Mark Gallivan – Motoring Journalist
Best 4×4 – Car of the Year 2021 Finalist
Here’s a question. Think of all the 4×4’s, posh SUVs and pseudo crossovers out there. Which do people most associate with a true 4×4 capability? The one for crossing a shallow river? Slithering up a mountain track where the last bit of tarmac trailed off a few miles away? Crossing the pond to the US, well, they’re going to say it’s the Jeep, aren’t they? Over in Japan they’ll probably plum for the Toyota Land Cruiser. In Europe though, it’s as likely as not to be the Land Rover Defender. When the brand new – L663 if you’re getting technical – Defender broke cover in 2019 I took a week to test it fully. After the seven days of driving I said it was better to drive than any Jeep and Land Cruiser. Even if the reliability factor was a major issue. It looked luxurious, was more comfortable, refined and, surprise-surprise, more appropriate for the roaring Twenties than ever. Three years on, nothing has arrived that changed my mind. It is a five star 4X4 with capability way beyond the use any city dweller will ever throw at it.
Now in 2022 Land Rover takes the essence of livestock and hay bale transporting to the European market with the new Defender Hard Top. Available in short-wheelbase 90 or the one I tested – the 110 Hard Top you get a Defender without rear seats a metal divide and a flat rear floor for carrying things. Prices in the UK start from £38,200 excluding VAT with BIK tax from £117 for 40% taxpayers in the 2021/2022 tax year. Specifically I tried the 110 3.0-litre diesel Hard Top S with 250 PS. It may be barren in the cargo area yet my test Defender came with Air Suspension, electric seats, a front middle jump seat, detachable tow bar, smart rear mirror, and so on. This added around £8,000 to the price.
The 3.0 litre diesel engine with 250 PS power was smooth and particularly well refined for a 4X4 with non-luxury farm or commercial business owner aspirations. I managed to extract 33 mpg but overall it was knocking on the door of 40 mpg. Payload capacity impresses with 3,500kg.
The cabin is still a mix of good ergonomics and is available as an automatic gearbox only. The materials shun the brittle plastic found in so many 4×4 – the doors and dashboard are all manufactured using soft rubberised materials. The optional front jump seat can be folded forward to reveal a large central armrest with cupholders – a clever design touch. Passengers may be limited to the front seats but ample cubby holes are scooped out of the dashboard, central console and door bins. All will swallow a surprising amount of items. Even at my 6 feet frame you need to climb up and onto the front seats. The driving position is commanding with plenty of headroom.
Being a commercial vehicle the rear door windows are replaced by plastic inserts. You can still access the load bay via the rear doors of the large rear door that opens on a series of right-sided hinges just like a domestic fridge. Venture off the supermarket car park and the TerrainResponse system will attack the most technical surfaces and tracks with not so much as shrug. A 900mm wading capacity ensures you can attack the worst environments and if the worst comes to the worst, get you and your passengers safely out again. Tested objectively the Defender 110 drives with the aplomb of a luxury SUV and comes close to BMW’s X5 and nudges past the Mercedes GLE as a relaxing cruiser. Gruffer rivals exist like the Ford Ranger but that’s a US hinterland inspired flat bed 4X4. The Ford may look all the go on a farm but there’s a hint of line-dancing about that image. Really, ask yourself, are you seriously going to park up at the Acquaforte Thalasso Spa in one of those? If you’re on the hunt for a luxury 4×4 workhorse with a vast 2,059 litre load space and ends of the earth capability, stop looking any further. The Defender 110 Hard Top is the world’s best. That’s why it makes it onto this list.
Exceptional bits: True ends of the earth capability, exceptionally refined, authentic image, in Defender passenger form questions why you need a Range Rover
Less than exceptional: Land Rover’s poor reliability rating, seating for just two, 33mpg diesel average consumption
Rating: 5 stars