It turns out I am quite unusual for a motoring journalist. Now, you might be thinking, “Yeah, we know that: can’t write, can’t drive, doesn’t know one end of a car from another.” Yes, yes, but besides all that. In a decade of trying to find my way around a keyboard and writing about cars, I’ve never, not once, run a long-term test car. I am pretty sure that puts me in a very select crowd, at least of the journalists who've written for household titles. And it’s not because I’ve been writing for the Kidderminster Gazette, by the way. I’ve written for many of the big car mags, and all of those had enough reach and clout to justify one had I so wished.
The reason I’ve never run one is, well, I suppose I was lucky. Lucky firstly to get a foot in the door and start writing full stop, but luckier still to end up not on the news desk - where most people kick start their writing careers - but as a road tester. Now, the thing about road testing is you’re always in and out of different cars. What’s the point in running a long-termer, I thought? I’ll never get the chance to drive it, which is why I didn’t have one. All of which makes the idea of running our new long-term Land Rover Defender 110 a new and exciting experience for me.
But you have to justify to the manufacturer and to your editor why you want a long-termer, and then explain what you want to do with it. And my arguments about not having to adjust the seat to my liking every time I get in a car and being able to fill up its glovebox with crap – my own, glorious crap; the crap that makes a car a home – weren’t deemed ‘good enough’ reasons. Bloody cheek if you ask me. That really was a big part of it, though. It’s a true privilege to have many, many cars delivered to your door each week, but the sense that a car is your car (even if that isn’t really the case here), with your own accoutrements secreted in every pore, is such a pleasure. One I’ve sorely missed over the years. But as it happens, I do have some other, more serious, reasons for wanting to live with this Defender 110 for six months.
The first is I was so hugely impressed with the new Defender when I first drove one a few years ago, which was a surprise. I’ve written plenty of times about how I spent a lot of my time growing up driving, or being driven in, Land Rovers of old. That was on our family farm in the Brecon Beacons (oops, sorry, they’ve changed the name now to Banana Demagog or something). We always had Land Rovers, and I won’t lie, I always hated them. Every one of them was slow, noisy, leaky, uncomfortable and, by the age of 12, I couldn’t fit in ‘em, either. The only good thing I can say about the old Land Rover is they were certainly rough-and-tumble workhorses.
When the new car was announced, I thought it was going to be nothing like as toughty. It would be a car built for people who wanted to be thought of as rough and tumble, as they pulled up outside Virgin Active for their Pilates lesson with Jemimah. But, it turns out, I was wrong. I am happy to admit it, too. The new Defender might have digital screens, and this one has a white leather interior (I wanted a boggo spec with steel wheels, by the way) but it still feels utilitarian enough to me. Inside, the floor covering is rubber, not carpet. There are bits of exposed metal and screw heads, and also big knobs and buttons that you can use while wearing gloves in the depths of winter. All things that make it feel right or make work in the real world.
There are also cues from the past that help it work as a farm vehicle today. I'm not talking about its differential locks or truly massive ground clearance. Some of this involves simple things, like the shelf that runs the length of the dashboard. The old Land Rover had that, too, and it’s perfect if you’re out and about on the farm. You can shove all the odds and sods you might need on it, like bits of rope, dog leads, fencing staples, and a hammer to hit your thumb with while knocking the staples in. So reason number one for running this new Defender is I want to see if, despite its white leather and privacy glass, it genuinely does work as a farm vehicle in every way. For some of the time, at least, that’s how I’ll be using it. It will be trudging up farm tracks and across fields, carrying materials, and, very possibly, the odd sheep or two.
Reason number two: I want to see if it’s truly moved the game on from the old Defender. Does it work as an all-rounder? As a road car, as well as a farm hack? It’s all very well being useful out in the fields, but ultimately a Defender is not a tractor. I want to be able to get in it and drive back to London, once all the farmering is done, without feeling like I’ve picked up the keys to my Massey Ferguson by mistake. Are the seats comfortable? Is it quiet on the motorway? Does it steer properly? Can it pull the skin of a rice pudding, should I find myself behind a rice pudding (by which I mean someone dawdling along painfully in a Vauxhall Mokka X) on a country road? There are a several good off-roaders, but few of those work really well on-road, too.
Reason number three: just how good is it off-road? As you can see from the photographs, we’ve already been splashing around in some puddles and getting our Defender a bit muddy. But while it might look dramatic, this wasn’t proper off-roading. I want to do some proper off-roading in our Defender. More arduous even than driving around a Welsh hill farm. I haven’t worked out where, yet, but I am minded to find some punishing place that can truly challenge it to the max. Feel free to send us any suggestions, but I took my old Discovery TDi 300 to Devil’s Pit many moons ago. That’s an abandoned quarry in Barton-le-Clay and is fully gruesome when the clay is wet, so that’s on the list of potentials.
Finally, reason number four: is it, actually, when all is said and done, interesting? Ostensibly, the Defender is considered interesting because it replaced a car that was 200 years old. But what about now some of that newness-based novelty has worn off? After all, interesting cars are what we’re all about at PH - and, for me, any car can be interesting. It doesn’t have to be fast or handle well, or even be expensive or rare. It just needs to entertain in some form or another. It also needs to be fit for purpose and live up to the hype, and let’s be frank here: the new Defender was not short on hype before and after its launch. So, now, in light of the dust settling, let’s see if it lives up to its billing.
In short then, I'm properly excited by my first long-term experience, and for lots of reasons beyond the fact the glove box is already chocka. It’s something new for me and I hope, by the time our six-month tenure comes to an end, we’ll have been able to show you what life with a Defender is like beyond a trip to the tip. And I am hoping that the Series III that you see accompanying our 110 in the pictures is an omen of good things to come.
While it might look staged, the Series III's presence happened by complete and very fortuitous coincidence. You see, as snapper Harry and I were setting up to take some pictures, we heard a parp from the undergrowth, as it were, and the next minute this Series III bustled into view. I mean, what are the chances? None of us, including Max, its owner, could quite believe it when we ended up staring at each other with our (almost) bookmark Land Rovers. It seemed like an opportunity too good to miss to photograph them together, so we did.
Max told us he works not far from where we were and likes to pop out in his lunchbreak for a trundle around the byways. He seemed a little embarrassed at the state of his Landie, but to me, it looked perfectly patinaed. Okay, I might not be the world’s biggest fan of classic Land Rovers as family cars, but as a fun classic I get them totally. Max’s looked spot on to me – presented just how it should be. A Land Rover Defender should never be pristine for long because it’s a working vehicle at heart. And I fully intend to make ours work...
Car: Land Rover Defender 110 D300 X-Dynamic HSE
Price as tested: £82,255
Options fitted: Air suspension Pack (£1,615), Advanced Off-Road Capability Pack (£1,070), Cold Climate Pack (£260), Electronic Active Differential with Torque Vectoring (£1,020), Three-zone Climate Control (£355), Air Quality Sensor (£60), Cabin Air Purification Plus (£285), Wi-Fi Enabled with Data Plan (£460), Secure Tracker Pro (36-month subscription) (£520).
Run by: John H
On fleet since: April 2023
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