The iconic machine is now officially in its final year of production thanks to emission rules that come into effect at the end of 2015. It wont be the end of the true hard-core off-road vehicle as Land Rover are putting the final touches to the Defender replacement, but it will only compare to the Defender in terms of styling cues. You can be sure it will bristle with technology and driver friendly aids and I’ll bet it won’t be cheap either, but for those who prefer something more analogue in a Wi-Fi Bluetooth Digital world… you have a year to get your order in.
We reviewed and put through its paces, a 110 Defender station wagon earlier this year, but the tyre equipment and long wheel base restricted it from some of the land we had access to. Land Rover recently supplied a 90 Defender XS with puncture resistant multi-terrain tyres, so a call was made to my good friend Tony and back to the ash fields and waste grounds of Tilbury B power station we went – all areas to be accessed at last!
One thing noticed about the 2.2 litre “Puma” diesel engine is just how well it pulls and performs in the shorter 90 model. On road performance is actually very punchy and spirited with block gear changing easily possible thanks to a good spread of torque once a few revs have been dialled in. After an hour behind the wheel on the M25 and A13, a cup of Tony’s strong sweet tea was required in order for me to unwind from the cramped and uncomfortable driving position. Anyone who knows the Defender well will wax lyrical about the door handle that rubs against your right knee, the seat which refuses to slide back far enough and how your shoulder becomes intimate with the B post.
Its not a vehicle for long journeys on smooth roads or motorways – it will do it of course and refinement up to 70 mph is actually very good indeed, but its all about management of expectations after all, you wouldn’t wear steel toe capped work boots to run a marathon would you? The Defender- as James Kirk once eloquently put it, is all about boldly going or seeking out new worlds and new civilisations. Use a Land Rover for what they were designed to do and nothing else and it’s soon obvious why they have such a staunch following and hold their residual value so well. Defender is a work horse not a race horse, keep that in mind and you wont be disappointed!
There is bags of character and components that seems to span the history of the brand. I played a simple game called “what’s that part from” just sitting inside it stationary – If you owned various BL or Rover vehicles and have never clambered into the cabin of a Defender, a game of I spy will last all morning. And yet it all just works perfectly and this XS model was very well equipped with stuff such as leather heated seats, a powerful audio unit with sub woofer, air con and remote central locking. A pair of useful fold away seats is trimmed in the same duo tone leather as the front and the roof lining is trimmed in a tasteful alcantara material.
As mentioned, town and highway driving can be a little tiresome unless you stop for a leg stretch here and there. The six speed gearbox has a very positive shift quality and the clutch is reasonably light but the hand brake is a good old forward stretch to reach and some care needs to be taken when moving or reversing in tight spaces – there’s no camera or parking assist fitted. Low speed ride is a little choppy at times but not bad enough to cause distress or discomfort – the heating and ventilation is excellent though a temperature change on the dial takes a while to take effect. De-misting the front screen was rapid thanks to the fitting of a heated windscreen.
But the Defender shows true brilliance once you swing off the black top and onto the shale. Thanks to the long travel coil springs and live axles, the ride and body control are both confidence inspiring and stable, there’s little kick back through the steering wheel either. Hill climbing on mud or grass was done with breath-taking efficiency and at no point did any occupant feel worried or have the need to bail out of the cabin. Defenders 2.2 “puma” power unit pulls very well indeed but you do have to be ensure there is at least 1500rpm showing on the dial – below this the torque trails off very quickly and it becomes a little too easy to stall.
In the usual Land Rover tradition, the high / low range selection lever requires a vigorous swift tug to engage, but once low range is in place you get the feeling only the laws of physics or limit of tyre adhesion will stand in your way of your ultimate destination. We noticed no creaks or groans from the chassis despite some interesting axle loading or articulation and engine braking when furrowing a steep downhill path kept the speed in check with only minimal use of the footbrake. Defender oozes charm and instills confidence in the driver with every mile that passes – when the going gets tough… really tough that is, would you be as confident and safe in anything else?
All in all, it’s a bit tiresome on the highways but almost unstoppable in the rough, we can only hope its replacement will utilise the seven decades of Land Rover know how. Despite the age, despite the limitations of the cabin, the Defender still leaves you speechless and in total admiration of what simply is the best 4 x 4…. By far… for now!
AUTOBRITANNIA.NET RATING – 7/10
THE HUMBLE OPINION:
“A true motoring icon in every sense of the word that has been spotted in virtually all corners of the globe. Still beyond reproach in off road terms but needs first hand experience to fully understand and appreciate.
Sold only as a commercial vehicle now and also in its final year of mass production but skilful revamps have the Defender on top of its game. Its reasonably refined on the roads and pulls like a train but if you do lots of miles on the black top, have a try in a Discovery with M-T tyres.
The fixtures and fittings inside hark back to an celebrate the previous company owners – The Rover Group. You’ll find Metro column stalks and Rover 800 door lock buttons, even the steering wheel is identical to the “classic” Range Rover. But it all works and functions with dogged efficiency and adds to the soul and character that only comes from a “Landie”.
But for those who work deep in the country or reside well off the beaten track that require a forray into town on market day – it’s still the best and what ever replaces it next year will need to fill an awfully big pair of gum boots.”
Model tested: Land Rover Defender 90 TD4 XS
Produced By: Jaguar Land Rover Group Solihull
Price OTR: £30.505 inc VAT & as tested
Equipment Highlights: Duotone leather heated seats – Aircon – Alpine audio system & sub woofer – Heated windscreen – Alloy wheels – Electric front windows – Remote locking with alarm and imobiliser.
Engine: Inline 2.2 turbo intercooled diesel
Power: 122Ps & 360Nm of torque
Gearbox: 6 speed manual with high / low range transfer
Brakes: Discs with ABS and transmission park brake
Suspension: Live axles with coils
Fuel Economy: 27.7mpg (claimed) 23mpg (est) on test
Performance: NOT TESTED
Top Speed: NOT TESTED
THE HIGHS: Strong performance – Superb off road ability – Refined engine when cruising – Excellent heating / ventilation – Decent ride comfort – Iconic image & pedigree – Still looks good – Good solid build quality – Progressive brakes – Still the best when it comes to adventure – Unbelievably strong residual used values.
THE LOWS: Compromised driving position – Tyre noise – Entry & exit can be undignified – Very tiring on long motorway journeys – Transmission backlash still very pronounced – Hopelessly outdated in terms of saftey related equipment – Clumsy to drive in heavy urban traffic.
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Thanks are due to Gothard Plant & Land Reclaimation LTD of Tilbury & RWE A.G for the use of the test ground.