There was much lamenting in the light commercial community when Land Rover decided to withdraw the Defender in 2016.
Perhaps the only ones pleased to see the back of the legendary old workhorse were rival 4x4 manufacturers, such as Toyota with its Land Cruiser Commercial, soon to be departed Mitsubishi with its Outlander Commercial, and the pick-up brands that swooped in to provide erstwhile Defender customers with an alternative off-roader.
News broke in 2019 that Land Rover was to resurrect a commercial derivative of the model and towards the end of last year order books opened for the new Defender Hard Top. With a starting price of £35,820, excluding VAT, the Hard Top is beyond the price bracket of all but the top-range pick-ups. However, it could profit from the departure of the luxury Mercedes X-Class and Volkswagen Amarok from the scene unless, of course, customers require a double cab.
Like the previous commercial Defender, the Hard Top is a car-derived van. The side windows are replaced with unglazed panels and the rear seats have been removed to create a flat-floored, rubber-lined load space featuring up to six integrated lashing hooks to secure loads.
A full-height bulkhead with a mesh window separates the cabin from the cargo space and includes four hanging hooks on the load side. Access to the load area in the three-door, short-wheelbase Defender 90 Hard Top is via the side-hinged rear tailgate only, but the load space on the long-wheelbase Defender 110 Hard Top can also be reached, albeit awkwardly, through its rear side doors.
Load volumes are 1.4m3 for the 90 Hard Top and 2.1m3 for the 110, and payloads are 670kg and 800kg, respectively.
There’s a 58-litre underfloor stowage area at the rear of both models, while the 110 also gets a 155-litre area where the rear footwells would be on the passenger-carrying vehicle.
All Defender Hard Tops are all-wheel drive and come with eight-speed automatic transmission with a twin-speed transfer box wedded to a 3.0-litre engine.
The 90 is powered by a 200hp diesel powertrain, while the 110 gets either a 249hp or 300hp diesel. All are equipped with mild hybrid systems, and meet the RDE2 and
Euro 6d-Final standards.
The Defender has a wading depth of up to 900m, which beats every pick-up on the market, and a towing capacity of 3,500kg.
The 90 is available only in the entry-level Defender trim level but the 110 is available in Defender, S, SE and HSE.
Land Rover’s Special Vehicle Operations division converted both versions and is also responsible for the Discovery Commercial 4x4, which was the brand’s sole LCV product during the Defender’s absence. The 110 Hard Top is close to the Discovery in terms of luxury but customers opting for the 90 Hard Top, which is tested here, should not feel short changed.
As the utilitarian member of the family, it gets 18in steel wheels with all-season tyres and a full-size spare plus tough rubber floor mats ideal for planting muddy boots on. It also features part-electric eight-way adjustable seats, a heated windscreen, 10in touchscreen, Connected Pro satnav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 140W soundsystem with four speakers, DAB radio, a 3D surround camera including an excellent off-road forward facing camera that allows the driver to see over the brow of a hill before making a steep descent, a 360º parking aid, wade sensing and adaptive cruise control with speed limiter.
In appearance the new Defender is smoother and more rounded than its rugged forebears and is a world away in terms of driving characteristics. With 200hp and 500Nm of torque readily available in the 90 Hard Top from the slick auto transmission, overtaking is quick and stress free. The steering is unerringly precise and refinement beyond reproach, with no vibrations or road noise disturbing the vehicle’s serene progress.
The 110 offers electronic air suspension with adaptive dynamics as an option but the 90 only comes with coil springs. This means that, while bumps and potholes are well cushioned, there is some wallowing in corners.
The Defender is immensely competent off-road, with digital controls allowing the driver to choose the best settings for the conditions from the terrain response system. This enabled the 90 Hard Top to effortlessly negotiate a moderately challenging off-road circuit at Land Rover’s Eastnor Experience Centre in Herefordshire in our test drive.
Last but not least, the spacious cabin offers plenty of head and shoulder room, lots of useful storage and, most intriguingly, the option of a jump seat for a third occupant between the driver’s and outboard passenger’s seats. The interior ceiling above this is cut out to provide sufficient headroom. When not in use it folds down into a central console with a couple of cup holders and USB ports installed.
Land Rover Defender 90 Hard Top D200
Price (ex VAT) £35,820
Price range (ex VAT) £35,820-£47,696
Insurance group tbc
Warranty 3yrs/unltd mls
Service intervals 21,000mls
Load length 1,031mm
Load width (min/max) 1,124mm/1,326mm
Load bay height 947mm
Gross payload 670kg
Load volume 1.4m3
Engine size/power 2,996cc/200hp
Combined fuel economy 29.5mpg
Excellent to drive, refined and versatile but load-carrying capability falls short of a pick-up.