It felt a little bit like the end of days. Heavy rain started, and didn’t stop. Earlier we had been traversing a hillside in a private estate, as you do. Now we had to drive from remotest Devon to deepest Somerset, and I’d just got soaked simply by swapping into the driver’s seat. Thank goodness we had the right tool for the job: a Land Rover Defender 130 V8.
To decode, Land Rover is the marque they’re trying to relegate. Defender will become the brand, one of four in the new JLR ‘house of brands’, with Land Rover as a ‘trust mark’. Defender by Land Rover, if you like. The ‘130’ signifies this is the longest model, longer than the 90 and 110 seen so often in London, with seating for up to eight people. And the V8 is, these days, the naughty bit.
You can get a plug-in hybrid Defender, which will do 31 miles in Sadiq-friendly pure electric mode before the petrol engine kicks in. But this new V8, all £117,475 of it, doesn’t worry about piffling details such as CO2 emissions. It has 500hp and makes a sound to make you wish they’d hurry up with rolling out carbon-neutral synthetic fuel. At 19 miles per gallon, you could be a business case for it all on your own.
Rugged and rich
Off-roading had been glorious. With the air suspension raised and low-range gearing engaged, rarely had I relished driving so slowly. The lack of rain even meant we could have the windows down. It was V8 heaven, a NASCAR event in the forest.
As a treat, we’d also stopped off for a wood-fired lunch made by Simon Stallard, the sustainable chef famous for The Hidden Hut in Cornwall. Reader, it was incredible, and if I could do what he did with beef over a fire pit, I’d be a happy man.
Well fed, and with the heavens now open, we ran to the comfort of the Defender. This is utilitarian chic, both rugged and rich, a bit like the food we’d just eaten. I loved the Alcantara steering wheel, JLR’s infotainment remains the best in the business, and the lofty seating position is so confident and ready for the urban cut-and-thrust.
Raindrops keep falling
While conquering a slippery hillside is the obvious demonstration of a proper 4×4’s strengths, it was back on the road where it came into its own. How many times has the South East been underwater this year? Well, this time, it was Devon’s turn.
Our drive started off cheerily enough, and we were amused at first by splashing through the puddles. But then they got deeper. And deeper. And then the conversation stopped.
This deluge was no laughing matter. Fields had turned into lakes, which were spilling over to turn roads into rivers. We could be driving along on tarmac, then suddenly blinded as the windscreen was drenched in splashback. We were terrified each time. Luckily, the Defender remained steadfast and unruffled.
Right car for the job
This was a serious demonstration of why, when conditions are like this, you need the right car for the job. Frequently, we passed others stranded at the side of the road. We sailed on. The biggest hindrance was other vehicles, not the ability of our own. The only other time we stopped was to let the fire service through. Not in a fire truck; they too had dusted off their classic Defender.
After hours behind the wheel, we finally made it to our hotel. The Defender had defended us proudly. Over much-needed drinks, we shared tales of our respective trips, of the drama outside and relative tranquility within.
A plug-in hybrid would’ve done just as well. But somehow, it seemed fitting to drive through the end of days with an end-of-an-era V8. Get it while you can, because you’ll miss it when it’s gone.