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Wheels of the Week: Defender 130 digs deep

Forget about the puns about it being a stretch – the new 130 digs deep when it matters, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The legendary Land Rover Defender, an off-road icon since 1948, has just had its latest update, and then some.

The new Defender 130 is the longest and most luxurious version of the Defender lineup, jokingly described by a friend as a “4X4 couch”. It’s also the most expensive Defender, with the model we tested, the X Ingenium, starting at R2-million. 

The combination of the length and price have inspired numerous headlines about it being a stretch but, for that price, you do get a lot of cars. It seats up to 8 people with the back seats up and has a cargo capacity of 2516 litres behind the first row of seats.

The Defender X is an all-wheel drive powered by a turbocharged 2.0 litre 4-cylinder 221kW petrol engine.  

That all suggests a sluggish beast, but it is quite the opposite, with quick acceleration and a comfortable ride on the open road. Land Rover promises 0-100 km in 7.5 seconds, which is respectable for such a monster.

Engineering hardware meets software

Of course, it is off-road that it comes into its own, thanks to both its physical and software engineering. Its 290mm of off-road ground clearance – versus 218mm standard clearance – and a wading depth of 900mm combines with Land Rover’s Terrain Response 2 system, which helps the driver choose the best settings for different terrain.

This means the Defender 130 can handle off-road challenges ranging from rock crawling and mud wading to sand dunes. We didn’t get to the desert, but tested it in the Pilanesberg, where many of the eroded roads provide a great simulation of off-road driving.

The vehicle comes standard with Hill Descent Control (HDC), Gradient Release Control, Wade Sensing, and All-Terrain Progress Control (ATPC). The last is a personal favourite, as it’s the closest that production cars come to autonomous driving. One still has to steer, but the car takes over the rest, in a form of off-road cruise control, maintaining a steady, slow speed over hills, rocks, and loose surfaces.

These last two were available in abundant supply in the Pilanesberg, and the Defender handled them with nonchalance, as long as one remained patient as the vehicle automatically monitored performance and position and adjusted 4-wheel drive settings and suspension on the fly. The biggest challenge in such conditions, applying appropriate throttle at the appropriate moment, is entirely automated. If you want to show that you know more than the car’s AI, you can disengage ATPC and go skidding off at your convenience.

Driving in such conditions also highlights the depth and richness of information displayed on the infotainment system. Even in basic 4X4 mode, the 10-inch touchscreen graphically displays the angle of each axle. Along with altitude and bearing, in case one loses one’s sense of the horizon. It includes a Wade Sending mode, triggered at a depth of 0.1 metres, and a Configurable Terrain Response settings display that allows one to personalise off-road system preferences.

All of this adds up to an extensive array of automated and assistive features on the one hand, and the ability to customise and activate any of these according to one’s driving (or personality) preferences.

On-board tech and comfort

The 130’s interior is not your grandfather’s Defender cabin. It is spacious and luxurious, with even the third row of seats comfortable, even for adults. The one negative is that, when all three rows of seats are being used, cargo space is severely limited. You’re not going to take 7 people on holiday with you in this one, if everyone has luggage.

A 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster keeps the driver informed and engaged, while passengers are kept happy with a 10-speaker Meridian sound system and three-zone climate control with rear heating and cooling assist.

Safety features, as one would expect, include automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and blind spot monitoring. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity to smartphones is seamless, with an expansive infotainment system giving intuitive access.

However, the infotainment system also shone without a smartphone connection. The mapping built into the Jaguar Land Rover Pivi Pro infotainment system is among the best we have seen in a vehicle and came to the rescue many times while cellphone signals were non-existent during off-road adventures.

Heated and ventilated front seats, power-adjustable front seats, and a panoramic sunroof made it a comfortable place to be, at any time during the typical hot days and freezing nights of late-winter weather.

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