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Top Large SUV: Land Rover Defender

Land Rover is as quick to champion its storied heritage as the next car brand. But with the Defender (arguably the one model that retained the most direct link back to the original post-war Series I Land Rover) everything had to change.

The old Defender 90 and 110, in their various SUV and cut-down truck guises, were increasingly out of step with modern safety and emissions regulations.

Fandom on a global scale wasn’t enough to keep the legislation at bay, leaving Land Rover with a massive conundrum: how do you replace an icon? By throwing everything out and starting all over again.

There are design elements here and there that immediately recall the previous generation vehicle, but for the most part, the 2020 Defender 110 is utterly unrecognisable when compared with what went before. Especially when you hop inside.

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Even the most ardent old school Defender, er… defender would find it hard to argue against the fact the previous generation vehicle was basic, uncomfortable, and ergonomically compromised.

This new one, with its comfortable seats wrapped in wear-resistant materials, premium rubberised touchpoints on the dashboard, ample head, leg and shoulder room and impressive digital instrumentation, is like a smartphone compared with a fax machine.

The 2020 Defender dispenses with the past in favour of a brave new digital world. It makes this transition very convincingly. And because it remains a Defender at the end of the day, it will still tackle an incline like a stubborn mountain goat.

There are five iterations of Defender 110 on offer this year (the First Edition D240 and P400 will quietly disappear once they’re all sold out), with pricing spread between $89,900 (entry-level Defender) and $164,900 (top-shelf Defender X). The sweet spot will be the $114,900-$126,900 Defender SE range, incorporating D240, D300 and P400 engine options.

What else was in the running?

Despite the rapid rise of the compact SUV, their larger brethren are by no means extinct. In fact, had it not arrived seven minutes before we had to close off the voting, the new Kia Sorento would surely be a contender (watch this space in 2021). The Defender’s closest XL-sized rival this year would have to be the Mercedes-Benz GLS – an SUV that really does push the ‘luxo’ factor in every department. It’s a stunning vehicle with acres of space and all of Mercedes-Benz’s tech boxes ticked. It also starts at – deep breath – $168,500.

Essential details: 2.0-litre turbo-diesel inline four with either 147kW/430Nm (D200) or 177kW/430Nm (D240), 2.0-litre turbo-petrol inline four with 221kW/400Nm (P300) and 3.0-litre turbo-petrol inline six mild hybrid with 294kW/550Nm (P400). Prices range from $89,900 to $164,900.

Safety: The coronavirus pandemic has delayed crash testing of the Land Rover Defender by Euro NCAP, which was due to take place during the first half of this year. However, with a plethora of passive and active safety technologies onboard it is anticipated the 2020 Defender 110 will achieve a 5 star rating.

At a glance: A well-executed remake of an icon. No small achievement, the new Land Rover Defender retains character, class, composure in the field and now offers Jaguar Land Rover’s full complement of clever onboard tech. Luddites, be damned.

Who should consider it: Families with a bit of outdoor gusto about their weekends (long-wheelbase 110), or couples who want to stand out at the beach house (short-wheelbase 90, when it arrives next year). Then again, it’s quite likely 80 per cent of new Defenders will never leave a paved surface, save for the occasional muddy sports field car park in the depths of winter… look, we’ll just write “architects and advertising executives” here and leave it at that, okay?

Things to consider: The Land Rover marketing team might tell you that the interior features many ruggedised, washable bits, but don’t go treating the interior of your new Defender to a hose-out. There are far too many electronic features to be worried about.

And buying your Defender is by no means the end of your financial outlay – you will feel compelled to add many, many bright and shiny accessories to the body work because an out-of-the-box Defender isn’t going to be quite as cool as one with an official Land Rover-stamped roof rack or side-mounted gear carrier bolted to it.

What else could you buy?: You only have to mention “off road guts and glory” and something with a Toyota or a Jeep badge on its nose inevitably hoves into view. Of course, we’re talking here about the Land Cruiser VX 200 ($115,990) and Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon ($87,990) respectively.

Both offer their own approach to off road adventure; the Land Cruiser by also somehow being plush and well-mannered, the Wrangler by yelling “Yeehaw!” and wearing a camouflage print t-shirt. But both are exceptionally good off road. The Wrangler less so on tarmac...