By Maggie Barry
THE Duke of Atholl commands the only legal private army in Europe, the Atholl Highlanders.
They are hand-picked by him and act as his personal bodyguard, each one armed with a Lee Metford rifle.
It’s a unique and special privilege which the Duke enjoys and today he has even more defenders to hand – or Defenders to be precise.
For Land Rover have come to the Atholl Estate in Scotland to showcase their much awaited and highly anticipated 21st century successor to the original Defender beloved of country folk everywhere including of course Her Maj, currently not that far away in Balmoral.
The new version of the Defender has divided opinion. Whereas in its previous incarnation it was decidedly boxy and angular, this new model is more rounded at the front – very much the signature of Land Rover’s design guru Gerry McGovern.
The rear, however, retains the sharp, vertical features of the old model with square taillights, a side opening door and importantly, the spare wheel mounted traditionally on the rear.
Inside it is a car for today. The old model could be uncomfortable and not always an easy drive but this new 110 Defender (with the longer wheelbase) is nothing like that with a formidable suspension.
The seats are comfortable, practical and durable, with the option of five, six or seven. There are easily cleaned and wiped down surfaces but this Defender also comes with a huge amount of tech and no loss of capability.
The dash is clean and thankfully devoid of hundreds of buttons and switches yet it takes the mere touch of a finger to access nav, driver aids or infotainment on the new Pivi Pro system. The simplicity ethos of the original Defender thankfully remains.
Fortunately the gearbox does not and the new model comes with an excellent automatic gearbox with a Sport option which you can also use in manual.
I drove the 2.0-litre diesel version although it also comes as a mild hybrid petrol and a PHEV.
The diesel Ingenium engine was quiet and powerful as we drove through the Perthshire countryside where we passed scores of original models in driveways everywhere, clearly the Defender’s natural habitat.
And then we took the Defender off-road which is where you realise just how able this car is.
It is really stiff and very strong with a multitude of modes – grass, snow and gravel, mud and ruts, rock claw, sand, comfort – there is a mode for every situation because that is why people buy this car, to push it to the limit.
It may look plush but underneath it has a heart of steel.
What is more you can see through its beating heart thanks to cameras around the Defender which will show you the ground underneath and behind – and then there’s the rearview mirror feed which comes as a video.
The 110 wheelbase is now joined by a shorter Defender 90 with a choice of half a dozen trims along with the opportunity to customise vehicles with accessory packs like Explorer, Adventure, Country and Urban.
A tough commercial vehicle is also available and you can even specify your Defender with an optional folding roof for standing up and checking out the local wildlife.
All models come with all wheel drive and Land Rover boast that tests on this car have gone above and beyond the normal range for SUVs and passenger cars.
Prototypes have covered more than 1.2million kilometres in 50 degree desert heat to the sub 40 degrees of the Arctic and the 10,000ft altitude of the Rocky Mountains.
It is more than 70 years since the first Defender straddled our hills and glens but this new model shows its mettle pitched up against any challenge – a new tool in the armoury of the Atholl men.
Model: Land Rover Defender 110
Engine: 2.0-litre Ingernium diesel
Top speed: 117mph
0-60: 8.7 seconds
Average mpg: 29.6-31.7