Find a car review

Make
Model

Land Rover Defender Challenge review, price and specs

The Land Rover Defender Challenge is a Bowler-prepared 4x4 to give rally raid beginners a taste of the Dakar

Evo rating
Price
from £60,000
  • Excellent fun and will teach you plenty
  • Expensive for a machine targeted at beginners

What is it?

The Land Rover Defender Challenge, a Bowler-prepared 4x4 that forms the basis of a new and intriguing motorsport series.

Subscribe to evo magazine

If you're passionate about the world's greatest performance cars, experience the thrill of driving with evo magazine. Try your first 5 issues for £5.

The Defender Challenge is a bit like the Caterham Academy for rally raid. This year sees the Challenge’s inaugural season, which will run over a mixture of classic gravel rallies as well as some hill rallies. And if most people get into their Caterhams dreaming of Le Mans, then most of the Defender Challenge drivers will get into their Bowler-prepared steeds with half an eye on the Dakar. The difference, of course, is that whereas the only Caterhams at Le Mans are in the campsites, this FIA-approved Defender could actually take part in the Dakar for real. You’ll need £60,000 for the Defender, and another £10,000 to cover entry fees.

Technical highlights?

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

Usually when you clamber over a roll-cage, you’re getting down into a car, not climbing up. Likewise, when your abdomen and thighs are being clenched by a racing bucket seat, most of the time your view out is down around waist level rather than high enough to look a carthorse in the eye. But this is the slightly surreal world of a competition Land Rover.

Although it’s got a roll-cage and an Alcantara steering wheel with a yellow ‘straight ahead’ strip at the top, it also has a 170bhp 2.2-litre diesel under the bonnet, so it isn’t fast. The six-speed manual gearbox requires fairly frequent stirring to make the most of the engine too, because the 332lb ft of torque (up from 265lb ft in the standard car) arrives in a shortish mid-range rush. Bumps are tackled by Bowler’s heavy-duty racing spring, damper, bush and anti-roll bar upgrades, and although they don’t create anything like the magic carpet ride you get in one of its full-on EXRs, they certainly soak up off-road punishment.

What’s it like to drive?

The gravel loop of the Gaydon off-road course feels tight in places when you’re perched up high and trying to manhandle a 1771kg Defender quickly. My first thought is that given this car is for novices, it is not an easy thing to get the hang of. The short wheelbase means that it’s pretty lively when it lets go, and on the brakes it will happily and quickly pitch sideways. Under power it largely wants to understeer and all of a sudden 170bhp feels more than ample.

On my second lap things improve and I get the hang of it slightly more, but it still feels fairly intimidating trying to stay on top (literally) of the short wheelbase with the relatively slow steering. The trick is to keep inputs to a minimum, making use of the cambers and cuts as much as possible to maintain speed and getting the car to slide very neutrally if possible. The Defender also teaches you to be incredibly sensitive to the loading the front tyres can take (not much) and to work around that.

The litmus test for something like this is how you feel once the madness stops and you get out. My instant reaction is that I want to get straight back in and keep learning what feels like a whole new set of skills, and that’s without even tackling the nuances of a more extreme hill rally.

Advertisement - Article continues below

How does it compare?

Purely as a car, there is nothing to compare it to – if you want to spend BMW M3 money on a Land Rover Defender, there are countless tuning companies – Twisted being one of the most prolific at the moment – who’ll craft something very special for that sort of money.

As an entry-level championship, the Challenge is also a fairly unique proposition. If you want to spend a season rallying but don’t have such a big budget, there are plenty of options if you’re feeling adventurous, detailed on the Go Motorsport website.  

Anything else I need to know?

The UK series is made up of seven rounds, combining hill and stage rallies, spread across the country throughout 2014. Entrants are also able to compete in rallies in Europe and North Africa alongside the Bowler Works team.

The first round has already taken place in Wales, with round two, in Somerset, on April 12. Events follow in Nottinghamshire, Swansea, Shropshire and Dorset before the Defender Challenge finale at the Scottish Borders hill rally on November 22/23.

Specifications

EngineIn-line 4-cyl, 2198cc, turbodiesel
Max power170bhp
Max torque332lb ft
0-607.0sec
Top speed110mph (claimed)
Advertisement

Have You Considered

Visit/land-rover/defender/22607/new-land-rover-defender-2020-4x4-arrives-with-big-muddy-boots-to-fill
Land Rover Defender

New Land Rover Defender – 2020 4x4 arrives with big, muddy boots to fill

11 Sep 2019
Visit/mercedes/gle/201748/2019-mercedes-gle400d-review-a-worthy-original
Mercedes GLE

2019 Mercedes GLE400d review – a worthy original

12 Sep 2019
Visit/porsche/porsche-911-carrera-4/201744/2019-porsche-911-carrera-4-and-carrera-4-cabriolet-detailed
Porsche 911 Carrera 4

2019 Porsche 911 Carrera 4 and Carrera 4 Cabriolet detailed

12 Sep 2019

Most Popular

Visit/mclaren/201759/new-mclaren-gt-review-woking-muscles-in-on-aston-martins-home-ground
McLaren

New McLaren GT review – Woking muscles-in on Aston Martin’s home ground

Is McLaren’s first grand tourer just a toned-down supercar, or something more nuanced and special?
17 Sep 2019
Visit/review/201600/milltek-volkswagen-up-gti-review-tuner-takes-supermini-to-145bhp
Review

Miltek Volkswagen Up GTI review

VW’s Up GTI is already a favourite of ours. Can Milltek’s upgrades improve it further?
16 Sep 2019
Visit/features/17721/the-best-family-cars-that-are-fun-to-drive
Best cars

Best family cars that are still fun to drive

Saloon, hatchback or SUV, family cars come in all shapes and sizes, and needn’t be a snore to drive. These are some of the team’s favourites.
13 Sep 2019
Visit/news/201740/goodyear-eagle-f1-supersport-the-best-by-design
Advertisement Feature

Goodyear Eagle F1 SuperSport: the best by design

That the new Eagle F1 SuperSport range of Ultra Ultra High Performance tyres is taking the trackday market by storm shouldn’t be a surprise – it’s sim…
11 Sep 2019