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DEFENDER FOR A DEFENDER

After almost seven decades, Land Rover launched a completely new Defender. No terrain is too wild for this Land Rover. To experience this, we conquered the urban jungle of Amsterdam with John Heitinga. Text: Perry Snijders
Image: Luuk van Kaathoven
Online editor: Mical Joseph In September 2019, Land Rover presented the new Defender. The car was first shown at the IAA in Frankfurt, one of the most important car shows in the world. Not much later he made his Dutch debut. This happened in the RAI in Amsterdam, an appropriate place: the original Land Rover also made its debut in the RAI in 1948. For that reason, Land Rover also had a 1948 example during the most recent edition of the MASTERS fair.

Not a copy that happened to be built in that first year, but really one of the very first Land Rovers, which was actually on display in the RAI at the time. So far, things have been going great with the introduction of the new Defender. The brand had clearly done its best - and you wouldn't expect anything less when a model is really being completely redesigned for the first time after 69 years. However, the outbreak of the coronavirus also seriously disrupted the introduction of the new Defender. We had planned to get to know the car in detail in England at the beginning of April, but that introduction was cancelled; If Land Rover had dared to do it, no plane would have flown. To get into the mood, we had a visit to the new Bond film No Time To Die on the agenda. In addition to his trusted DB007, 5 also drives Land Rover's latest creation. That movie night could also be ended; the cinemas were closed and the film's premiere was postponed by more than six months.

Instead of the fancy introduction that Land Rover had in mind, the new Defender, the workhorse of the brand, started life in a way that was actually much more appropriate. The more than 160 Defenders that were ready for the introduction were immediately made available to aid organizations that needed extra transport due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. In the United Kingdom, they were used by the Red Cross to deliver food and medicine to elderly people who were no longer able or allowed to leave the house themselves. Cars were also used by the Red Cross in Spain, France, South Africa and Australia. Just as the old Defender was also used by aid organizations, but also armies and the United Nations, for example. Anyone who still doubted whether the new Defender is a worthy successor to the old one was immediately convinced.

Uncompromising dedication

That doubt certainly existed. Not so much among buyers of the new Defender, but especially among avid enthusiasts of the old one, who would have preferred that not a screw had been changed. Logically that was not possible, because in 2020 different demands are placed on a car than in 1948. The old Defender has of course been extensively modified a few times in its long life, but the basis remained fairly antique. It was once intended as an 'all-purpose vehicle on the lines of the Willys-Overland post-war Jeep'. Gradually it also became more and more a car for enthusiasts. Land Rover's design chief Gerry McGovern didn't necessarily want to make a retro car; he again wanted a functional car that had the appearance of the original. “The new Defender is respectful of the past, but not trapped in it. It's a new Defender for a new era. His unique personality is emphasized by his silhouette and his optimal proportions, which make him both attractive and highly capable. That is what a Defender should be: a visually appealing 4×4 that exudes uncompromising dedication to its capabilities.”

Dream car

Heitinga's love for cars does not only include Land Rovers and Range Rovers. “I have a Mercedes-Benz from the club, which is also nice. But to be honest, I don't drive it that much in the city. I usually take the bicycle, an electric one, which saves a lot of parking problems in the city. But actually a Ferrari was my dream car, that had to happen at some point. That time is now over, now I think it is especially important that a car is safe when I take my family in it, and practical of course. I won't say that you automatically end up with a Land Rover, but I have a bit of that left over from my period in England. Every player there drove a Range Rover. That's a bit different nowadays, because the Rolls-Royce Cullinan is now very popular. I will never say that I think that is over the top, because everyone should drive the car they feel comfortable in, but I personally don't want it. Since my time in England I have been very happy with the Range Rovers I drove.”

Olympic Stadium

Yet it is not a loss that we cannot test the Defender off-road. The old Defender already held its own off-road, but on the road you noticed that the car had been released a long time ago. So that was where the biggest gains could be made. This has been achieved, among other things, by building the new Defender on a brand new platform, which is no less than three times stiffer than the ladder chassis on which the old one was built. In addition, it is equipped with a modern eight-speed automatic transmission, making it much quieter on the highway. Don't think that the Defender has turned into half a racing car, because it still has extremely high tire sidewalls, which are necessary to handle the terrain well. But in a city like Amsterdam you only benefit from that. Not only if you want to effortlessly conquer the concrete stairs at the RAI or the Olympic Stadium, but also if you, for example, cross a tram track or have to step onto the sidewalk to pass a moving van: it is all done without visible or tangible effort. This has made the Defender a lot more versatile than it already was; He has been legendary for a long time, but now he is truly an all-rounder.