Through its paces: Land Rover Defender XS 110

Mike Humble:

DSCF0987Just like a red London AEC Routemaster, the Austin Mini or afternoon cream tea with scones while the distant floating sound of the Parish church bells peal Plain Bob Maximus… some things are just plainly British – and the Defender is just that! The traditional Land Rover in basic form is now well into its 7th generation which leads me to think – is there any other off road vehicle as Universally well known, or respected, as the Land Rover?

The current portfolio of green oval product is very much made up of leisure or lifestyle vehicles, in fact, you can very easily blow the thick end of £100K with a Range Rover. But lets not forget that all of the aforementioned and current success was born from a simple and rugged four wheel drive vehicle that very quickly gained a truly World Class reputation.

The Defender still remains a true icon in the lightning fast automotive world, and yet in the case of the Land Rover visually at least… it seems that time has indeed stood still. Its stance and silhouette even for those who have no interest or ability to drive, is immediately recognisable and I`ll bet that some people could even know it by feel whilst blindfolded. Not a hint of spoiler, low profile tyre or wind tunnel styled aerodynamic wing mirror adorn the angular and brutalistic exterior – its all basic stuff that’s there to just work.

Defender is designed to do one task and that’s to forge its way ahead and indeed boldly go where even James Tiberius Kirk or any other man for that matter… has gone before. Under the bonnet is just as plain and simple with dilithium crystals and warp drive exchanged for a simple four cylinder 2.2 Ford Sourced turbo diesel and six speed manual gearbox with transfer box and differential lock. No fancy intelligent four wheel drive here either – just a pair of gear levers.

The rest of the interior is functional too. The fascia that was revised a few years back remains but with a veritable smorgasbord of various parts and switches from vehicles past. Dials from the Discovery 3, electric window switches that fist saw the light of day in the 89 model year Montego along with incidental switches from the Rover 25 – even the column sticks will be familiar to owner of early 80s BL cars. The dash is easy to use, well lit at night and passengers benefit from a grab handle that feels it could support the whole weight of the car.

Well made and functional dashboard. Six speed manual with traditional diff lock / range change... everything you need and nothing you don't!
Well made and functional dashboard. Six speed manual with traditional diff lock / range change… everything you need and nothing you don’t. Gearchange and pedals are fairly light in action and there is plenty of storage space too.

Defenders front seats are high backed trimmed in cloth and part leather that are comfortable and seemingly rugged in construction. Rear bench trim is equally well crafted and the test “EX” model came with an extra pair of folding forward facing seats making the 110 Station Wagon a true 7 seater. No fancy cut pile carpets here either, just a hose clean rubber floor with heavyweight accessory rubber mats. Passengers also have the added bonus of a decent yet out of place looking Alpine branded head unit with bluetooth and air conditioning.

Getting settled in the driving seat takes some getting used to though, For one, the seat will not go back far enough, your right arm rubs against the door and window while your right knee very quickly becomes good friends with the door pull. But on the plus side, the pedals are well spaced, the clutch is light enough for everyday use and the gear change – despite the amazingly long lever is a short throw and light in action. Storage space is good enough with a large central cubby box, cup holders and a decent shelf under the dashboard.

Once you have turned off the motorway and found the country stuff that a traditional saloon car would shy away from, you soon realise where the Defender comes into its own

Around town, the Defender is fairly refined with little transmission whine. The engine pulls strongly and when driving with the window down you are treated to all the noises from the induction and turbo from the offside wing mounted air intake. There is a fair bit of transmission shunt and wind up from the permanent all wheel drive and some gearchanges are accompanied with an industrial clunk sound but I found this to add to the appeal and character of the Land Rover Defender. The chunky Starfish alloys and a liberal sprinking of alloy chequer plate also look cool in a way that’s difficult to describe – its still a vehicle that turns heads and gains a nod of approval wherever you go.

Even on the motorway at reasonable speed, the Defender puts on a good show. The installation of the engine is really quite good and easily keeps up with the flow of traffic – legal speed cruising is actually quite stress free with plenty of reserve power left. But long haul driving is not what the Defender is all about however. After a while the mixture of feeling hemmed in against the door and your knee rubbing against the solid door pull makes you yearn for a leg stretch at the services. Once you have turned off the motorway and found the country stuff that a traditional saloon car would shy away from, you soon realise and appreciate where the Defender comes into its own.

High backed seats are snug and comfy with neat oval badge emblem sewn into the fabric. Front seats are mounted way too outboard making your shoulder become intimate with the door and handle.
High backed seats are snug and comfy with neat oval badge emblem sewn into the fabric. Front seats are mounted way too outboard making your shoulder become intimate with the door and your knee with the door handle.

Once again AUTOBRITANNIA were offered a free reign of the now decommissioned Tilbury Power Station where every terrain could be found from slippery grass banks, deep man made lakes and rocky boulder infested tracks. Only the wheelbase length and tyre equipment occasionally hampered the progress of the Tamar blue Defender. Once the transmission is manually selected into low range the 360Nm of torque does its best to flatten the steepest of hills. Axle articulation is impressive too and even though some truly torturous terrain was traversed, the chassis and body felt granite tough.

Despite the handicap of a long wheelbase and tow bar, the 110 Defender is amazingly agile and capable with eye watering axle articulation.
Despite the handicap of its long wheelbase and optional fitted tow bar, the 110 Defender is amazingly agile and capable with eye watering axle articulation.

even after all these years the Land Rover Defender remains king of the off road jungle and will be sorely missed when production is scheduled to stop in 2015

Some serious wading through a man made lake had zero effect on the brakes once back on the road, steering kickback on boulders was minimal and passengers remarked on how it was all taken in its stride. Once back home and after a session with a hose pipe you would have never known it had seriously been put through its paces. So even after all these years the Land Rover Defender remains king the off road jungle and will be sorely missed when production is scheduled to stop in 2015.

So if you are in the need for a serious off road vehicle you still need look no further after more than 65 years. Lets hope the much talked about replacement codenamed “DC100” can go somewhere towards filling the Gumboots the Defender will have left behind as the Land Rover Defender is indeed – a very very tough and indeed hard act to follow. Its flawed in many areas of course and is older than Father time himself and yet almost all of its vices only add to the charracter – its still the best 4x4xfar.

The Humble Opinion:

What can be said of the Defender? Its functional, capable beyond reproach and brimming with character. It can be spotted in all four corners of the world from the Kings Road in London through to the Kalahari deserts and why? because nothing comes close to a Land Rover in appeal or its sheer ability. Lets just hope the rumoured replacement due in 2015 offers the same Trojan like ability towards its owner.

Long distance cruising is not the Defender’s forte – that’s what the Discovery is for after all, but for those with a lifestyle and terrain that requires a safe, serious and capable off-road vehicle, both the 90 and 110 Defender have no equal. It will be sorely missed when production stops next year by all those who have experienced the mystique of that green oval badge!

Again – thanks are due to Lindsey and the team at the Land Rover Press Office.

 

AUTOBRITANNIA RATING? 8/10

MAIN STATS:

Model Tested: Land Rover Defender XS 110 Station Wagon in solid Tamar blue.

Engine: 2.2 in line four 122Ps with 360Nm of torque @ 2000 rpm

Transmission: 6 speed manual with selectable high/low and differential lock

Steering / Suspension: Power steering with damper and all round live axle coils

Brakes: All round ABS discs with hand lever operated transmission brake

Fuel Consumption / Co2: Claimed Combined 25.5mpg (22 on test) 295G/km

Price As Tested: £32.995 inc VAT and fitted options

The Highs: Devastating off road capability – Rugged and tough feeling dashboard – Credible urban refinement – Strong and gutsy engine offering punchy performance -Sweet gearchange quality – Powerful heating and air conditioning – Functional and easy to comprehend controlls – Supportive seats – Imposing and timeless looks.

The Lows: Bitterly thirsty when driven hard – Turning circle akin to the S.S Canberra – Far from cheap – Lack of elbow room in front – Long motorway drives become tedious after a while – Entry and exit from cab not the most dignified – Visibly crude and poorly finished in parts – Soon to be discontinued!

 

 


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