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Is the new Land Rover Defender a worthy replacement?

By Matt Raudonikis, 04 Apr 2020 Opinion

Opinion 2020 Land Rover Defender vs Classic Defender feature

Replacing the Defender was going to be a tall order, have Land Rover succeeded?

The opportunity to drive the new Land Rover Defender ahead of its launch in a wild and beautiful place was an opportunity of a lifetime. It becomes even more special in light of events since then as getting around the world to drive anything has become a lot harder if not impossible.

The official media launch of the vehicle that was set to happen in the UK in April has been postponed to a date yet to be announced although release dates of the Defender remain unchanged.

Land Rover says its new Defender is the most off-road capable 4x4 the company has ever made and that’s a pretty big statement when you look back on its history of off-road vehicles.

With its plethora of electronic traction systems, auto-locking differentials and height adjustable suspension that permits higher than usual ground clearance for uneven terrain, the new Defender, like most modern Land Rovers that ride on derivatives of this platform, is pretty amazing.

But driving along the dusty tracks of northern Namibia where the terrain was ever changing had me thinking that height adjustable or not, there’s no real comparison to genuine, fixed-height ground clearance.

The advantage of height adjustable suspension is that it allows the vehicle to be efficient and more dynamic when travelling at faster speeds on a highway or open tracks, and then be raised when needed to clear over steps, rocks and other obstacles. This is instrumental in the ‘Breadth of Capability’ philosophy that Land Rover applies to all of its new vehicles.

But the system’s shortcomings become evident in varied terrain when you’re driving along and the ground changes to a point where you need to raise the suspension, which takes some time, and then greatly affects the ride quality and performance if you drive in the raised setting.

This is opposed to driving a vehicle like a classic Defender, that has plenty of ground clearance in its fixed position (even more with aftermarket upgrades) but you can drive along confidently without worrying if you are going to clear that bump or if the suspension has automatically dropped back to the standard road-going height setting.

Sure, the tall fixed height means the old vehicle won’t be as fuel efficient or sporting on road, but at least you know exactly where you are at as you drive it along the tracks.

Having a huge breadth of capability might be nice when you’re trying to create one car to do everything, but it’s not ideal when you want a specialised vehicle like a dedicated off-roader.

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