KING OF THE HILL
The Land Rover Defender has been treated to a suite of revisions including a Euro5 compatible engine. Andy Enright takes a look.
Ten Second Review
The latest Land Rover Defender gets a 2.2-litre diesel engine that complies with Euro5 emissions rules and also offers better refinement. Other than that and some minor trim changes, it's much as you were. It's still the go-to choice for serious off-roading.
To most, the Land Rover Defender is an anachronism. Even the latest cars feel crude and old-fashioned, with a hotch potch of make-do fittings inside and some parts that feel more akin to camping than motoring. While this would be enough to deter a huge percentage of 4x4 buyers, there are enough who feel that this is exactly what a true off-roader should be. It shouldn't feel like a car on stilts. It needs to be rugged, practical and offer a number of field-serviceable parts. The Defender might not appeal to all, but as several car manufacturers have discovered, a specialised niche can be very profitable and if, like Land Rover, you've been building them since 1948, you bring to bear one heck of an experience curve. Small wonder that the Defender is, both literally and figuratively, the car that just won't die.
So what's new this time round? Something quite fundamental actually. The old 2.4-litre diesel unit beneath the Defender's bonnet has been replaced by a far more refined and, more importantly, EU5-emissions compliant 2.2-litre diesel engine. Although the cubic capacity of this engine is smaller, power and torque are unchanged, so it does feel as if you're getting something for nothing. The top speed has been raised to 90mph compared to 82mph for the previous version which makes motorway driving far less of an ordeal. Land Rover clearly knows the difference between change and progress.
It's interesting to see the fairly rapid progression in diesel engine tech, Land Rover switching from the rattly Td5, to the far superior 2.4 and now to this more urbane 2.2-litre unit. Of course, there will still be the eccentric die-hards who feel they're missing out on the true Defender experience if they don't suffer vibration grey-out when they switch the engine on, but all things considered, this is a change with very little in the way of meaningful downsides. A whole book could, and has, been written on the Defender's off-road abilities. Suffice to say it remains the most unstoppable thing if you're also equipped with the knowledge and experience to get the best from it.
Design and Build
The Defender has never been the first nor last word in interior sophistication but it has improved in recent years to the extent that you no longer fear drawing blood each time you get in or out. The fascia features a single large moulding supported on a robust steel rail that helps eliminate the sort of twitters and squeaks that made the old Defender's interior sound like an audio track for Bill Oddie's Wildwatch. Instruments have been filched from the Discovery3 production line and there are numerous ergonomic advantages. A passenger side grab handle offers two-handed support during gnarly off-road manoeuvres, while there is also a lot more usable stowage. Two console options are offered: a practical open tray design that keeps contents handy or a lidded design that offers 14-litres of storage out of harm's way.
The 2012 model year developments also bring a pair of option packs. The Comfort Pack features air conditioning, a CD Player with auxiliary input, electric windows and remote central locking. There's also an Off-Road Pack comprising ABS, heavy duty rim and MTR tyre, tow ball and under-ride protection bar. Because the Defender is available in three different wheelbase lengths and a number of different body styles, it's hugely customisable to your specific requirements. In response to customer feedback, a plain black Pick Up hood is available as an option whilst a plain beige hood is offered for the 110 Double Cab Pick Up. Tinted glass now features on all models.
Market and Model
There are three distinct sizes of Defender, named after their wheelbase in inches - 90, 110 and 130 - and in both standard and heavy duty guises. A total of fourteen different body styles, including pick-ups, soft tops, crew cabs and station wagons, are available, with many more custom-built by Land Rover's Special Vehicle Operations team. Examples of these include airport fire tenders, ambulances and mobile hydraulic platforms.
The exterior has been changed very little. As the project's chief designer points out, "Defender's timeless exterior has become synonymous with functional design. Every line and surface seems to be linked to the vehicle's extraordinary capability, so we deliberately changed very little." It's a wise move as the basic vehicle is as popular now as it was 50 years ago. Indeed, the Ministry of Defence ordered nearly 9,000 of them to keep the armed forces mobile, with no rival offering anything like the value and functionality of the Defender. Even today, Land Rover shifts over 25,000 Defenders per year. As Land Rover diversifies into new markets, the importance of the Defender is anything but diminished.
Cost of Ownership
In order to comply with the latest European emissions directives, the 2.2-litre diesel engine is a good deal cleaner than its predecessor, both in terms of carbon dioxide and also particulates. The addition of a diesel particulate filter makes the latest Defender a more responsible environmental prospect, although it's still a vehicle that emits 266g/km for the 90 and 295g/km for the 110 and 130 models. Economy figures are unchanged from the previous engine, the long sixth gear going some way to offset the effects of the Defender's barn-door aerodynamics at motorway cruising speeds.
Like all Defenders before it, this one will enjoy healthy residual values, buoyed by a strong rural market, easy parts availability and a vibrant owners community. Insurance is reasonable although VED tax will sting a little.
Operating in a virtual class of one, the Land Rover Defender almost becomes a vehicle that's exempt from the usual rules of assessment. For most of the people, most of the time, a Land Rover Discovery is an infinitely more suitable choice. There remains a section of the population, however, for whom nothing other than a Defender will fulfil their requirements. They neither want nor need complex electronics or fancy luxury accoutrements. The Defender still has that balance between basic ruggedness and technical progression spot on for these customers.
As long as there's a viable market for a car like the Defender, Land Rover will continue to build it. Sketches of a Defender replacement have surfaced sporadically and it must be tempting for Land Rover to think they can broaden this car's appeal without alienating its core clientele. If you want the real deal, however, there really is no substitute.