Here’s mud in your eye.
And it really was when I took the new Land Rover Defender 90 for some seriously extreme off-roading through a roller-coaster ride of muddy water-filled hollows.
Here I was languishing momentarily at the bottom of a deep waterlogged crater and looking up at a glistening and seemingly vertical brown wall of slippery mud. Could I get out?
I was testing the new iconically-British 90 – a real life Tonka toy for grown ups – at the Land Rover Experience Centre at Eastnor Castle.
Back where it belongs: We put the new £43,000 Land Rover Defender though its paces on a boggy assault course in Herefordshire
As successor to the original much-loved Defender, which traces its roots back to 1948, it was always going to have a tough act to follow.
I’d already driven the larger five-door 110 Defender– but the smaller three-door 90 is set to become a favourite not only among the country casuals, but also with city slickers who can bling-up and customise their ride around town.
You have to hand it to Land Rover – they never make it easy for themselves when putting their unlitmate 4X4s to the test.
My first Defender trial was with the 90 SE P300, powered by a 2.0 litre four-cylinder, 300 horse-power, petrol engine linked to an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
In ‘SE’ trim, it cost £50,930, though the petrol range is priced from £43,635.
Mine was fitted with coil suspension which is standard on all but the higher spec models and allows for a wading depth of 850mm and a ride height of 1974mm.
The Defender taken off road was the 90 SE P300, powered by a 2.0 litre four-cylinder, 300 horse-power, petrol engine linked to an eight-speed automatic gearbox. n ‘SE’ trim, it cost £50,930, though the petrol range is priced from £43,635
The Defender is widely seen as being the ultimate off-road vehicle, which is why it still proves so popular among farmers today
Not everyone is convinced by Land Rover’s new Defender, with claims its new luxury design will mean it can’t cut it when offroading gets tough. Our test proves it copes perfectly well
The version we drove on the off-road route had a suspension setup that allows for a wading depth of 850mm and a ride height of 1974mm
That compares to 900mm and 2044mm respectively with air suspension which is a £1,615 extra on most vehicles but allows for a slightly better ride height and departure angle.
I set my Defender for ‘mud and ruts’ with low range gearing and hill-descent control active, as I began an hour and a half’s excitement getting down and dirty with nature in the raw.
If you’re driving in the urban jungle or doing just a bit of grass’n’gravel off-roading, you will never need more than a fraction of this 4X4s massive potential.
No terrain proved too difficult for the more sanitised Defender for 2020, which shares a name with the original Land Rover that dates back seven decades
Chunky 20-inch wheels and tyres dig down deeply as the Defender’s four-wheel drive carved a route through the muddy sludge
The route wasn’t simple and consisted of roller-coasters of deep and water-filled holes with sides as steep and slippery as bomb-craters on the front line of the Somme
But, having been tested around the globe including across the deserts of Namibia, it is also designed to tackle some really extreme stuff.
So my off-road woodland mountain drive was a comparative doddle – to begin with.
The chunky 20-inch wheels just dug down deeply as the Defender’s four-wheel drive carved a route through the muddy sludge. A few allez-oop style hillocks followed but could be taken at pace with little effort.
Then came the serious stuff. A roller-coaster of not one but three increasingly deep and water-filled holes with sides as steep and slippery as bomb-craters on the front line of the Somme.
The Land Rover team strapped on a tow-rope: ‘just in case you get stuck’. Now it became a matter of pride.
No terrain or hill was too much of a struggle, with the Defender 90 clearing this peak with consummate ease
The Land Rover Defender diving nose first into a muddy bog, showing no signs of being brought to a standstill by the conditions
We set the Defender for ‘mud and ruts’ with low range gearing and hill-descent control active to take on the most difficult surfaces
The first two muddy hollows were fine. I eased steadily down the steep slopes into the water then, building on the momentum and taking care not to create too much of a bow wave, I hit the accelerator to rocket out while letting gravity slow me down nicely as I reached the top and teetered on the edge ahead of the next crater.
But this last one really was the daddy. Nose down the slope and into the water, I descended into the abyss before gently levelling out.
For a fraction of a second it felt like I was floating weightlessly.
Then, as the wheels bottomed out, I hit the gas and really let rip through the water and up the steep incline.
Keeping the pedal to the metal the tyres bit in again. There was lots of noise and splattering of mud and water, and what looked like steam rising from under the big bonnet.
But I kept up my momentum. And suddenly I was out – emerging like a monster from the deep. Quite a machine. Feeling suitably smug, it was time to hit the road.
So for a spirited but civilised drive out on the highway I then switched to the more powerful 90 X P400 spec with a 3.0-litre six-cylinder, 400 horse-power, petrol model that has a heftier £77,400 price tag.
Ray Massey also took a more potent Defender 90 out on the road, with the 4X4 impressing with comfortable and refined driving characteristics
The version driven on the road was the more powerful 90 X P400 spec with a 3.0-litre six-cylinder, 400 horse-power, petrol
It is certainly not cheap – this Defender 90 in the higher trim level with a petrol powerplant has a heftier £77,400 price tag
It had a middle front jump seat installed.
Flipped down it is a handy arm-rest in a five-seater 4X4. But flick it up and it becomes a central third seat up front, allowing room for six in all.
With two side doors only, you have to lever the front seats forward to climb in. But it’s roomy in the rear and there are lots of grab handles everywhere to make the process of getting into the back as easy as possible.
It’s got great acceleration and is particularly raunchy in sport mode along country roads, from rest to 60mph in 5.7 seconds with a top speed of 130mph. But it’s a thirsty beast, averaging 25.5mpg with CO2 emissions of 252g/km.
The latest Defender has come a long way from the original, with digital screens all round and a plethora of function buttons across the wheel
The test machines came with rubber-mat sets, which means the clarts are relatively easy to clean away from inside
Luggage space is pretty limited. With the rear seat backs in position, there’s just 397 litres of space. With them folded (though they don’t sit flush to the floor), it expands to 1,563 litres
My earlier 2.0-litre version, when on the road, sprints from rest to 60mph in 6.7 seconds with a top speed of 119mph. It averages an even less impressive 24.6mpg with CO2 emissions of 260g/km.
Both Defender 90s were stacked with lots of comfort and tech kit, including a useful 3D surround camera, wade sensing, traffic sign recognition, privacy glass and an electrically deployable tow-bar.
But the most essential kit to my mind? The rubber-mat set which means the clarts are relatively easy to clean away from inside.
And if you’re not cleaning away the mud, you’re not driving it properly.
The new Defender now comes with a middle jump seat installed between the two front chairs
Flipped down it is a handy arm-rest in a five-seater 4X4. But flick it up and it becomes a central third seat up front, allowing room for six in all
Ray Massey says that if if you’re not cleaning away the mud, ‘you’re not driving the Defender properly…’
Land Rover Defender 90: Will it fit in my garage
Range price: from £42,920
Seats: 5 (or 6 with front middle jump-seat fitted)
Behind row 2: 397 litres
Behind row 1: 1,563 litres
Wheels: 20-inch 5-spoke
VERSION DRIVEN OFF-ROAD
Model: 90 SE P300
Engine: 2.0 litre 4 cylinder petrol
Power: 300 horse-power
Transmission: 8 speed automatic
Drivetrain: All wheel drive
0-60mph: 6.7 seconds
Top speed: 119mph
CO2 emissions: 260g/km
Exterior colour: Indus Silver with folding fabric roof
Interior trim: Ebony Windsor leather /Light Oyster headlining.
VERSION DRIVEN ON-ROAD
Model: 90 X P400
Engine: 3.0 litre 6 cylinder petrol
Power: 400 horse-power
Transmission: 8 speed automatic
Drivetrain: All wheel drive
0-60mph: 5.7 seconds
Top speed: 130mph
CO2 emissions: 252g/km
Exterior colour: Gondwana Stone with Black Contrast roof
Interior trim: Vintage Tan/ ebony interior