Review: Land Rover Defender
PUBLISHED: 12:42 27 June 2011 | UPDATED: 19:37 20 February 2013
Liam Bird reviews the Land Rover Defender
One of the first vehicles I ever drove was a Land Rover. A military green series 3 pickup, it belonged to my uncle. I was a precocious 13 year old, allowed to drive off road. It had no carpets, no door trims, sliding windows, a 4-speed gearbox and, more worryingly for a teenage me, no power steering and a seriously heavy, snappy clutch. The lumpy diesel engine made everything vibrate and various brightly-coloured knobs sprouted from the transmission tunnel like mechanical mushrooms. Ah, you never forget your first Land Rover.
Things have changed a bit since then. For a start I can now reach the pedals properly.
The new Land Rover Defender 90 comes complete with a much less daunting clutch, door trims, a 6-speed gearbox and proper carpets. The old bug-trapping vents have been replaced by a very effective air-conditioning system. Theres a heated windscreen and seats, the windows are electric - and you can even hear the radio.
Dont go thinking that the Defender has gone all soft though. You still get the familiar, lofty driving position that, despite offering enviable views of the road ahead, also forces you to sit right on the extremities of the cabin and gives little in the way of elbow room. The steering still feels heavy and loose on the move, and requires lots of twirling in tight spaces thanks to the massive turning circle. The handbrake lever still brushes your left leg when you drive and dont even bother looking for airbags.
The 2.4 litre Ford-sourced diesel engine still gives that distinctly Land Rover sound but, even though theres far less of the tug-boat like noise and vibration than I remember from my youth, you still have to work your way right up through the click-clacking gearboxs ratios to keep up with modern traffic. Theres little point in revving the engine over about 3000rpm; this is a vehicle that uses torque not power.
And thats really the Defenders forte. It may have fewer levers in the cabin but its lost none of the legendary off-road or load lugging ability. You can still select low ratio gears or lock the differentials, and four-wheel drive these days is permanent.
If you opt for the original 90 inch wheelbase youll be buying one of the most recognisable and iconic automotive shapes ever made. From the squared off wings, to the high roofline, to the short front and rear overhangs, a short wheelbase Land Rover looks as good today as it did in 1949. Its perfectly proportioned and is the definitive 4x4 shape. After spending a week with this beauty, the only problem I can find is that I have to hand it back.