When determining the eligibility or otherwise of a car for future classic status, it helps to have a little hindsight. Often it is time alone that will reveal how a car can transform itself from an undeniably good machine when new, to something destined to become a sought-after classic in later life.
And while it is not the subject of this story, it is certainly instructive to look at the Land Rover Discovery 4 as a prime example. This was the Disco built between 2009-2016 and before it was reborn as a more practical but far less attractive Range Rover. The last proper Discovery. When new these were solid, effective workhorses but only now do we see their authenticity, their honesty, how true they were to the Land Rover brand. And now it’s gone, we’re missing it.
But just occasionally a car comes along that doesn’t need to wait. A car that had future classic written across its bonnet from the very first moment the covers were pulled off. And the current Defender is that car. Ever since production of the original Defender stopped in 2016, we wondered what might replace it. Clearly there was no future in making another so crude and uncomfortable with live axles and a ladder chassis. Those days have gone. But how much would the new car look the part, and how much would it actually play it? We feared it would be far more about showing off to your mates than going off road to anywhere you might fancy reaching.
We should return directly to the Defender because I’ve not even told you what’s best about it yet. Which is that somehow, despite all the legal requirements any new car must meet these days, the imperative to provide the market with the comfort, content, refinement and luxury without which no one is going to pay proper money for anything, it wears that Defender badge with conviction.
It is, of course, a Defender in the modern idiom but so too does it get the job done. It has a rugged interior you’re not going to worry about when the kids climb aboard after an afternoon on a muddy pitch and it is easy and intuitive to operate too, unlike so many other Range and Land Rovers of recent past. And when you aim it at an off-road track so steep and muddy it would make a billy goat think twice, it just deals with it. The new Defender is absolutely phenomenal off-road and, for almost all people almost all of the time, better than its illustrious predecessor which, as an off-roader, had probably the most vaunted reputation of them all.
And it’s already gathering a cult following. Defender drivers always acknowledge Defender drivers and the real cognoscenti have already concluded that with the Defender as with the Porsche 911, less is often more. That’s why the coolest Defender by far is the two door short-wheelbase ‘90’ on white painted steel rims. Owners crow about the fact that they have never cleaned theirs and sneer at those who have. It has built a following of passionate, knowledgeable fans like no other Land Rover I’ve known since, well, the last Defender.
But which to choose? In theory there is a dizzying array of potential engine and equipment choices, in reality with delays of up to year on delivery thanks to the chip shortage, you may be tempted to go with what you can get. I’d single out two, neither of which is the powerful, profligate yet slightly pulled punch that is the V8. If you’re going to go down that road, best wait for even more gutsy SVR version that’s bound to turn up sooner or later.
For those wanting petrol power, the P400e plug in hybrid has the performance and tax-friendly emissions. It will also do 27 miles on electricity alone, reducing fuel bills on local journeys. Those still brave enough to buy a diesel should choose the D250 with its smooth and powerful 3-litre straight six motor. Whether you should buy a two or a four door is an easier decision. The 90 looks amazing, but it has a tiny boot and getting in the back is a pain, although there is no less space once there. The 110 is better for a family.
But whichever you choose do so in the knowledge you’re driving a truly great Land Rover. How great? Before its launch, I’d say the company had created four truly world-beating designs in its history: the original Land Rover, the original Range Rover, the 2001 Range Rover and the original Evoque. The Defender is the fifth, a classic of the future and a fabulous go-anywhere, do-anything family holdall of today.