Why would I buy one?
- Quiet cabin
- Comfortable ride quality
- The go-anywhere promise
Why would I avoid it?
- Unimpressive road dynamics
- Limited visibility
- Pricey for what it is
It started out as a rich farmer’s car. It then took on a cult status. But now it has transformed into so much more – more luxury, more technology, more comfort – that it seems to have lost that purity and exclusivity which gave it the cult following. Today it’s a quirky luxury car that’s handy and practical and desirable for the way it looks. But, it’s also pricey and honestly, unless you are a fan of the Defender – and a well-to-do fan at that – the likes of the Velar, the Evoque or even the Discovery, makes more sense.
Engine and Performance
The Defender is powered by the more powerful version of the two-litre, four cylinder, Ingenium petrol engine that’s a mainstay in almost every JLR model in India. And it’s mated to an eight-speed torque converter. As it turns out, neither feel special. The engine and gearbox combo give the Defender – and its over two-tonne bulk – enough legs to sprint around in the city and cruise comfortably at three-digit speeds on the highway, no doubt. But, it’s not a drivetrain that gets you involved or excited. It does its job. And that’s that.
It revs cleanly and sounds good, yes, but one can still tell that the engine – even with its near 300bhp and 400Nm of torque – isn’t exactly thrilled about lugging the Defender around. Sport mode or otherwise. Plus, the auto ‘box isn’t exactly of the quick shifting, fast reacting, driver engaging variety.
Drive with a light and progressive throttle and both the engine and gearbox do their respective jobs well. The Defender doesn’t feel slow, it doesn’t wait for the flowers to blossom to respond to your inputs, and the gearbox moves up and down the ratios without needing too much of a prod. It’s a nice, relaxed, and quiet setup that’s easy to like and live with in the city, or in stop-and-go traffic, or on a calm run to the farmhouse.
Start demanding more, however, and the lag in throttle response and kickdown, the engine noise at higher revs, and the general bluntness in performance (against its advertised output figures), does take the shine off the Defender’s aura.
Ride and Handling
Dynamically speaking, the Defender is average at best. It’s not squishy or vague or boat-like at all. But, it’s not alert or engaging or to-the-point either. The ride though – even with its 20-inch wheels over unpleasant Mumbai roads – is fantastic. It is well damped, quiet and absorbent. It’s a plush riding thing to waft around in. The ride on the road is calm and comfortable. Be it undulations, broken sections of tarmac, or unexpected bumps, the Defender rides over them all as if these never existed. It’s only the bumps and potholes with sharp edges that manage to ‘thud’ through.
It tracks straight and flat in a straight line too. And it feels hunkered down and stable, no matter the speed. But that solidity and heaviness does take its toll come corners. There’s fair amount of body roll; the steering isn’t exactly quick or feelsome; and though the brake bite is strong, the progression makes it a little difficult to modulate the brakes under spirited driving.
The other thing we weren’t completely happy about was the visibility on offer. Now, the Defender is essentially a box with rounded edges. But its high seating, the thick A-pillars along with the ORVMs, and the huge slab that is the connect between the C-pillar and the D-pillar (not to mention the sparewheel) create one too many blind spots.
Interior Space and Quality
Space wise, the new Defender has enough and more shoulder, leg and knee room in the first two rows. Yes, it has a third row as well, but that’s best left tucked into the boot floor. As far as quality goes, it’s a bit of a mix bag. One can’t fault the fit or the build quality or the way the switches and dials and stalks etc work. These aspects are completely in line with what one expects in a luxury car. But it’s the finish at places that does leave you scratching your heads at times, especially given the Defender’s crore plus price tag.
The wood inserts are a great touch. But the white plastic on the steering, not so much. The metal outlines, and the leather-like finish on the dash and doors and centre console, again add to the air of premiumness. But the flat black matte plastic just seems a few grades lower than it should be in a car this price. As far as exposed screws go, I like them, but it’s still a hit or miss.
Nothing’s amiss when it comes to the front occupants though, then be it space or comfort. The seats are large, cushy and supportive. There’s enough elbow and headroom. And the ergonomics are well-judged too. The rear isn’t as good though. The seats are small, and the level of comfort and support offered is nowhere near the ones at the front. Space though – knee, head or shoulder – isn’t bad at all.
As for the last row, we couldn’t think of anyone who we might want to out there. So, we will just skip that bit.
Features and Equipment
There’s quite a bit of kit on this SE trim. From all LED lighting to a panoramic sunroof. From keyless entry to electrically powered everything from front seats to mirrors to steering. It also gets a multi-zone climate control system, an icebox, a 360 degree camera, wireless charging, and of course a multimedia system. The multimedia system itself throws up a lot of data. Apart from the regular Apple Carplay, Android Auto, and the various audio and phone-related settings; it also allows you to choose a camera angle of your liking.
Furthermore, it allows you to play with the various settings as part of the Terrain Response system as well. And the Terrain Response system in itself is a wonderful thing. On the Defender, it gives it super SUV abilities on the rough stuff. All courtesy smart electronics and the height-adjustable air suspension.
If anything, we would have liked cooled seats, less lag on the touchscreen system, electric adjustment for the second and third row of seats, a self-park feature, and maybe even a HUD. After all, we are staring at quite a few zeros in the Defender’s price tag.
Full disclosure: We didn’t drive the Defender off-road at all. I know that might seem blasphemous to many, but that’s a story for another day. Our goal with this review was to find out how good the new Defender is as a luxury SUV. After all, in this particular SE trim – if I haven’t said it enough – it costs over a crore.
So what do we think? Well for starters it has a strong emotive design. A design that will make you want the Defender, no question. It is also wonderfully comfortable. It is spacious. It’s well-appointed. It’s ergonomically sound. And, it’s well put together.
But if we were to think about it practically, the likes of the Evoque and Velar make more sense. Yes, these are more brogue boots than hiking boots, but then would you really take a car worth a crore (that reference again) deep off a beaten track?
Plus, the former two aren’t too bad off-road. But on the road, and in terms of luxury, these have the Defender beat. And these are cheaper as well – spec for spec. So unless you are a die-hard Defender fan...
Pictures by Kapil Angane