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Defender of the realm

<strong>THE FACTS: </strong><br />Land Rover<br />Defender 90 XS<br />Station Wagon<br />6-speed manual<br /><br /><strong>PRICE (MODEL<br />TESTED)</strong>: &pound;26,815<br />0-62MPH: Figures<br />not available<br /><strong>TOP SPEED:</strong> Figures<br />not available<br /><strong>MPG COMBINED/<br />CO2</strong>: 28.3/266g/km<br /><br />A FEW years ago I was in mid-Wales for a weekend of tyre-testing, speed and lessons in the laws of physics with Welsh rally driver Mark Higgins and his team at the Forest Experience School. Having been driven in a way that only a pro-rally driver could drive you, it came to my turn at the helm. &ldquo;Formula One?&rdquo; I thought. &ldquo;Pah! This is proper driving!&rdquo; <br /><br />Before I had time to take my helmet off, Mark&rsquo;s father Tony was tightening my harness in the passenger seat of a Land Rover Defender. &ldquo;That bar there, that&rsquo;s what you need to hang on to&rdquo;, said Tony, pointing to the handlebar in front of me on the dash. He climbed in, floored it and we were away, hurtling through the forest, taking in a bit of the rally stage then veering off. Suddenly, I could see nothing but sky. We were airborne. My hands were soldered on to the bar. <br /><br />Contact with the earth was finally re-engaged, but before I had time to reach in and reassemble my organs, we were hard on the power again heading towards a pile of logs, beyond which is another glimpse of sky. The Defender was in its element battling the local terrain. <br /><br />Now there is a new incarnation. But is it still the same beast that it was? I borrowed one last week to find out. If the battleship grey bodywork was anything to go by, this was going to be another utilitarian piece of work. <br /><br /><strong>CHOMPING AT THE BIT</strong><br />Land Rover happen to sponsor the British and Irish rugby Lions and that night was their send-off dinner at the Natural History Museum. Now, far be it for me to condone driving a 4x4 in London but that&rsquo;s what I was in. <br /><br />Let me tell you, things have changed. Heated and redesigned front seats are now taller to improve back support and head restraint ergonomics, and there is air conditioning and an upgraded entertainment system for a start. And there&rsquo;s a new engine too, a turbo-charged 2.4 litre diesel from Ford, and it&rsquo;s so good that during my week with the car, I found myself asking why everyone was driving so slowly. They weren&rsquo;t &ndash; this thing just chomps at the bit to get away. Land Rover don&rsquo;t supply performance figures for the Defender but I can tell you that it was very happy at 95mph on private land and as for getting to 62mph, somewhere around the 14 second mark.<br /><br />Cruising on up the A3 was not only comfortable but swift. You&rsquo;d be forgiven for thinProxy-Connection:keep-aliveCache-Control:max-age=0ng that negotiating the streets of Wandsworth in a Land Rover would push your patience a little too far, but none of it. You point and shoot, there&rsquo;s loads of power and the visibility is great. Job done.<br /><br />But you know what? The next morning was what confirmed my continued love of the Defender. I had my BlackBerry stolen in the wee small hours and while dealing with the police the next morning one of those Civil Enforcement Officer types stuck a ticket on the windscreen. The morning went into steep decline from that point and the only thing for it was to get out of town. And here&rsquo;s the best bit. Climb in Defender. Windows down. Three hours&rsquo; sleep. Exit London. As I peeled off the A3 and hit the countryside towards Goodwood, I flicked between radio stations and there were the first notes of Jerusalem floating out. Genius. <br /><br /><strong>BRITISH INSTITUTION</strong><br />I passed one of my local farmers, who nodded at me in appreciation. &ldquo;She&rsquo;s finally seen sense,&rdquo; he was no doubt thinking, &ldquo;she&rsquo;s given up on those flash kerb-height motors you couldn&rsquo;t fit a hay bail in the back of.&rdquo;<br /><br />Suddenly, the world seemed like a good place again. The sun was shining, the countryside was verdant and I was in a Defender, a very British institution.<br />