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ROAD TEST: Land Rover Defender

THERE’S no doubt that this new Land Rover Defender will be too posh for some tastes. The most complete version ever built is a world away from previous incarnations.

But there’s also no denying that this is the toughest Land Rover ever, respectful of its past but not harnessed by it as it finally proves to be both a simply beautiful car to drive on road and practically unstoppable in the rough stuff.

Land Rover describes it as an icon reimagined for the 21st century. The instantly recognisable silhouette is still there, but there’s now a feast of technology and a ride quality that takes the Defender into new territory.

Yes, its all-terrain ability is beyond question, but it feels composed on any surface.

It looks tough, and indeed the durable new D7x architecture is engineered to withstand extremes. Only after 62,000 vehicle tests did Land Rover give it the green light for production.

No sooner have you settled into the ample, armchair-like seats than your eyes fall on the new Pivi Pro infotainment system that puts this Defender in the premier league of connected capability.

But let’s not get too distracted from what the Defender does best. Naturally it is all-wheel drive, with two locking differentials and a smooth eight-speed auto gearbox. Grab handles abound, the steering wheel is huge, there’s a solid feel all round and there’s enhanced traction control. Exposed screw heads in the door panels remind you that this may be premium class but the Defender is still very much a workhorse.

Look further back and you will find plenty of legroom for rear seat passengers and a boot featuring durable rubberised matting. The load space behind the second-row seats of the bigger 110 version is up to 1,075 litres, and 2,380 litres of room is on offer when the second row is folded flat.

There’s a sheer verticality to the rear, where the side-hinged door holds a spare wheel. But give the optional side panniers a miss because they impinge on the view from the door mirrors.

The 110 is available with 5+2 seating in four accessory packs - explorer, adventure, country and urban - and with 170 individual accessories. There’s a smaller Defender 90 and these will be joined by commercial models, together with mild hybrid and plug-in electric options.

A maximum payload of up to 900kg, static roof load of up to 300kg, towing capacity of 3,500kg and wading depth of up to 900mm combine to make new Defender the ultimate 4x4 for overland adventures. It will even tackle a 45 degree slope.

I tested it on a demanding off-road course, where it never put a foot wrong, and on a mix of motorway and urban settings, where it excelled as an SUV. Previously, that could never be said.

Beside the luxury and refinement of the Range Rover family and the highly capable and versatile Discovery SUVs, new Defender completes the Land Rover dynasty. It is both classless and peerless.

Land Rover’s new architecture is 95 per cent new and based on a lightweight aluminium monocoque construction to create the stiffest body structure Land Rover has ever produced.

Configurable Terrain Response debuts on new Defender, allowing experienced off-roaders to fine-tune individual vehicle settings to perfectly suit the conditions, while inexperienced drivers can let the system detect the most appropriate vehicle settings.

The new body architecture provides ground clearance of 291mm. On dry land, Land Rover’s ClearSight ground view technology helps drivers take full advantage of Defender’s all-conquering capability by showing the area usually hidden by the bonnet, directly ahead of the front wheels, on the 10-inch central touchscreen.

For now, there’s a choice of two petrol options, a four-cylinder P300 and a powerful six-cylinder P400 featuring efficient mild hybrid electric vehicle technology, and two four-cylinder diesel units – the D200 and powerful D240.

Six models available: Defender, S, SE, HSE, Defender X and First Edition.

The lowdown:

Land Rover Defender 110 5-door Price: Defender 110 from £45,560; Defender 90 from £40,290 Engine: D240 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel producing 240PS Transmission: Eight-speed automatic driving all wheels Performance: 0 to 62mph in 8.7 seconds; top speed 117mph Economy: 37.2 mpg combined CO2 emissions: 199 g/km

Star ratings:

Performance: ***** Economy: **** Ride/Handling: ***** Space/Practicality: ***** Equipment: ***** Security/Safety: **** Value For Money: **** OVERALL: *****