JOHANNESBURG - When it comes to diesel engines, I find it particularly challenging to get excited. There's that unrefined oil-burner clatter on cold start-ups that reminds me of a farm tractor and that horrendous turbo lag that you get from a standstill that just diminishes the driving experience no matter how luxurious a vehicle may be on the inside.
Over the past decade, however, I will admit that diesel engines have improved and that one manufacturer, BMW has nailed the diesel engine in its passenger cars and SUVs. These days there's nothing that comes close to an in-line six cylinder BMW diesel engine, regardless of whether it has one, two or three turbochargers attached to it. There's refinement to BMW six-pot oil-burners. These engines idle smoothly and pick up torque with very little input lag and depending on their individual state of tune, can either be blisteringly quick or sensationally frugal and sometimes both as is the case with the BMW 330d as an example. BMW, however, has a challenger for the throne when it comes to diesel engine supremacy and this is thanks to Land Rover's latest diesel six-pot engine, which we put to the test in the latest Defender 110.
Priced at a cool R1 679 352 in D300 X guise, the latest Defender 110 packs a 3.0-litre straight-six turbocharged diesel engine that punches out 221kW at 4000rpm and 650Nm from as low as 1500rpm. Grunt is sent to all four wheels via an eight speed torque converter style automatic gearbox (one of the best shifters in an SUV right now by the way) and you can tailor your traction capabilities through Land Rover's Terrain Response system depending on your driving surface. The engine fires up with an almost petrol-like smoothness and while there is some clatter when it's cold, that fades away quickly and from the inside of the cabin, you can barely hear it idle.
It's this blend of smoothness and then the punch that it delivers that boggles the mind in the latest Defender because the vehicle can gallop from a standstill to 100km/h in just seven seconds and onto a top speed of 190km/h. The top speed doesn't matter much because the Defender really feels its best on the highway at the national limit, but it's that zero to 100 time that will keep hot hatches honest between the traffic lights. It's this kind of pick and urgency that makes it a fantastic diesel engine, particularly in a near 2.5 ton behemoth of an SUV. In the past, you'd get get this kind of pace from BMW's X5, but you don't expect it in a Defender of all things.
Ok sure, engine aside, the Defender isn't the sportiest thing out there but it doesn't need to be as its offroad prowess is what you want when you set your sights on it in any case. It's confidence-inspiring to have decent pace and in-gear acceleration on the road, however, to get out of tricky traffic situations and to overtake safely with the family and lots of luggage in tow. It's frugal too, with the test car returning 11.5l/100km after a week of town and highway driving. Land Rover claims that it will sip a little as 7.6l/100km in a combined cycle, which I do find optimistic, but there's no doubt that you can achieve this figure on a long highway sojourn.
Away from the engine, which really just dominates the experience of the latest Defender as it's so darn good, is a refined and extremely capable off-road vehicle that can easily accommodate up to seven adults. Boot space will be limited if you travel seven up, but you can tow a decent size off-road trailer thanks to the shunt on offer here. The inside of the vehicle is trimmed in exquisite leathers and durable plastics that offer a particularly compelling blend of luxury and functionality. It's also laden with technology, including the latest Pivi Pro 2 infotainment system and Meridian audio system that features 14 speakers and a thumping subwoofer that's driven through a dedicated amplifier for a total of 700W of audio firepower. It's perfect if you enjoy blasting those Rage Against the Machine classics while climbing up a mountain all while sipping on your favourite coffee at the same time.
I didn't expect to enjoy driving the Defender 110 as much as I did. It proved exceptionally capable as a daily run around and although it’s large and cumbersome at times, the range of camera systems and technologies available in the vehicle make it quite easy to drive after just a few hours in the driver's seat.
I find it bittersweet, however, that Land Rover (and Jaguar) has reached this pinnacle of performance with its diesel (and petrol) engines, which will slowly start to disappear from 2025 as electrification takes over.
If you can afford to part with around R1,7 million and you want a new vehicle to give you all the luxury and safety you need in the city, but also capable of taking you on roads less travelled when your sense of adventure kicks in, this Defender 110 X might be just the thing for you.
Its bold styling will certainly help you stand out from the crowd of SUVs at your local eatery and thanks to years and years of testing and refinement you can be guaranteed a high-quality driving experience that's really pushed Land Rover into higher level when it comes to luxury cars. If you currently drive a large luxury vehicle, sedan or SUV, I urge you to take the Defender 110 for a spin before making any decisions on your next vehicle as it has a charm that will captivate you and it has the go to match all that show.
Defender prices start at R1 141 966 for the D240 short-wheelbase 90 variant and extend all the way to R2 439 310 for the fire-breathing 110 V8 Carpathian Edition that arrives on local shores later this year. All models come with a five-year/100 000km maintenance contract.