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New Defender touches down in NI (accompanied by an original 1954 Land Rover)

By Paul Connolly

The new Land Rover Defender has arrived in Northern Ireland, following a three-year creation and development cycle.

Accompanied by a beautiful original Land Rover dating from 1954, the new Defender made an appearance at Charles Hurst Land Rover on Belfast’s Boucher Road.

Despite all the hype (and actually in this case it might be worth it), the new Defender is a design triumph as well as a key new model for manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover.

This is an important car as it was expected to show how the company is able to execute a plan to distill its 20th century heritage with its 21st century future into a single vehicle.

And combine both it does. The new car doesn’t disappoint in the metal, being larger, chunkier and more imposing than I’d expected.

Indeed, it dwarfed the special 1954 model sitting opposite both in terms of physical size and road presence.

It’s not just petrol-heads who will appreciate the Defender’s attributes. Although it seems to have been around forever, the actual Defender brand name only dates from the early 1980s.

However, it was an uncompromisingly direct successor to the famous original Land Rover series which originated in 1948.

The new car manages to blend the old and the new – Land Rover’s heritage and its future – very well.  

It’s tall yet somehow squat and purposeful; boxy but in a modern way that still manages to cherish its heritage; imposing yet not over-bearing; muscular but not brash.

The model on display was a fully-loaded long-wheel base (110 trim) version which has air suspension as standard. (A short-wheelbase 90 trim will also be available, and it looks like a 130 very long wheelbase version seating eight passengers has also been confirmed.)

Sitting behind the wheel, everything is reassuringly solid and impressive and well, Land Rover-ish.

A large 10-inch touchscreen sits atop the central console, and an exposed “magnesium cross beam” with grab handles that says the car is functional as well as luxurious.

Although not idling when I climbed in, the car was switched on so glimpses of the technology could be seen. This includes the digital rear-view mirror, which produces a HD view from its rear camera where the traditional rear-view mirror sits.

I couldn’t see the front view cameras designed to offer views of advancing kerbs and rocks, but this surround-camera tech is already-proved Land Rover/Ranger Rover kit so you know it’ll be executed well.

The boot is big, as you’d expect. The 110 offers 1,075 litres of luggage space opening up to more than 2,300 litres with the rear seats folded. (There’s a seven-seat version as well with reduced boot space when the final seat is upright.)

It’s a large and imposing car, so you’ll have no difficulties transporting three long-legged six-footers in the rear, and headroom is exceptional.

The First Edition on display came fully loaded with extras, some of which might prove a bit marmite-y but useful for real adventurers: a safari-style roof rack and a side-mounted gear carrier which I’m presuming was a feature of either the original Defender or Land Rover series.

It was a real joy to see the new Defender sit opposite a beautifully-preserved 1954 Land Rover. This is automotive history face-to-face: the latest 20th Century post-war engineering and the best early 21st Century technology.

Land Rover’s chief design officer Gerry McGovern has said the new Defender is “respectful of its past but is not harnessed by it” and when you see it in the metal he’s actually correct: tribute is paid to the classic, but no quarter has been given when it comes to creating a car fit for the digital world.

Now that we’ve experienced the 110 First Edition version (priced from around £58k but with loads of optional extras), it was also be very interesting to see entry-level models (from around £45k for the 110), the higher-spec 110 X trim and the 90 models.

And to drive one, or course, for it’s likely this will be the most terrain-capable Land Rover/Ranger Rover yet. And that’s saying something…

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