The Land Rover Defender is a landmark in automotive history, and the latest round of updates means it’s still the car of choice if you need a dependable, rugged 4x4 that can go virtually anywhere. It’s more refined than before on the road, and it certainly looks smart, but the fact it demands so many compromises means you could only really justify buying one if you plan to do a lot of off-road driving.
The Land Rover Defender has been a mainstay of country life ever since the Series 1 was first introduced back in 1948. But its presence on the firm’s price lists has been placed under threat in recent years by ever-tightening emissions legislation.
With the introduction of the DC100 concept at this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show, Land Rover set out plans for its next rugged go-anywhere machine. However, the current car isn’t dead and buried just yet.
The introduction of Euro V emissions legislation threatened to kill off the Defender once and for all, yet Land Rover has managed to breathe life into it with a new Euro V-compliant 2.2-litre diesel.
Despite being of slightly smaller capacity than the 2.4 four-cylinder it replaces, the new unit has the same power, torque and economy figures. The addition of a diesel particulate filter (cleverly placed in the engine bay, well away from possible off-roading damage) helps to cut emissions, too – although the figure of 266g/km isn’t going to win any green awards.
As well as the new motor, Land Rover has improved sound insulation around the engine bay in an effort to make the Defender more refined on the road. Other luxuries include a £1,650 optional Comfort Pack, which adds a CD player with MP3 player jack, electric windows, air-conditioning and central locking. This makes the Defender a more pleasant place to be, but there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s not great on tarmac.
We tried a short-wheelbase Defender 90 Station Wagon, although there are 14 bodystyles available in total – including a long-wheelbase 110 Station Wagon and even a double-cab pick-up truck. The driving position pins you to the door, as elbow room is in short supply, while the steering wheel requires big inputs to turn the car.
Add in a six-speed gearbox that needs to be forcibly guided to find the next ratio, plus unrelentingly stiff suspension, and you would be crazy to drive a Defender as your sole mode of transport.
However, you can forgive all of the Land Rover’s on-tarmac shortcomings as soon as you head off the beaten track. Switch to low ratio and lock the centre differential, and the Defender can tackle pretty much anything you throw at it.
First gear is ultra-short and puts the 4x4 into crawler mode. Simply engage first, take your feet off the pedals – but keep the brake covered, just in case – and the car moves at slower than walking pace. All you need to do is keep the Land Rover pointing in the right direction as it clambers over terrain you would have trouble just walking across. It’s the same story on downslopes, while the engine’s 360Nm of torque can haul the car up the steepest of hills.
Once you have experienced exactly what the Defender can do off-road, you are left in no doubt as to why it’s so popular with farmers, the military – and anyone else who needs to cross the toughest of terrain.