More than the sum of its impressive parts

The Defender 110 D300 is the upgrade for which I’d have traded in my Discovery 4—which was a fully kitted out, superbly comfortable grand tourer that hauled a heavy off-road van without complaint or problem on the big lap ten years ago. 

Don’t get me wrong, the “New” Discovery is a great vehicle, but it veered the Discovery onto an entirely new track. It wasn’t just a departure from the familiar boxy Discovery aesthetic, it came with a different feel and altered handling characteristics. And it successfully targets a different market.  

The Defender feels exactly like what I wanted the Discovery 5 to be—greater refinement in handling and performance but with the same well-planted feel that gets the balance just right for me between that heavy assurance as you pass a road train on the open highway and nimble performance as you sweep through suburban curves and corners. 

This latest iteration retains all those quirky little features like exposed hex bolts in the door skins and rugged tactile surfaces that promise they’ll brush off the red dirt after the weekend and scrub up nicely for back-to-work Monday.  

Despite being a massive white box, our test vehicle avoided the refrigerator complex by having plenty of black and charcoal highlights to provide visual interest. Although touching the retro-styled checker plate inserts in the bonnet or below the tail-lights was a disappointing surprise as the funky visuals didn’t deliver an equally strong tactile appeal when fingernails rattled on hard plastic. 

I liked the look—but I would have loved it if the construction matched the rugged appearance. 

This kitted out model showcased the available bull bar, roof-rack, raised air intake and ladder options. I figure that designing an airbag compliant, attractive bull bar that doesn’t drag the squared off nose dirt-side is a challenge—and it’s one that hasn’t quite been conquered just yet.

But the big-flat roof rack is an up-top storage dream …

…. albeit generating rather more wind noise at freeway speed than is ideal especially given how quiet the big D’s cabin is on a long drive.  

Land Rover has nailed the third element—

the fold out ladder looks cool, is easy to flip out or back up and provides any-time access to that big top deck. Full marks for style and design!

Although its positioning does bite into rear cross vision just behind the C pillar, the blind spot assist is there to counteract any visual impairment and stop you running over the toes of the vehicle next to you. 

For dust-free storage the inside of the Defender wagon is more than capacious … it’s downright cavernous.

And it all folds perfectly flat with a couple of easy seat flips that require no more strength and energy than the laziest of teenagers could muster. But its more than just cargo or groceries in the back. There are dap spots for phones, keys, glasses, and drink bottles You’ll also be pleased by the absences of whining and squabbling from the rear, as everyone gets to ride in comfort, whilst powering their mobile devices with eyes glued to the latest social media updates and muso pumped into their headphones or ear buds, voiding the cabin of disruptive human conversation, allowing you to enjoy the acoustic excellence of the 11 speaker Meridian sound system, bliss! 

Land Rover has successfully dialled out any sensation of intimidation you might feel due to its formidable exterior and on road presence thanks to the superb four corner air cushions that soak up every road imperfection allowing you to ease your back into the seat and keep a relaxed grip on the wheel.

The Defender has an impressive ability to pick its way through tight bush tracks, manoeuvring it through suburbia or the city is a doddle.

As I zipped around corners, half expecting the bonnet to pitch and roll like water in a bathtub on a ship tackling stormy weather and high seas, the Defender remained composed, and I could feel it watching me with curious contempt wondering what stupid challenge I’d throw its way next.  

Externally the Defender doesn’t bother with trivial matters of titivation or flamboyant contours.

This thing looks big and butch, as if chiselled from a block of granite.

You could be forgiven for thinking that it might handle as well as a boulder in a mud slide, but nothing could be further from the truth. When driving around suburbia it feels light and nimble, far better than logic suggests it has a right to be.

Of course, let’s try the traffic light getaway… who doesn’t like impersonating Mario Andretti or Lewis Hamilton in a near two and half tonne behemoth by planting the throttle as the light turns green in a legal sprint to 100 klicks on the freeway entry ramp. The childish giggle factor was far more rewarding than recording times, which is why we didn’t bother. Enough to say that the Defender delivers the goods when needed, with more boogie than woogie, allowing you to promptly get up to speed and safely merge with fast moving traffic. There’s no need for drivers to slow behind you, praying you’ll get a move on before that 18-wheeler way back in the distance closes the gap.

A Range Rover Sport it isn’t, but it’s sure footed and confident for a large 4WD SUV. And that’s made possible by the silky smooth Ingenium diesel, which is a modest 3L capacity, but forcefully encouraged by not one but two turbos to pitch the big D’s hefty kerb weight of nearly 2400kgs down the road with the determination and resolve of a pitcher’s pickoff move to third base.  

Sync up this wagon’s get-go, can-do attitude, to its smooth and responsive 8-speed auto and the Defender puts that rich torque curve to effective use, creating a confident response to driver demands both on and off road. You’ll be rewarded with smooth predictable power that can be easily metered out as needed, making it ideal for long haul towing purposes with a herculean 650Nms at only 1500rpm. Did I mention this was only a 3L? Factor in an 89L tank capacity and we averaged 8.8L/100ks for a combination of suburban and highway running, which theoretically will take you around 1,000ks. Of course, hitch up a van and consumption will increase relative to the size of your van.  

But tugboat style pulling power aside; its’s how the Defender makes you feel when you’re behind the wheel; it’s, well… just so darn British.

I really love how the Defender’s interior is visually interesting because it doesn’t follow the current cookie cutter generic style. It challenges conventional layouts with an agglomeration of eccentric design elements combining rugged practical commercial functionality and structure like a commercial truck, with the premium tactile surface treatment and modern visual appearance of a premium SUV.

Imagine a ruggedly handsome bodyguard in a designer suit—strength, power and fancy enough to guard your back at the black-tie ball.  

So, what about the dirt? Having previously had a good play off road in the Defender 110 P400 3L straight six petrol turbo and the Defender 90 P300 2L four-cylinder turbo it goes without saying that Land Rover’s terrain response 2 system is simply brilliant. The Defender has eight settings to choose from including ECO, comfort, grass gravel snow, mud and ruts, sand and rock crawl and there’s even a wade function for those times you feel like dipping its toes. 

Offering close to waist height wading capability I wonder if there isn’t some Thames River Aqua Duck in its family DNA.   

The system dynamically configures key vehicle systems for current terrain to ensure maximum traction and control, helping you to safely negotiate challenging off-road conditions. The added advantage of air suspension to increase ground clearance when needed, further enhances this vehicle’s impressive off-road capability.  

But the chink in the armour is the all-too-common visual designer’s choice of 20” rims and road biased tyres. This not so insignificant obstacle to off-road capability, highlighted the stellar performance of the off-road tech which competently compensated for less-than-ideal tyres across challenging terrain. It did transfer my focus from the expected short falls in traction to a queasy fear about side wall durability. Common sense prevailed, and regardless of how confident the Defender made me feel to push further, that little voice of reason acknowledged I needed to drive it home on those road tyres. 

I particularly enjoyed tight tricky sections.

Activate the 360-degree camera system, a brief pause and witchery happens… a bird’s eye view of what’s around you, and the option to make the engine bay invisible to view the tyres beneath the bonnet for careful wheel placement driving toward and over obstacles.

It seemed a little spooky – but it’s thanks to a cleverly orchestrated video time delay that works in sync with the vehicle’s momentum.  

Having enjoyed a lovely day exploring the many tracks of the Avon Valley, my darling wife tested my own intelligence asking with a sweet smile, “Did you remember to bring the compressor to pump the tyres up for the trip home”?  


But no problem, the square jawed big D had my back.

In the encyclopaedia of available options to personalise your Defender, don’t miss the check box for the onboard air system. It is so convenient and easy to use. Dial up or down to the required pressure, hook up the tidy little hose and enjoy a nice cup of English Breakfast with a chocolate digestive, whilst the big Landy does all the hard work for you… seriously, how civilised, and British is that? 

Did I enjoy my time in the Defender wagon? Emphatically yes. I felt like a kid driving my favourite Lego toy. It reminded me that even driving in stop-start traffic can be fun. Oh, did you know Lego make a Defender, so cool, I just had to have one!  

There are lots of great 4WDrive wagons and for the most part they follow the same basic formula for body style and functionality because it works well and is widely accepted. But the Defender is a square peg in the round hole, it’s the odd kid out.  

Which will suit many drivers perfectly because the Defender is somehow more than just the sum of its parts. Its unique willingness to be different and do things left of centre is its most endearing charm. Wide breadth of capability and refinement aside, every time I drove it, it just made me smile. And isn’t that what driving should be all about? 

Model: Land Rover Defender 110 D300

  • Recommended retail: $104,000 
  • Price as tested including options: $119,379 
  • Engine: 3.0-litre six-cylinder twin turbo-diesel 
  • Output: 221kW/650Nm 
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic 
  • For those wanting to know: 0-100km/h 7.0s 
  • Fuel: 7.6L/100km 
  • Tank Capacity 89L 
  • Safety rating ANCAP 5 Stars

Towing Pack: $4,044 

  • Tow hitch receiver 
  • Advanced Tow Assist 
  • Terrain Response 2 

Bright Exterior Pack: $2,205 

  • Noble Chrome badging, grille, front and rear skidpans 
  • Narvik Black lower body cladding and bonnet finishers 

Santorini Black contrast roof: $2,171 

Cold Climate Pack: $1,481 

  • Heated Steering Wheel 
  • Heated Windscreen 
  • Heated Washer Jets 
  • Headlight Powerwash 

 ClearSight interior rear-view mirror: $1,446 

20-inch Satin Dark Grey Rims: $1,210 

Off-road Pack:  $1,017 

  • Electronic Active Differential with Torque Vectoring by Braking 
  • Domestic plug socket 

Privacy glass: $999 

12-way heated, electric memory front seats with 2-way manual headrests:  $806 

Drive Editor - Ray Cully
Drive Editor – Ray Cully

About our Motoring Editor: Ray has been passionate about all things automotive since he first started collecting Matchbox and Hot Wheels models when he was five. Since leaving his executive role at General Motors (GM), he’s been sharing his driving experiences with Australian audiences for nearly 20 years, commencing his automotive journalist career with a popular WA-based magazine and was writing his own column in The West Australian for 8 years.

Ray’s strong love of automotive engineering and clever design has seen his articles and photography featured in prominent national magazines in Australia and the UK. He loves sharing his passion with other drivers, including via a long running stint as Senior Instructor for Land Rover Experience, providing training and education for new vehicle owners.

Recently Ray has been presenting on TV shows including Ready for Adventure and the very popular Caravan and Camping WA, to showcase some of the great products, vehicles and companies that make getting out and exploring Western Australia that much more enjoyable.