EASTNOR, England – Before setting out in this all-new 2020 Land Rover Defender, please allow me a few words about its legendary predecessor. After a terrible winter, the British summer of 1947 was one of the warmest on record. It was probably shirt-sleeve order, then, when Maurice and Spencer Wilks walked down the tree-lined track from their summer cottage at Wern-y-Wylan and onto the expansive sands of Red Wharf Bay in Anglesey. Were there dogs frolicking alongside the two brothers? History doesn't recall. Nor does it tell us much about their stick-in-the-sand sketch, which was soon engulfed by the incoming tide, but it was that drawing, illustrating the ideas of Maurice, Rover's technical director, and Spencer, Rover's managing director, which went on to play a crucial part in the development of the quintessential British utility, the Land Rover. What I can tell you is that the vehicle standing in front of me now, while looking indubitably modern, is also somehow reminiscent of the earliest Land Rover launched at the Amsterdam Motor Show in 1948 and everything that has followed since. My heart says Defender, a name this go-anywhere vehicle gained in 1990, just seven years before it was withdrawn from sale in the United States. My head says Range Rover, the SUV on which this clever new car is based, but beefed up like a prizefighter. This is car design akin to a Quentin Tarantino movie; a piece of filmmaking in its own right, but chock full of sly allusions and tributes. Yet while its predecessor was a simple body-on-frame, mend-it-with-a-hammer utility, this is a modern, independently sprung, aluminum monocoque vehicle, with modern engines, infotainment and connectivity choices. And it's coming back to America. Could it possibly be as capable (and uncomfortable) as the old Defender? I've got the key in my hand … I climb in and take a deep breath of reverence combined with admiration. The Defender interior is quasi-military heaven, from the standard rubber matting (the carpet goes on top) and squashy foam padding in green (naturally), to the optional three-abreast front seating and the half-width dashboard tray just like the originals. It's all unmistakably Defender, but congenially modern and plush. There's bare metal, tough grained plastic and that woven nylon material filched from swanky backpacks – alternative trim materials are available. The driver's all-digital instrument binnacle sits on the powder-coated magnesium-alloy, full-width beam, and the windshield is shallow with huge wipers and integral washers that actually work. For one familiar with an old Defender, the driving position is unrecognisably comfy; or as one fellow writer put it, "just not crap enough." Combined with all this, is a center touchscreen, various cameras and safety systems. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, there's a "ClearSight" camera-based rearview mirror option as well as front-wheel cameras and a trick "transparent" hood display (below left) that help guide the wheels on difficult surfaces. Issues? There could have been a bit more done with the configurable Terrain Response controls than just those …
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|MPG||17 City / 20 Hwy|
|Transmission||8-spd auto w/OD|
|Power||296 @ 5500 rpm|
|Drivetrain||Terrain Response four-wheel|
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