot. The aftermarket support is nearly non-existent; therefore, the vehicle’s capabilities cannot be improved.
Let’s pretend that in stock form, it is better off-road than a 4Runner. As soon as you modify that 4Runner with a lift kit and some lockers the Defender won’t stand a chance. You get the point; it is only as capable as Land Rover wants it to be.
Off-road ability is not the only issue though. ARB, who is one of the largest aftermarket companies in the world, has no plans for a Defender bull bar. So, fitting an aftermarket winch will be difficult. Land Rover themselves do provide accessories like a bull bar roof rack, winch and even a rooftop tent – but the options are limited and won’t provide the quality of a brand that has been producing these products for decades.
So, what is that crucial foundation shared by vehicles like the Wrangler, Landcruiser and the old Defender? Simplicity and adaptability. These cars are the exact opposite of what the new Defender is. If they break in the middle of nowhere, they can be fixed easily – the aftermarket support is immense and because of their simplicity they will keep on going and going.
Land Rover makes plenty of versions of the Range Rover. Meaning, that most of their cars have the same capabilities, just different looks. The new Defender should have been the workhorse, rather than a slightly cheaper Range Rover.
To answer the question. Is the new Defender a good overlander? I am afraid not. However, as a car, it is beyond what any other off-roader is – and if you ever find yourself in a sticky situation, it will most probably get you out.