When I introduced our long-term Land Rover Defender 110, one of the things I promised you was that it would be doing more than just trips to the tip and back. It was, in part, going to be used as Land Rovers have been used since time immemorial: as a workhorse on a farm. There was a slight stumbling block to this, mind, as I shall explain in a bit.
Last week, at the farm, I had a large wooden pole replaced. It was rotten at the bottom, and it would be only a matter of time before gravity won the battle to bring it down. And because it was carrying an electricity cable across the farmyard to the barns, gravity had to be stopped. It’s part of my infrastructure and not the National Grid’s, which meant it was down to me to sort it. Anyway, I got a mate up, who has a big mobile crane (a nice bit of kit that I was quite jealous of, actually), which made light work of pulling out the knackered old pole and popping in a shiny new one back in. Tidy job, but because he was doing it at even less than mate’s rates, I didn’t kick off when he left the old one laying in the field right next to the house.
It would be no bother to saw it into logs for the fire, but I didn’t want to do that in situ because a carpet of sawdust right by the house would look a mess. No problem, I thought, I’ll use the Defender to drag the pole into the middle of a field and do the chain-sawing there. Seemed straightforward enough. Drop the Defender’s towbar, hook a rope around it and the pole, and Fanny’s your aunt. Except that when I looked for the button to release the retractable towbar, I couldn’t find it. And nor could I find the towbar itself when I got underneath the Defender to have a hunt around.
The long and short of it is, our Defender hasn’t got a towbar, which kind of scuppers a lot of my grand plans for it. Anyway, more on that later, because I still had a pole to shift. Luckily, our Defender is an X-Dynamic and that means it comes with rear towing eyes, so I used one of those to hook onto instead. I’d like to tell you some grand tale about how the Defender had to summon all its mighty D300 torque to drag this huge pole along, but that would be completely untrue. It pulled it along effortlessly, as you’d expect, even though the ground was boggy in places and the pole had a large metal bracket that was channelling through the earth like a plough.
With that little job done, it was onto the next. This was also a chainsaw-themed job, because in another area of the farm a tree had blown down during a gale in the middle of March. That also needed slicing and dicing and the spoil retrieving. Now, had our Defender had a towbar, I’d have hitched a trailer to carry the wood back. As it didn’t – and the tree wasn’t huge – I thought this would be a good test of its luggage capacity. Certainly better than testing it with shopping bags. As you can see from the picture at the top, it swallowed the whole tree no problem.
The fallen tree was in an area of the farm that’s quite high up in a steep field. As it’s spring, and we’ve had a few dry weeks, the ground is not too bad at the moment. The earth is mostly solid, but on the day in question, the grass covering it was wet in places. I am always cautious on steep fields with wet grass. The good going underfoot lulls you into a false sense of security, but even a tractor on wet grass can run away like a bobsled, straight to the scene of an almighty accident. Long, wet grass is the worst – it's slipperier than PTFE.
Did the Defender struggle? No, not even slightly. Obviously, I had all the tricky bits working: the hill decent and the off-road display, showing me everything that was happening in real-time. This is absolutely superb. It tells you all sorts of useful stuff, like the lateral and longitudinal angle of the car, which is immensely useful on steep banks, let me tell you. You can also see the wheel articulation (more of a gimmick, to be fair) and whether the centre and rear diff-locks are open or closed as the drivetrain hunts for traction.
You can also see, using the camera function, a picture of what’s underneath the front wheels. This is quite a neat bit of kit, because there isn’t actually a camera under the car. The image is created by videoing the spot about ten feet in front of the Defender, then, when the wheels have moved onto that spot, a computer-generated image with the front wheels superimposed on to it appears on the infotainment screen. Well, at least I think that’s how it works, but the effect is like being able to see through the floor as if it's made of glass. It’s both clever and useful. As are the side cameras, which you can swap to. These are pointing at the outside faces of the front wheels, so you can weave past rocks or branches without ripping a hole in the tyre.
This was all great, then: the Defender plodding on relentlessly and chalking up success after success using its mix of stubborn, old-fashioned traction and modern-day magic. But here’s a word of caution for all those adventurous types thinking that these cars will go anywhere regardless. I am about to talk tyres. All this tech is brilliant, but the first rule of off-roading is to make sure you’re on the right tyres. The Defender comes on Pirelli Scorpion Zeros, which is all-season rubber. They’re a decent road tyre but they’re also great in wet and greasy conditions, and even on a dusting of snow. In snow, the tyres are designed to actually pick up the snow and hold it in the tread, creating a blanket around the tyre rather like a snow sock. This is good, because snow on snow equals good grip.
Mud on mud, on the other hand, is a recipe for trouble. And on the way back to base I found myself on a narrow track that, partway along, became very muddy indeed. This track runs horizontally across the top of a steep field at 90 degrees to the slope. It’s the width of a car and, despite all the electric trickery, the Defender started to slide sideways. Not ‘back out’ sideways, I mean the whole car slipping downhill as one. And if it dropped too far, onto the steep bank side on, the car would more than likely roll, making this a very short, long-term test.
In situations like this, some poo and some wee comes out, because, joking aside, it’s genuinely dangerous. Too dangerous to carry on. So, as gently as possible, I nursed the car backwards, trying to be calmer than a Buddhist monk with the throttle to stop it sliding any farther towards the edge. Luckily - and I use that word advisedly - it didn’t. But you can see the problem from the picture I took afterwards. There’s a band of mud around the tyres and any car, no matter how well-equipped, becomes a big metal sledge when its tyres are clogged up like that. It’s a lesson that, when it comes to off-roading, the last and most important link in the chain is the tyres.
So that’s where we are so far. The Defender is proving itself to be a workhorse and, tyre limitations aside, good off-road, too. It’s going back to Land Rover next week, though. No, it hasn't broken down – so far, it’s been utterly reliable. It's off to have the all-important towbar fitted. Then will be back on the farm and I shall find out how good it is as a rig.
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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