Land Rover Defender review

Our Rating: 
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

Venerable Land Rover Defender 4x4 can leave others for dust off-road, but struggles on it

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

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Few cars are as loved as much as the Land Rover Defender. The fact that it has passed its 60th birthday pretty much untouched tells you all you need to know - but that also means it feels outclassed by modern transport. It's unbeatable off-road, but incredibly uncomfortable on tarmac and very noisy. That said, it'll go on forever and with strong used demand, it'll hold its value well too. There is a wide range of body styles from a short wheelbase three-door to an enormous double cab pick up truck and special edition X-tech models. 

Our choice: Land Rover Defender 90 XS Station Wagon



Instantly recognisable and still a head-turner today, the Land Rover Defender is the epitome of form following function. It's boxy, sturdy with panel gaps you could put your hands through, but that makes owners love it even more. Two-door models are less practical than their four-door brothers, but they look much better. Best described as utilitarian, not much has changed inside the Defender in over half a century. The driving position is cramped - only the seats are adjustable - and you'll find yourself pinned to the driver's door. A Jeep Wrangler is better in this department. At least the durable dashboard has logical controls, mainly because there aren't many of them. Most cars get electric windows and a CD player and remote central locking, while further up the line-up you can specify alloys, extra speakers and even sat-nav.



In the rough stuff, there is nothing to touch a Land Rover Defender. With an incredibly solid chassis, amazing axle articulation and ground clearance plus, of course, four-wheel drive with low-range gearing, it will cope with almost anything you can throw at it. On the road, it's a totally different experience. The car bounces all over rough tarmac. The steering isn't very responsive and has lots of turns lock-to-lock too, while cornering is best done slowly. The 122bhp 2.2-litre diesel is smoother than the old 2.4-litre - although it's not really very refined in modern terms, but it has lots of torque for towing (up to 3,500kg) and is reasonably flexible.



Like the rest of the car, the Defender isn't exactly hi-tech, so don't expect even the most basic of safety features. For example, there are no airbags (not even as an option) or ESP. ABS and traction control are available on higher spec models. The Defender's defence is its solid chassis construction. As for reliability, it is so simple it is unlikely to go wrong. Ever.



Forget your Renault Espace - the Land Rover Defender is a true Multi Purpose Vehicle. There are three wheelbases offered (90, 110 and 130, although the latter is mainly for commercial buyers) with a range of 14 bodies, ranging from a conventional station wagon to a convertible and pick-up, not to mention the more specialist vehicles used by services as varied as the army and Forestry Commission. Inside owners can choose from between two and seven seats, while there is simply loads of boot space and a hose down floor. Ultilitarian perhaps - but incredibly useful if you need a proper working vehicle.

Running Costs


One thing is for sure – a car that has lasted 60 years pretty much unchanged is very simple. And that means it's cheap to fix, should anything go wrong. And while it costs at least £24,000 to buy a Defender new, very strong used demand means it'll hang on to a lot of that value over the course of ownership. Fuel economy isn't too bad at around 28mpg, but high CO2 emissions of 266g/km mean this is a very expensive car to tax.

Disqus - noscript

60 years, untouched? Would you say that about a Porche 911?

1. A series one (built 60 years ago) was not a Defender.

2. The similarities begin and end with a ladder chassis and Birmabright bodywork.

For shame Auto Express I expected better.

Love it!! It is an icon and thousands of farmers totally rely on them.

Last updated: 5 May, 2012

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