A day behind the wheel: test driving the new Land Rover Defender
Tempus puts the new hi-tech model to the test in a gruelling off-road drive
We arrived at Land Rover Experience Eastnor on a gloriously sunny British spring day - not a cloud in the sky, nor a puddle in sight. "How disappointing," I thought to myself - I had been hoping for rain. I was here to drive the highly-capable new Land Rover Defender off-road, so I wanted mud and I wanted to be swimming in it. After all, when else would you have the pleasure of ploughing two tonnes of machine through a glutinous ravine?
As I sat in the car park awaiting my day of offroading, a fleet of military patrol cars loaded with steely-eyed, plain-clothed gentlemen hanging off the sides shot past, leaving a plume of dust in their wake. I looked behind me and clocked a number of other military vehicles in the car park, including a chocolate box of generously modified old Land Rovers, at which point it dawned on me that Eastnor was not just frequented by mere 'civvies' like me, headed straight for the cushioned seat of a new Defender, but also by the SAS, who use Eastnor as a training facility.
Situated in the Malvern Hills, the grounds of Eastnor Castle - comprising of 5,000 acres of farmland, woodland and parkland - have not only been used by specialist military units over the years, but have also served as Land Rover's secret testing facility for every car the company has produced since the birth of the Series I in 1948. But today, all spotlights shone on the almighty new Defender and Eastnor's ample white fleet of them, patiently waiting to be let loose on the 66 off-road miles of tracks, helmed by the day's guests.
As a Series Land Rover owner myself - a rather dashing '66 IIA named 'Fred' - the new Defender had a lot to live up to. Nevertheless, I remained almost unfathmoably excited to be able to go rogue for this particular 4WD adventure with new suspension and an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
The new Defender's looks had admittedly taken time to grow on me following its unveiling, but falling in love with its driveability was instant. At the touch of a button or two, the car feels truly your own while keeping itself in full - and frankly awesome - control of any terrain it points its 360-degree cameras at. It boasts an almost frightening lack of need for human intervention in these usually hair-raising off-road scenarios, bar the odd turn of the wheel and tap of the brake. Even your speed in slippery situations such as a muddy downward slope is auto-controlled to a tee.
We drove in convoy from the centre via a farmyard straight to the adventurous articulation tracks of the course, which featured steep slippery inclines, deep ruts, open ground and water and, to my delight, a wealth of glorious mud. With an experienced professional guiding us by walkie talkie and the car's impressive "all terrain" mode activated, the car climbed each hill with as much ease and prowess as when it powerslided back down again, methodically locking alternating brakes on the fall as we quite simply held on for the ride.
A few hours of charging like a mechinally-engineered rhinoceros through mud and water later and I was as comfortable as I was when I had first climbed into the driver's seat earlier this morning. We spent hour after hour testing different terrain modes on the vehicle's computer and every time the car did it's thing without so much as a minor hiccup. One moment we were in thick woodland, manoeuvring between clustered tree trunks, the next we were tearing to the top of grassy hillsides. In this new Defender, the course almost felt like being a passenger a rollercoaster.
As a vintage car afficionado, it is my opinion that with such intense automation permeating the driving experience, the new Defender will never offer quite the same thrill as its more chaotic older editions, but it comes very close. Furthermore, the Eastnor drive is an experience like no other in the UK, proving to any die-hard old Defender fan that this new model is undoubtedly entitled to its hallowed name.