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Long-term tests

Land Rover Defender P400e PHEV: long-term test

Final report: Reborn British 4x4 icon has proved to be just what the doctor ordered

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.5 out of 5

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Verdict

Land Rover has reinvented the Defender using as much clever thinking as the original. In today’s world, it’s massively capable, hugely comfortable, a fantastic piece of design and a joy to live with. It’s the sort of car you can do absolutely anything with, in any place, and it’ll always leave you smiling. It did us.

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  • Mileage: 12,930
  • Economy: 30.1mpg

Reputations are tough to build and just as hard to lose. As much as I’ve loved living with the Land Rover Defender, every time I post something about how brilliant it has been on social media, some clever Dick will post a reply about it being likely to break down. That’s a cross Land Rover has to bear and has to change.

Well, I’m here to report that in very close to 13,000 miles across all sorts of countries and terrains, in all weathers loaded to the gunwales or with just me and my music on board, my Defender has been faultless – as you’d hope (and Land Rover tells me that it has reduced warranty claims by a third since 2020). It leaves me with a clean bill of health and a heavy heart, because this car has been brilliant for me and my family.

What do I like so much about it? For a start, it’s a clever car: a smart piece of design with some intelligent technology on board and some neat thinking that makes it very easy to live with. I’ll give you one example that I love: the cup-holders in the centre console have a handy removable, rubberised cover that sits on top when you don’t have cups to use. It’s perfect for your mobile phone if you would rather not use the wireless charging pad behind it.

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When you do want to use the cup-holders, the cover slots neatly onto the section underneath, so it doesn’t take up extra space or rattle around in the door bins. Clever.

Then there’s the storage shelf in front of the passenger, which is illuminated beautifully at night to shine a light on the Defender logo in the bulkhead. It has a USB-C socket and is shaped in such a way that nothing will slide around or off. Love it.

Like me, my car has got better with age (ahem). Over-the-air updates tweaked the gearbox (not that I thought it needed it), upgraded the Driver Assistance System (ditto), added what3words functionality, and let me work my house lights via Amazon Alexa.

On top of that, Land Rover’s engineers told me that doing updates like this would save me an hour of dealer time over having it all done at a service, cutting my costs, too.

Most of the time, it seemed to be just me and my four-legged friend in the car; I was super-comfy in the front for however many miles, and Sky was on her bed in the boot, enjoying the great view out, while doing her best to challenge the wipe-clean surfaces after her walks. Happily, the car won.

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I managed to do some mild off-roading while I had the Defender. And although electronic trickery does most of the work that mechanicals used to do in its ancient predecessor, I’m much happier pressing a button and twisting a dial to choose the right setting than pushing heavy levers around. This Defender, like the previous version in many ways, just makes life easy.

It’s not just me who fell for its charms. I lent the Land Rover to my pal and fellow journalist Adrian Chiles for his honeymoon last year and he came back raving about it – especially the fridge in the centre console!

My family loved it, too – my 24-year-old daughter Gemma appreciated its style, space and comfort, rating it second only to the Mercedes G-Wagen I ran for a while – and that’s probably just because the Kardashians don’t drive a Defender (yet).

Gripes? There are only two. I’m not sure I’d choose the plug-in hybrid version again. I regularly got more than 25 miles on EV power from a full charge, but because I’ve done so many miles, I think I’d have been better off with a diesel – not least because of the extra range. I couldn’t quite make my regular 400-mile round trip from home in Buckinghamshire to Liverpool without a fill-up towards the end.

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The silence of the car in EV mode is incredible, but you barely notice when the four-cylinder engine kicks into life, either. If you’re likely to do lots of shorter journeys, or can benefit from the low company car tax, then the PHEV could be an ideal choice.

Also on a car that looks as good dirty as it does clean, I’d have loved headlamp washers – especially on the filthy roads lately.

Otherwise, we would heartily recommend the Defender, as I have done to a number of friends. It’s not a cheap car, but its blend of abilities, its style and yes, its durability, are pretty much unbeatable at this price.

Land Rover Defender P400e: second report

Editor-in-chief Steve Fowler lends his Land Rover Defender to famous friend Adrian Chiles for the trip of a lifetime

By Adrian Chiles

Verdict

Before returning the Defender, I started looking into buying one. I read about what an outstanding off-roader it is. My heart sank: how could I justify such a thing when I do precisely no off-road driving at all? My mind turned to changing my life completely and buying a house so remote there is no road to it. That’s how much I rated it. Zoopla, here I come.

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  • Mileage: 8,769
  • Economy: 34.2mpg

Until recently I’d never owned a dog or driven a 4x4 – or even had any notion of getting married. But there I was, on honeymoon, driving around Europe in a Defender with my bride next to me and our dog Tito snoozing on the back seat.

The odyssey began, as is traditional, with a six-hour wait at the Folkestone Eurotunnel terminal. Then from Calais we headed through Belgium into Germany, then down past Munich, continuing through Austria and Slovenia into northern Croatia, and on to the Adriatic coast.

Two people and a dog in a Land Rover hardly sounds like the last word in romance, and the three of us did have the odd squabble along the way. But as far as our feelings for the Defender were concerned, love reigned supreme. Being touchy-feely urban dwellers, we were the kind of people who’d generally grumble about Chelsea tractors whenever one got in our way. Yet we found ourselves cruising along autobahns and twisting and turning our way up mountains and through forests, loving it a bit more every day.

I am no petrolhead – or hybrid-head in this case – so I have little technical language or knowledge to apply to my review. I do know what I like and need, though, and the Defender met my relatively simple requirements. It felt as well suited to motorways as it did to challenging country roads and city streets.

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I made a bit of a song and dance about parking it, until I realised it was barely longer than my BMW 5 Series Touring, and any parking problems were all in my head – plus it was almost absurdly comfortable. Six or more hours at the wheel were a doddle. The adaptive cruise control proved to be particularly useful. The sound system was great and the infotainment smart, even if I’d need a longer journey than to Croatia and back to master it. 

The cabin has nooks and crannies in all the most convenient places to stow all the paraphernalia touring brings with it. And I never again want to drive anything without a small fridge in the armrest between the front seats. Also, importantly for peace of mind on a trip like this, I enjoyed security that comes with being in the care of an apparently indestructible vehicle. 

Unfortunately, this indestructibility was something I put to the test. On the return journey through Italy, I was minding my own business doing around 75mph on the autostrada when I spotted something in my lane 100 metres or so ahead. During the short time I spent wondering whether it was just a mark on the road or a physical object, it turned out to be the latter.

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Somewhere further up the road there must have been an old Fiat minus its back bumper which, it turns out, had enough about it to shred a Defender’s tyre. I suspect a lesser vehicle would have had more damage, but the Defender held its line, I slowed into the hard shoulder, and all was well.

At the garage they shook their heads sadly and said they didn’t have an appropriate tyre. I pointed to the spare bolted to the back door and took their happy exclamations to mean something along the lines of, God yes, a proper spare wheel – you don’t get many of them these days.

On we went, up into the Dolomites, where I enjoyed the mountain roads that bit more for the bonus electric charge generated by all the braking. As far as proper charging was concerned, it was slim pickings. Of the eight hotels we stayed in, only two had proper chargers. If there had been more, then overall consumption might have been better. As it was we still managed to squeeze well over 400 miles from each tank.

Land Rover Defender P400e: first report

Latest plug-in hybrid version of the Land Rover Defender joins our fleet

  • Mileage: 3,119
  • Economy: 32.2mpg
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The best things in life come to those who wait, and as with so many people these days who are waiting for their new cars, my Defender took a while to arrive. Delivery times are improving now, we’re told, but at least it allowed my excitement to build; the latest Land Rover Defender is one of those rare cars that is so good, I can remember when and where I was when I first drove one.

I wasn’t the only one excited by the new delivery. Friend, neighbour and local car dealer Jason Holt was keen to look around my new Defender, too. He runs CSG Motor Company in Chalfont St Giles, Bucks, and his pride and joy is an original Defender 130. Old and new Defenders are incomparable, other than in spirit. While Jason’s car is full of character and much loved, it’s full of frustrations, too – it’s an old design that was just left to soldier on.

The new car is a clever piece of design and engineering – and much sought after, as those waiting lists prove. Not only does it look fantastic, but the new model also includes the kind of smart engineering that made the old one so special. And so far, build quality – a traditional JLR Achilles’ heel – seems to be spot on. The new model, whisper it, isn’t even built in the UK; it comes out of a brand-new plant in Slovakia. I decided to plough my own furrow with the Defender and ordered the new plug-in hybrid version in Eiger Grey. The vast majority of Defenders you’ll see are in Santorini Black, but I reckon my car, with its dark X-Dynamic trimmings, looks fantastic.

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The P400e combines a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine and a 19.2kWh battery, which is supposed to give an electric running range of 27 miles. In practice that’s a pretty realistic figure, but as with all PHEVs, you have to plug in as often as you can to achieve decent fuel figures. So far, our 32.2mpg average is not far from what we’d expect from a diesel model – but it’ll probably improve as I do an increasing number of short trips on electricity alone.

A first trip on my regular jaunt from Buckinghamshire to Liverpool to watch the football probably didn’t help; nor did a short family holiday in Wales. Both saw the car’s electric power disappear pretty quickly and there were limited options to put another 27 miles-worth of range in the battery.

However, the comfort and quietness of the Defender made up for things; this is a seriously smooth long-distance cruiser. It’s difficult to tell whether you’re running on electric or petrol power, so good is the refinement. But when you do put your foot down, the four-cylinder engine sounds a bit fruity – more like there are five cylinders working away. And I’ve not yet felt short of power, despite the car’s size and weight.

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There’s a fantastic view out – as there was in the old Defender – and there’s plenty of space for five adults and a dog on board. I also like the amount of thinking that’s gone into placing odds and ends around the cabin – something Land Rover has always been good at. My car even has a fridge inside – handy in the hot weather.

I also love the big, square 11.4-inch touchscreen. It’s quick and easy to use, although having activated Amazon Alexa on the infotainment system, I’m beginning to regret it. Mention anything that sounds even vaguely like the A-word and the system pauses, waiting for your next instruction. The only other minor frustration is that the charging cable and jack sit in bags in the boot, which is slightly raised, due to the hybrid system’s battery. It’d be nice if they could be tucked out of the way somewhere.

Other than that, the Defender has been well worth the wait – and will be if you’re currently waiting for yours.

Model:Land Rover Defender 110 P400e X-Dynamic HSE
On fleet since:May 2022
Price new:£79,945
Engine:2.0-litre 4cyl petrol + e-motor, 398bhp
CO2/tax:60g/km/£510
Options:Advanced Off-Road Capability Pack (£1,070), Comfort and convenience pack (£750), Electronic active differential (£1,020), Metallic paint (£895), Split rear seats with heating (£305), Meridian Sound System (£630)  
Insurance*:Group: 46 Quote: £1,520
Mileage:12,930
Economy:30.1mpg
Any problems?Puncture

*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.

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