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Since its introduction to the Indian market in 2020, the Land Rover Defender – renowned for its iconic design, exceptional offroad performance and luxurious interior – has become the top-selling model for the company in India. From politicians and celebrities to industrialists, the Defender has garnered a dedicated following and emerged as the must-have car for the season. When Land Rover called us to ask if we wanted to check out the updated 2023 model, we couldn’t say no.

The Defender’s unique blend of rugged prowess and modern luxury set it apart

Few names command as much respect as the Defender. This iconic car has a storied history of conquering terrains that would send most vehicles into retreat. It has epitomised the essence of unyielding strength, and the 2023 model continues this legacy while adding a touch of modernity. The Defender line-up in India is not short of diversity. With prices ranging from Rs. 93.55 lakh to Rs. 2.30 crore, it caters to a spectrum of preferences and requirements. It’s available in three primary trim levels: the 90, 110, and 130. These are then further branched into an array of variants, including Standard, S, SE, HSE, X-Dynamic S, X-Dynamic SE, H-Dynamic HSE, First Edition, X, and Carpathian. This massive range ensures that there’s a Defender to suit every taste, from the enthusiast seeking rugged minimalism to the urbanite craving luxury.

My favourite is still the short-wheelbase Defender 90, but I was certainly not about to complain about driving the 110. One glance at the Defender is enough to convey its formidable presence. The square matrix LED headlamps pierce through the darkness, while the smoked tail lights add an element of mystique to its rear. The 20-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels strike a balance between aesthetics and functionality, and the full-sized spare wheel ensures you’re well-prepared for whatever the journey throws your way. The panoramic sunroof adds a touch of openness to your off-road adventures, bringing the sky a little closer. Credit is due to Land Rover’s design team for masterfully preserving the iconic Defender silhouette while seamlessly infusing modernity, and achieving a harmonious and well-executed design that stands out.

Rugged yet plush interiors make a nice blend

Step inside the cabin and the Defender unveils a treasure trove of modern technology and creature comforts, exuding a premium yet rugged ambience. Its industrial-inspired design, complete with exposed rivets and robust grab handles, creates an unmistakably utilitarian atmosphere. Moreover, the portal windows contribute to a captivating safari-like experience, further enhancing the distinct charm of the interior. An 11.4-inch Pivi Pro touchscreen infotainment system graces the dashboard, offering seamless integration with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Heads-Up Display (HUD) provides essential information while allowing you to keep your focus on the road. A surround-view camera assists with tight spots and tricky manoeuvres.

The musical experience is elevated by a sound system from Meridian. Four-zone climate control ensures that everyone on board is comfortable, while the leather upholstery adds a luxurious touch. The centre console comes complete with an armrest for added convenience. The 14-way electrically adjustable front seats, with memory, heating, and cooling functions, ensure that you’re relaxed during the journey, no matter the conditions. My only point of contention lies in the seat adjustment menus, which are tucked away within three submenus and could benefit from a more intuitive and easily accessible design. Additionally, the overall software interface, including the touchscreen controls, could be enhanced for a smoother and more smartphone-like user experience.

10.2 kmpl is a respectable fuel efficiency figure for a car of this size

Beneath the Defender’s robust hood lies an array of engine options; I got the 2-litre petrol engine with 292 bhp and 40.78 kgm of torque. Power is delivered to all four wheels via a common eight-speed automatic transmission and an AWD system. While the 2-litre engine gets the job done, its performance may leave some wishing for a bit more power, considering the vehicle’s size. Fuel efficiency – a subject that might not be at the forefront of most Defender owners’ minds – in urban settings was a figure of 7.9 kmpl, and during a brief highway stint, the Defender achieved a respectable 10.2 kmpl.

On the road, the Defender surprises, with a comfortable and smooth ride, while its agility and precise steering make it feel surprisingly nimble. Its advanced suspension system adapts to different terrains, providing a refined experience for city drives and highway cruising. When the journey takes you off-road, the Defender’s array of modes, from Mud and Ruts to Rock and Crawl, ensures it can conquer any terrain. The Defender’s off-road prowess is further enhanced by its adaptable air suspension, allowing you to raise or lower the ride height as needed; this is a great party trick as well as a great conversation starter when people see it in action. From navigating muddy trails to wading through water crossings, the Defender is well-equipped for all challenges. A 5-star Euro NCAP rating takes care of the safety side of things.

An icon that refuses to be confined by tradition

For the Indian market, the Defender finds itself in the company of worthy rivals, with the BMW X7, Audi Q7, Mercedes-Benz GLS and Volvo XC90 all vying for the attention of discerning SUV enthusiasts. The Defender’s unique blend of rugged prowess and modern luxury sets it apart, and it has slowly started to gain the pop culture status of the Mercedes Benz G-Class. In the grand scheme of SUVs, the Defender remains an undisputed legend. It’s truly an icon, which refuses to be confined by tradition, carrying the Defender legacy forward into new territory.