Land Rover Defender review

Our Rating: 
2012-2016 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

It's massively capable off the road but the Land Rover Defender is dated and far adrift of modern 4x4s in most other areas

Iconic shape, unbeatable off-road, strong residuals
Cramped driving position, vague on-road handling, expensive

Sponsored Links

That’s it – after a run of more than 60 years, the Land Rover Defender finished production on January 29th, 2016, marking the end of a true British motoring legend. Only the original MINI can really challenge the Defender’s place in the hearts of the British population, but it’s fair to say that the MINI could never compete with the Defender’s versatility, off-road ability, and rugged determination.

The Defender always sat happily alongside the Range Rover and Discovery in Land Rover’s model line-up, eschewing those cars luxury trimmings for no-nonsense straight-edged styling and a utilitarian interior. To celebrate the end of production, though, Land Rover has released three special editions - the Heritage, Autobiography and Adventure - all built in limited numbers. The Heritage is coloured and trimmed to reference the very first Defender, known affectionately as Huey, the Autobiography is the most luxurious Defender ever made and the Adventure is fitted with endless off-road options to make it rugged on the outside, but plush on the inside.

Despite its age, the Defender is still unbelievably capable off-road, but it is massively outclassed by modern transport in terms of its general abilities. Its mud-plugging prowess can't mask the fact that the Defender is incredibly uncomfortable on tarmac as well as very noisy.

What's more, the Defender's trusty 2.2-litre engine feels dated now. It returns only 25-28mpg and its emissions range from 266g/km of CO2 to 295g/km making the Land Rover Defender expensive to tax.

Best 4x4s to buy now

All Defender models are basic - basic to the extent that airbags aren't even available as an option - so there's very little to go wrong. This means it'll go on forever, and as there's strong demand from urban and country types alike, it'll hold its value well.

The Land Rover Defender is available in a wide range of body styles, the most popular of which are the short-wheelbase 90 model and the long-wheelbase 110 variant. There is also a Defender van, as well as the enormous 130 double cab pick up truck, as well as special editions, which include the X-Tech model and the three run-out edition mentioned above.

The Land Rover Defender X-Tech gets a trendy body kit, plus special edition alloy wheels and a range of colours. On the inside, it also received non-standard Defender options such as air-conditioning, a heated windscreen and electric windows.

Our choice: Land Rover Defender 90 XS Station Wagon

Engines, performance and drive


For what it lacks in refinement and on-road enjoyment, there's absolutely nothing that can touch the Land Rover Defender off-road. 

It has an incredibly solid chassis, high ground clearance, amazing axle articulation and four-wheel drive with low range gearing. This means it can cope with almost anything the elements throw at it.

Land Rover Defender double cab rear

However, it's a totally different story on the road. The steering isn't very responsive and has lots of turns lock-to-lock too, and cornering is best done slowly. It also bounces around over rough tarmac.

The Land Rover Defender is powered by a 120bhp, 2.2-litre diesel engine. It's not very environmentally friendly, but it has buckets of torque (up to 3,500kg) and is reasonably flexible. The limited edition Autobiography model gets a power boost to 150bhp, which gives some added shove but it's still very noisy and unrefined. 

MPG, CO2 and running costs


As it’s been largely unchanged for 60 years, the Land Rover Defender to be very simple and easy to mantain.

However, while this low-tech means it’s pretty sturdy, it also means it doesn’t benefit from much fuel efficiency technology.

The short-wheelbase Defender 90 models return 28mpg, while the long-wheelbase 110 manages 25mpg. However, the emissions are high (266g/km of C02 for the 90 and 295g/km for the 110) and this makes the Land Rover Defender very expensive to tax.

Interior, design and technology


Unlike many modern off-roaders, the Land Rover Defender is a no-nonsense looking thing with its boxy shape, sturdy silhouette and wide panel gaps adding to its character.

The two-door, short-wheelbase 90 model is less practical than the four-door, long-wheelbase 110, but the smaller Defender is certainly the better looking of the two.

Step inside the Land Rover Defender, and 'utilitarian' is a polite term to describe its interior. The driving position is cramped - only the seats are adjustable - and you keep bashing your elbow against the driver's door when steering. In terms of interior, even the Jeep Wrangler is better.

Thankfully, the dash is simple to use but that's because there's not much on it. It's all scratchy, hard black plastic, so don't expect any luxuries but it is durable.

Land Rover gives most Defenders electric windows, a CD player and remote central locking. Alloy wheels, extra speakers and sat-nav are also available as options, but if you came here for class and luxury, you're in the wrong place.

Practicality, comfort and boot space


The Defender is a true Multi-Purpose Vehicle, though not in the user-friendly sense that we associate with modern MPVs. The three wheelbases (the short-wheelbase 90, the long-wheelbase 110 and the 130 pick-up truck) are available with a range of 14 body styles, which also include (strangely) a convertible.

Defenders buyers can choose between two and seven seats - all of which get a huge amount of boot space and a hose-down floor. While it may not be glamorous, it's incredibly useful if you need a workhorse and that's really what the Defender is all about.

Reliability and Safety


As the Defender isn't too different from the sixty-year old original Land Rover, don't expect it to be hi-tech.
It doesn't even feature airbags or stability control, but ABS and traction control is available on higher spec models. The Defender's defence is its solid chassis construction, so it can take a whack or 10.

As for construction, as the Land Rover is so simple, it's very easy to fix if things go wrong and is very popular with farmers and the military beacuse of who easy it is to repair and maintain. 

Last updated: 29 Jan, 2016