Congratulations are in order. I finally got hitched, although not in the matrimonial sense. No woman, it seems, is prepared to stoop that low. No, I’m talking about the Defender, with me in it, hitched up finally to a livestock trailer. This had been the plan all along – to do some towing with the ‘old gal’ and test out how good that side of its faculties is, but it’s been a long time coming. As some of you may know from previous reports, Land Rover sent us a Defender without a tow hitch, so a month or so ago it went back to JLR HQ to have one fitted. This raised a few noteworthy points.
Firstly, there’s the cost. Actually, let me rephrase that: good grief, the cost. Guess how much a tow bar on one of these will set you back? No, no, you’re way off; double it, add a grand and a bit more for luck. It’s £2,285 to have one fitted at the factory. Admittedly that’s the Towing Pack, which, along with an electrically deployable tow bar, also comes with a bundle of other goodies. Those include Advanced Tow Assist, to help with reversing your rig, and more off-road electronics, such as All Terrain Progress Control – essentially that’s off-road cruise control. To have one retrofitted by your dealer costs £1,600. Ahh, you’re thinking, the cheaper and better choice. True, it is cheaper, but it’s not the better choice. The retrofit doesn’t come with all those other gizmos and the hitch isn’t electronically deployable. It’s removable. And from my experience doesn’t come with any instructions to tell you how to remove it, or fit it.
The lack of instructions shouldn’t have been a massive bind, though. After all, how hard can it be to fit a tow hitch? Yep, those famous last words come to bite me in the whatnot yet again. Still, this was a surprise. I like to think I am a reasonably practical individual – I trained as an automotive technician, after all - but I am fallible and happy to admit it. And no, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to get the hitch slotted in and the electrics connected, so I asked my mate Jon to take a look. He’s also a practical sort. His day job is building microchips, and he’ll happily strip down and rebuild your iPhone or laptop for a cold beer. Jon couldn’t figure it out, either.
Next, I enlisted the help of my brother. He builds houses for a living and, as a bonus, has owned several Range Rovers over the years – all with a tow bar fitted because he used them to tow a trailer. The Defender’s tow hitch stumped him, too. Finally, I called upon Steve. Steve is the man who runs the farm in Wales on a day-to-day level and, as some of you may know, farmers are by and large practically minded and resourceful. They have to be, and the ‘make do and mend’ ethos is engrained in them from birth. Did Steve sort it? Hell, no. He was as flummoxed as the rest of us. I even searched the extensive ‘Deep Thought’ brilliance of YouTube and Google for answers, but both pulled down the shutters and admitted defeat as well.
I should probably explain the problem at this point. The removable tow hitch has a spring-loaded knob on its side. Giving it a twist is meant to retract a ring of ball bearings around the circumference of the male end of the hitch, which is the bit that slots into position at the back of the car. Once it’s in, you release the knob, the ball bearings are forced out again and that locks the hitch in place ready for towing. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Except when I turned the knob, the ball bearings only partially retracted, which wasn’t enough to allow the hitch to dock. The other issue was the electrical socket. That was tucked behind the lower edge of the bumper – so close to it that there wasn’t enough room for the plug from the trailer to fit unless you unscrewed a section of lower trim. Surely that wasn’t how it was designed to work?
Honestly, I was stumped. We all were. Was the tow hitch faulty? And would a kit designed to fit a Defender, and supplied by Land Rover, have the electrical fitting in the wrong place? Well, when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth, it has been said. And giving weight to my theory were two things. Since coming back from having the tow bar installed, the Defender’s back exhaust box has been rattling away (that section has to be removed to fit the tow bar frame underneath the car) and the rear parking sensors no longer work. None of these were problems pre-tow bar, so if whoever had fitted the kit had forgotten to plug the sensors back in and hadn’t fitted the exhaust properly, well, maybe it’s plausible they might not have fitted the electrical socket correctly or checked that the hitch mechanism worked.
In the end, I had no choice but to admit defeat. I really needed the Defender to take some sheep to market and my pride – you know, the stupid pride that kicks in and stops you asking for professional help to fix a seemingly straightforward problem – had to give way to pragmatism. I booked an appointment with my local dealer. When I arrived, a chap came out to meet me and we wandered over to the car. I explained the issues, handed him the tow hitch, and immediately he pulled the knob I described a moment ago out sideways, then rotated it. And, of course, it slotted it into place no problem at all. From his mouth came words of support. Words such as, ‘You’re not the first person to struggle with one of these,’ but I read a different message etched on his face. That message was, ‘You’re a bit of a tit, aren’t you’. Or maybe that was just my paranoia.
Nevertheless, I puffed myself up again and spouted, ‘What about the electrical socket?’ I said this with a whiff of ‘now we’ll see who’s the tit.’ ‘You see, it’s too close to the bumper.’ To this challenge, his hand went down, grabbed the socket and twisted it. It turns out it’s on a hinge. When you rotate it down it’s below the bumper level – enough that you can plug into it no problem. I’m pretty sure the next message that flashed across his face when he turned to look at me was, ‘And you just keep proving me right’.
At this point, you’re probably expecting the shame of it to make me crawl under a rock and never come out. Well, I’m sorry, but no. I am defiant. And not a tit – at least not on this occasion. Four people in all – four people all with common sense and a practical bent – had tried to solve the mystery of the hitch and socket, and none of us had thought to pull that knob out sideways. Of course, we hadn’t. There aren’t any arrows suggesting you should, so why would we? There are arrows telling you to twist the knob but nothing indicating this crucial preliminary part of the procedure.
And who would think to force an electrical socket down? It’s on a thin metal bracket, remember. You’d assume applying force to it would bend it out of shape. By the way, if you’re a po-faced, clever clogs inclined to comment that these things are bleedingly obvious, let me tell you what’s bleedingly obvious here: that a £1,600 tow bar kit should come with an instruction manual. Or saving that, how about a pamphlet with a couple of pictures? That way I wouldn’t have looked like a dimwit who’s a danger to himself if left alone with scissors.
While we’re on the subject of know-it-alls… Last month, I mentioned that the Defender’s air suspension automatically rises from its access height to normal height when you start up and drive away. This isn’t a speed-related thing. It’s what it does as a default when you move off. It’s very annoying. It also adds a sense of actual jeopardy when you’re in a low, multi-storey car park, because should you forget about the idiotic programming you find yourself sweeping away items of ceiling furniture – little bits and pieces like water pipes and lights.
Now, some of you pointed out that there’s a feature to lock the suspension in its lowest setting – by pressing and holding the suspension ‘down’ button for a couple of seconds. That’s true, there is, but you’re missing the point. What’s the purpose of suspension rising automatically after I’ve told the car to sit? Why do so many systems on modern cars constantly need to override the driver? Just leave well alone, please. That’s not a rhetorical question, by the way. If you can answer what the purpose of this intervention is, be my guest. It’s not a safety thing, remember. Yes, the suspension rises automatically if you hit a certain speed for stability, and I’ve no issue with that, but that’s a separate thing. It’s not what’s happening here. This is when it goes up when you’re doing no more than one mile per hour.
Anyway, rant over. Now let me tell you about market day, the sheep sale, and the towing. What’s the new Defender like as a tow car? Absolutely fantastic. It’s right up there with Scanias and ERFs in my opinion. I know many people think that a pickup is the way to go for a workhorse these days – because Defenders are so expensive – but I disagree. A pickup with no weight in the back wouldn’t tow as well as this. I know so because I’ve used them to tow and they tend to get very squirrelly at the rear. I suspect the current Range Rover wouldn’t match the Defender’s prowess in this respect, either. The Range Rover’s uber-soft damping would be the bothersome bit, whereas the Defender is beautifully damped. There’s no hint of sway on the motorway, even in hefty crosswinds, and it’s just as reassuring under braking.
There’s another plus point to mention as well. Because the D300 engine I’ve wanged on about effusively before is so deliciously torquey, it pulls mightily even with a hefty weight on the back – not only in a straight line but also from a standing start on an incline. And bearing in mind the farm is in the Brecon Beacons, and some of the single-track lanes you have to meander through to get places are narrow and steep – really steep – you have to stop on inclines quite often when you meet an oncoming car. Yet even if the gradient feels like a one-in-four, the D300’s nigh-on 500lb ft of straight-six muscle, manifesting from as little as 1,500rpm, is a godsend.
It’s always nice to end on a high point, especially as this report will be my last. The Defender is due to go back next month and Nic thought it would be good to have someone else’s perspective on it until then. So he’s inched it. It’s a fair point, although it leaves me more than a little deflated. I know a lot of you think these Defenders are too expensive - and they are expensive - and too much of a pastiche, but in my experience it’s been such a good car. In fact, it’s the best JLR product I’ve driven in years. It’s capable of scalping models outside the JLR fold as well, because in plenty of ways it’s a lot better than many other similarly priced (that is similarly expensive) SUVs out there. It’s so good I’d have one. And if the choice was a Defender or the more expensive Range Rover – full fat or Sport – even if someone else was paying I’d still go Defender all day long. Why? Because I feel it’s more fit for purpose than those. It does the job it was intended to do that bit better.
The fact is, it’s done everything I’ve asked of it in terms of a workhorse, and it’s been quiet, quick and comfortable the rest of the time. It’s been easy to drive, relaxing, and above all enjoyable. So much so that I still look forward to getting in it and driving it. It’s also averaged 30mpg over 5,000 miles of varied driving, which isn’t terrible – not when you consider some of that has included off-roading and hammering it around on photoshoots. Let’s just say it’s not always been driven in the most parsimonious manner.
Sure, it’s not perfect. The boot could be bigger, the fabric tonneau cover is more Duster than £80k Defender, and the side-hinged door is a ridiculous piece of design, but what is perfect? Actually, here’s something: the Defender’s reliability. It hasn’t missed a beat in my time with it, and that, I must admit, was a surprise. A very welcome one, mind you. Let’s see what Nic has to say, but if I had the spare cash I can tell you, hand on heart, that I’d buy one of these. Cynical old me would never have envisioned saying that four years ago when this model was launched, because I fully expected it to be terrible. As always, though, there really is no point in having a mind if you never change it. If you’re yet to drive one and still posting negative, knee-jerk responses to the current Defender – and to my mind best one there’s ever been – you might want to ponder that for a moment before pressing send.
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), dealer-fit manual towbar and electrics (£1,600).
Run by: John H
On fleet since: April 2023
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