Land Rover Defender review

Our Rating: 
3
3.0/5.0
2012 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

Despite being massively capable off the road, the Land Rover Defender is dated and left behind by modern 4x4s on it

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

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The Land Rover Defender is, like the original MINI, one of the most iconic British cars of all time – so much so, its much loved design has remained largely unchanged since its launch about 60 years ago.

While it's still unbelievably capable off-road, given its age, the Land Rover Defender is massively outclassed by modern transport. Despite its mud-plugging capability, it's incredibly uncomfortable on tarmac as well as very noisy.

What's more, the 2.2-litre engine feels dated now and while it returns a respectable 25-28mpg, its emissions range from 266g/km of CO2 to 295g/km - this means the Land Rover Defender is expensive to tax.

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.

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

Styling

3.8

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.

Driving

2.7

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

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.

Reliability

3

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.

Practicality

4.2

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.

Running Costs

2.5

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

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.

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: 19 May, 2014
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