Sand first: we test drive the new Land Rover Defender in the Dubai desert

We got to take the much-anticipated 4x4 out for a proper jaunt. Excited? We were

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So, here it is then, the new Land Rover Defender. It’s no exaggeration to say that this is one of the most anticipated car launches of the past few years, in the Middle East at least, and that was definitely felt when the world’s motoring correspondents got to finally experience the vehicle for themselves this week.

Here in the UAE, there was a particular frisson among those who assembled in Dubai for their inaugural drive, and it’s not too hard to understand why. The car has a long history in the region, dating all the way back to 1954, when the first specially adapted Land Rovers entered service as mobile dispensaries.

The car has been a feature across the UAE's desert and gravel landscapes ever since.

Test-driving the new Land Rover Defender in Dubai’s desert

Test-driving the new Land Rover Defender in Dubai’s desert
Test-driving the new Land Rover Defender in Dubai’s desert

In fact, the brand is so integral to the region that, as part of its development, the 2020 Defender was tested on Dubai’s softest sand by all-terrain experts at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

These are not people who’ll put up with any old clapped-out jalopy.

Yadda yadda yadda, so much for all that, you're thinking. You just want to know what it’s like to drive, don’t you? We don’t blame you.

Well, the experience can be summed up as... impressive. There's a lot more to it than that, though.

You feel like you’re at the wheel of a particularly upmarket freighter in a Defender, safe from the elements and, more to the point, whatever is happening underneath the wheels. Many of those in attendance expressed considerable surprise at the lack of drama present when the vehicles had to tackle the steep and frequently slippery inclines, both going up and down.

The Defender steams along on both tarmac and sand and, probably, mud (though we’ll have to leave that to correspondents in other parts of the world to ascertain as, even with all the cloud seeding, rain in the UAE isn't abundant at this time of year).

But basically, we were never in any doubt that there would be an issue with whatever surface we took the Defender onto. The inside is comfortable and kitted out, and the ride is as serene as those of its fiercest competitors.

Meanwhile, unlike in some of its fiercest competitors, the various settings on the dashboard are easy to navigate here. You don't need a manual the size of something Scotty would have written for the Starship Enterprise if you want to do something as simple as changing gear.

It's worth mentioning that the Defender’s new look has been questioned. Some not a million miles away have said the latest model looks like a Mini that’s spent a lot of time at the gym after being pumped full of steroids and whey protein.

The inside is comfortable and kitted out, and the ride is as serene as those of its fiercest competitors

You can see what they mean, but other commentators like the squat, muscular look. It definitely gives off an air that nothing is too much for it, which is clearly the point. The designers have abandoned the more Lego-like look so beloved of those who created the Mercedes G-Class and gone for a smoother, ultra-modern style.

Up close, these newbies are an appealing breed.

Don’t let that outer look of toughness fool you, though. This is a distinctly modern car. No one is roughing it when climbing aboard, even when you're experiencing the hairiest terrain imaginable.

If you buy a Defender, you’ll have to get used to people looking at you – the convoy in Dubai attracted plenty of attention (a group of camels even showed an interest out in the desert, but that may have been more the sandwich one of the cameramen was eating).

So when it comes to basic, aesthetic appeal, a Defender will look good in the poshest parts of town. Convenient, really, as that’s where most of them will end up.

And that really is a shame, because driving one gives you the distinct impression that you could use it to boost straight up Jebel Jais without bothering with the roads, leaving those who foolishly turned up without one in your tyre tracks.