• Sunday, July 21, 2024
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The jungle king


 In Tanzania, the sub-Saharan Africa marketing team of Jaguar Land Rover group headed by Willem Schoeman that invited a select group of African motoring journalists, including BusinessDay Nigeria, for the ride and drive event of the new Land Rover Defender Approved Vehicle Modifier (AVM) in Kilimanjaro would have picked somewhere warmer than the mountainous region of the East African country.

But despite the chilly winter that overstayed its welcome at the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, this frigid clime did offer some benefits like barren rolling hills, traffic consisting of nothing other than tourists and guests coming and going out of the bush lodge.

On the morning of the ride and drive exercise, before sunrise, five units of the high-performance Defender models, all painted in brilliant white colours, had been lined up by the Land Rover Experience team for the motoring journalists to have the all-important test drive shoot-out.

I drove the Defender in company of my Zambian counterpart, with the Land Rover instructor beside him. Moving through the twisty and rough lanes inside the games reserve, there was this utter feeling of nostalgia that reminded us of the legendary exploits so far made by the British automaker so many years ago.

Offered only in manual transmission with low and high range auxiliary gear transmission system with a modest radio system, the Safari driving experience took the motoring through bits and pieces of the rough and slippery bush part of Ngorongoro Crater Lodge that covers over 3,500 square metres, well located far away from the hustle and bustle of the Kilimanjaro city major highway.

On- and off-road, Land Rover Defender is one of the most instantly recognisable vehicles in the world. Its rugged reliability, exceptional off-road performance and considerable payload have made it extremely popular with both civilian and military users.

With one traditional platform, the Defender AVM can be configured into field ambulance, cash-in-transit, armoured defender, industrial maintenance and construction, including mining operations.

For the first timer, driving one is something of an acquired taste for anybody but the true believer, and to a driver who is used to a modern-road car, driving in the Land Rover Defender radiates a nervousness and unpredictability, as can be seen through the indirect feel of the steering.

For the driver to savour the hospitality offered by this workhorse, simply slot the Getrag gearbox into first gear, and raise the heavy clutch and, at first, you will be impressed by the performance of the new motor. The 121bhp at 3500rpm may not sound much, but it is blessed with 265lb ft of torque at 2000rpm, and in the lower gears, the driver will not struggle to keep up with the traffic.

Around the very tricky and narrow test track, our test vehicle reached a mighty 83mph, and did so suspiciously quickly. Just like a BMW M5, its top speed is restricted, but unlike the M5, however, Defender’s electronics are meant to call it a day at 85mph. It is, apparently, for ‘operational’ reasons, from which any automotive critic will infer that the Defender becomes difficult to operate above such speeds.

The engine refinement, while still quite vocal, is clearly a big improvement and the motor’s muscular low-down torque helps make the Defender more driveable. The six-speed box needs a firm hand but is clean in its shifts and positive.

The brake specification is one of the areas where the Defender has not changed at all. There are discs all round, with ventilation for those upfront, and they offer good feel and reasonable, fade-free retardation.

Off-road, the Defender is enormously capable, but it takes much more effort from the driver than is needed in a modern, electronically-controlled off-roader, not least in finding – and selecting – the right gear in difficult conditions. One thing that has made it much easier to drive in extreme situations is the engine’s stall control, but at crawling speeds, it is possible for the driver to lift off the pedals altogether and let the stall control inch the pathway without veering off.