The latest incarnation of the Defender might be the best – ever. It’s powerful, comfortable, fuel efficient, and beautiful
– in a Margaret Thatcher kind of way.
Close your eyes and imagine a four-wheel drive cruising down an empty, barren outback track. The sun is setting behind the dust cloud as the sky erupts into a fierce orange that can’t be replicated anywhere else on Earth. Now focus on the vehicle. It’s simple; perhaps there’s a spare tyre mounted on the bonnet, a basic roof rack, and a dusty bloke behind the wheel with his arm sticking out the window. In my mind, he’s driving a Land Rover, because for me, nothing evokes the emotion of four-wheel driving quite like a Defender does.
In reality, old mate is probably driving a LandCruiser, and for good reason – they’re reliable, easy to repair and well-made. The Defender is brash, romantic, temperamental – it’s the secretary you run away to Thailand with, not the woman who reminds you to take your pills after watching re-runs. The Defender, simply put, is a purchase you make with your heart, not your head.
Sure, they’ve jumped over hurdles recently when it comes to reliability, and this is mostly thanks to the Ford Transit they’ve somehow grafted in under the hood. They’ve also become slightly more comfortable and have air conditioning that could be described as… usable. And even though the ergonomics of the vehicle haven’t really changed since Stalin was a thing, it’s somehow more comfortable than ever, and I actually fit in it now. The latest incarnation of the Defender might be the best – ever. It’s powerful, comfortable, fuel efficient, and beautiful – in a Margaret Thatcher kind of way.
But it’s all come too late, because there’s only one year left before the Defender ceases to exist due to European Union regulations. Apparently people there believe there should be standards for how much a car can hurt you, if you decide to walk in front of it while Tweetfacing. They also don’t have the foresight to realise that a vehicle such as the Defender, with a virtually limitless lifespan thanks to its easily repairable design, can be more environmentally friendly than a car with a service life equal to a smartphone.
In all fairness, the people who wish to walk in front of a Defender really should care about safety, because there is absolutely nothing to protect the vehicle’s occupants from being injured by a pesky pedestrian. The Defender comes equipped with no airbags, plenty of sharp corners, and a rollover rating somewhere between ‘I’m really hurt’ and ‘kill me, please’. Which is the way it should be, and that’s what makes the Defender such a great vehicle. It is the essence of four-wheel drive.
In many ways, the Defender is like a Leica Camera. If you’re after megapixels or kW and ISO performance or entertainment systems, you won’t find what you’re looking for here. If you want something that’s refined, to the point, and doesn’t bother to disturb you with a million useless buttons, this is your vehicle. If you’ve always wanted a Defender, but you were afraid they were uncomfortable or unreliable, this is your vehicle – it is quite pleasant to drive.
After more than a half-century of questionable reliability and legendary English craftsmanship; at a time when everything else is going soft, the Defender is finally at its best before it’s about to be killed off. That makes my head hurt, and my heart soft – because the Defender has always defended what it meant to be: a basic four-wheel drive.
Our test vehicle was priced at $47,030. Prices start around $42,000.