Quick and comfortable: This ain’t your daddy’s Defender.
Mike Cross aims for the gap in the trees, and guns it. There’s a muted snarl from the 395-hp straight-six under the hood, the hiss of rubber on wet gravel and the whoomp! whoomp! whoomp! of muddy water exploding from potholes. Cross is slouched in the driver’s seat, relaxed but eyes laser-focused as he waltzes 5,035 pounds of SUV through mud-slicked corners with deft, minimalist movements of the steering wheel, his right hand periodically making the short reach across to the high-mounted shifter to grab another gear.
The road straightens, and Jaguar Land Rover‘s chief engineer, vehicle integrity, buries his right foot. We hit 100 mph, hovercrafting over the cratered surface on the long-travel air suspension. Then it’s hard on the brakes and three quick snicks of the stubby shifter, ready for the rapidly approaching 90-degree corner. Off the brakes, turn-in, and on the power. The big SUV slides gracefully for a moment before being collected with a quick flick of the wrists. The four-wheel-drive system digs through the surface slush and propels us toward the next corner.