Left is right and right is definitely wrong.
That’s the first lesson I learned as I climbed into the seat of a massive 518 horsepower 2022 Land Rover Defender 110 in rural Yorkshire.
My vehicle is Land Rover’s latest and most powerful iteration of the Jaguar Land Rover’s storied Defender. This model is far from the tractor-like SUV that farmers through royalty have driven for generations across the United Kingdom’s wilds.
The giant V8 purrs like an engine one would expect to drive across the channel on Germany’s autobahn. The Defender is surprisingly agile for its size. The cabin is refined and quiet. Noise from the lorries – what the British call big rigs – doesn’t intrude. The tech is JLR’s latest generation. The automaker finally has previous kinks and glitches “sorted,” as the British would say.
RELEARNING TO DRIVE
But before I can learn any of this, I have to drive the Defender 110 V8 off the parking lot at the Highwayman Cafe near Stockton on the Forest and across the A64 highway. I want to head a few miles down the highway to the Marks and Spencer food hall at the Monks Cross shopping center to buy groceries to stock our rented cottage behind the Highwayman. It’s our home for the next seven days.
My problem is that this is a right-hand drive vehicle in a right-hand drive country. That means right turns have to be navigated with the same caution as left turns in the U.S. And when you make your right turn, you have to be sure to land in the left land. It’s one awful splat if you forget you are in England.
These are my first minutes in the Defender. It’s rush hour, and I don’t have the courage to make that right turn. I take the coward’s way out and go left, figuring that a series of left turns will put us in the correct direction. Once on the road, the Defender’s embedded navigation system – the one that worked so poorly in the previous generations of Range and Land Rovers I have evaluated in the U.S. – suddenly becomes my savior. A posh female voice posts a map on the 11.4-inch touchscreen and instructs me to make a left – thank goodness – at Towthorpe Moor Lane just a mile down the highway. That will cut across farmland and call for another left and finally one more into the Marks and Spencer parking lot.
BIG CAR, NARROW ROADS
As soon as I make that first left, I discover the next quirk of the British driving scene – absurdly narrow roads, especially for the 82.9-inch width of the Defender. After all, England is the nation that brought us the Mini. To put this in perspective, at 77.4 inches tall, not including roof fails, this Defender is taller (and also wider) than a Chevrolet Tahoe SUV.
The small British roads don’t have much in the way of curbs or shoulders. Towthorpe is a typical country road and there’s a tractor – they are all over rural Yorkshire – headed toward us. It doesn’t fit in its lane, and neither do we. I slide over to make room and discover my left wheels are driving over the grass and dirt where the pasture meets the road. No worries. I am in a Defender.
Just months earlier, I tested the six-cylinder engine Defender in the dunes and rocky gullies of the California desert near the Mexican border. Despite its premium interior and refinement, the current generation Defender can navigate sand, rocks, washboard and ravines just as competently as its Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco rivals. Although the Defender has the bones of a mountain goat, it provides a smoother and quieter drive on streets and highways than Jeep or Ford offerings.
Despite this off-road prowess, the fact remains that I will be driving this Defender for the next week on what for me is the wrong side of the street and on roads that make Towthorpe look like a U.S. interstate. I am thankful for the advanced driver assistance technology such as forward collision alert, automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assistance. I hope to use none of it.
Later in the week, we headed through the heather-covered hills of the North York Moors National Park to see the historic Whitby Abbey. The spectacular ruins of the Benedictine monastery sit atop a bluff on the North Sea. You can see the abbey – one of Bram Stoker’s Dracula settings – from about 8 miles away as you drive down from the moors to the coast. The surface parking is easy by the abbey. After viewing the ruins, we walked down the notoriously steep 199 steps from the monastery into the town of Whitby for lunch at the Magpie Cafe, generally regarded as one of the best fish and chip places in all of Yorkshire. It was only after we left for the nearby and picturesque Robin Hood’s Bay that I got into trouble.
Hawkser Lane winds through the farmland and bluffs along the North Sea from Whitby to the seaside resort. Country lane would be a generous description. One of the oddities of a lifelong left-hand driver motoring in a right-hand drive nation is that you constantly feel too close to the centerline. I kept skirting the brush and shrubs on the non-existent shoulder. I needed to force myself farther to the right.
But Hawkser Lane barely has room for standard-size cars traveling in opposite directions, let alone my Land Rover behemoth. Slowing, moving to the left and allowing the native drivers to go by became my default. Luckily Robin Hood’s Bay has a couple of easily accessible public lots. But once again, I found myself confounded by the Lilliputian nature of British infrastructure. While the first lot had a few spaces, I couldn’t navigate a turn around a parked Mercedes-Benz Vito van and Toyota Hilux pickup truck to reach them. The second parking area had a dirt lot for runover parking and I created my own space. That allowed for a lovely afternoon wandering this quaint village once known as a smuggler’s hideout.
Other journeys took us to the Norman castle in Skipton, the walled city of York and the famous Castle Howard manor, the location of Brideshead Revisited and many other television shows and movies.
Size notwithstanding, the Defender proved to be a steady and comfortable ride through 500 miles of touring Yorkshire. The massive engine provided immensely satisfying acceleration and power on the main highways. It accelerates from 0-60 mph in 5.1 seconds and has a top speed of 149 mph. Land Rover has cleverly tuned the suspension, creating a surprisingly agile large vehicle with a good steering feel. The technology, especially the navigation system, parking tools and blind-spot monitoring, made the large vehicle manageable. It all adds up to an excellent road trip vehicle that easily seats five adults.
That leaves the question as to why someone would purchase the V8 Land Rover 110. The U.S. starting price for the 2022 Land Rover Defender 110 V8 is $105,400, not including the $1,350 delivery fee.
The answer depends on your level of adventure. If that ends at a leisurely day of wine tasting in California’s Napa Valley or a cruise through Vermont into Quebec, there are many choices at the price point, including sibling and somewhat more luxurious Range Rovers. But if your wanderlust includes having a posh drive that will climb the dunes at Superstition Mountain south of the Salton Sea and rock crawl in Moab, put the Defender on the wish list.