Relief was possibly the first emotion felt for many when the new Land Rover Defender was finally launched in autumn 2019. Relief that the new design of the iconic 4x4 that shape that launched the brand back in 1948 had been respected and without resorting to pastiche.  

Making a simple reissue – like many watch brands seem happy to do with some of their classic timepieces – is not an option for car-makers. Stricter modern road safety and air quality legislation plus greater customer expectations surrounding comfort, quality and space preclude it. So the 2019 Defender really did have to be different, while keeping the proportional essence that makes it one of the most recognizable car shapes on the planet. 

Defender vs 1948 LR Series

Land Rover’s designers first showed their thoughts to the public back in 2011 with the DC100 concept but reactions were mixed. Some felt it was not serious enough, too Tonka Toy in its execution perhaps. The project began again in 2013 and while the new version retains the original’s unmistakable silhouette with chamfered edges at the front of the horizontal roofline and bonnet, it also employs a much more vertical front end and bluff-cut rear than the DC100, plus ‘squarer’ wheel arches and a more defined shoulder line. Finally, to make it stand-out from the ever-growing proliferation of rival SUVs, the new Defender sports a square C-pillar, floating above the bodywork rather than attached to it, creating a unique side-view graphic in the process. 

The Defender now comes in a number of different (bigger) sizes. The car’s naming system references the previous model’s wheelbase in inches, but the three-door, six-seat 90 is more than half a metre longer than the old model at 4583mm, while the five-door, five-plus-two seat 110 stretches to more than five metres. A longer-still eight-seat 130 model will complete the line-up later this year along with a plug-in hybrid option to complement the launch models’ petrol and diesel engine versions.

First impressions jumping inside the Defender are very good. The quality is a world away from the previous model with great fit and finish, well-integrated infotainment screens and more. But although it’s undeniably smarter, there’s still great practicality in the logical layout, from the rugged seat fabric and chunky grab handles on each end of the instrument panel to the wipe-clean and grippy load space. The Defender’s on-road manners are also vastly improved, with corner wobbles banished, while off-road the vehicle is still in another league, as ably demonstrated on the miles of off-road track and forest we traversed, including steep inclines and declines, deep-water wading and serious mud and ruts. 

It’s not just about the driver either. The rear passenger seats are very comfortable with loads of leg room in the 110 model. And as the aforementioned C-pillar is behind the second row of the 110’s seats it doesn’t block the light unless you’re in the optional and occasional third-row. Even here the ‘alpine’ roof windows on each side provide extra light inward plus a better view of the stars above the Serengeti (or the streetlights in Streatham). The shorter 90 model can be ordered without this body-coloured square if desired and the space can also double-up as a place to affix exterior storage boxes or roof ladders. Indeed, accessories are a big part of Land Rover’s plan for the Defender with one in two customers expected to specify something extra from the options list. 

Although prices start from £38,100 most Defenders will therefore end up costing considerably more. As a result, you probably won’t see these vehicles used by hard-working farmers for some years to come, if at all. The 4x4 game has moved on and the new Defender has more than caught up with its on-road and quality improvements. This is reflected in a higher price of entry, but at least its design integrity (and capability) remains intact. §