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Land Rover’s new Defender is, by all accounts, quite a machine. But is it a Defender in any more than name?
Where the original could trace its roots back to the Series One of 1948, the new version is more Discovery in rugged clothing than lightly civilised army surplus.
So where do those buyers go now for a utility vehicle without the ‘sports’ at the front?
They could do worse than the direct descendent of the car that inspired the Landie in the first place.
As a little reminder of its additional heritage, when you turn on the Jeep’s ignition a shady image of an original Willys appears on the dash along with the legend ‘since 1941’.
Just like its now-defunct British rival, the Jeep does still drive with a hint of the ’40s in the experience – and, somewhat inevitably, it is flawed as a result.
Crucially, however, this latest (fourth) generation of the Wrangler launched in 1986 is more civilised than even the most developed Defenders, and is a perfectly usable daily driver as a result.
Our test car’s 268bhp turbo ‘four’ offered startling acceleration, albeit with its top speed hampered by a shape that makes a house brick appear aerodynamic.
Mated to a smooth-shifting if occasionally over-eager eight-speed automatic ’box it results in a relaxed road car, despite the enormous tyres, the slow-witted steering and the noisy suspension…
A Land Rover it most certainly is not – in full ‘Yee-haw’ Rubicon trim it’s even more brash than the various Landie reinventions that have sprung up in recent years.
But sitting on vast BF Goodrich all-terrain tyres and finished in lairy banana yellow it certainly gets plenty of attention, almost universally positive.
Just like the Defender it is superb off the beaten track, too.
The ladder chassis, solid axles, transfer ’box, locking diffs and huge 242mm ground clearance give real mountain-goat agility, and it has that same feeling of ‘have-fun-all-day-then-hose-it-out-afterwards’ appeal.
Actually, don’t do that or you’ll likely fry quite a lot of expensive electrics and ruin some rather nicely stitched leather.
Because the interior of the Wrangler today is a long way from the stripped-out military Willys.
The Jeep has been available in civilian form since immediately post-WW2 with the first CJ-1, and today’s JL features all mod cons including sat-nav and climate control.
But it’s delivered with a good dose of fun, too: some of the switchgear looks like surplus from an F-14 Tomcat fighter plane, and even with the five-door in the summer you can take off the roof and remove the doors, then fold the ’screen for the full beach-buggy effect.
It makes an appealing combination: grown-up enough for daily duties, but still with a wild side that delivers giggles aplenty at the weekend.
Images: FCA Group
- Engine 1995cc turbo ‘four’; 268bhp @ 5250rpm; 295lb ft @ 3000rpm
- Transmission eight-speed auto, AWD
- 0-60mph n/a
- Top speed 99mph
- Mpg 28.2
- Price £48,365