You may find this difficult to believe but the Land Rover Defender has quite a bit in common with the Porsche 911. Land Rover and the Porsche 356 each started life in 1948. Fast forward to 2013 and the latest Land Rover Defender and the Porsche 911 are immediately identifiable from the shapes of those 65 year-old predecessors.
Neither Land Rover or Porsche mess too much with the Defender or Porsche 911 shape for fear of buyer backlash. These random thoughts ran through our mind as we collected a 2013 Land Rover Defender 110 for our weekly road test and review.
Defender is a vehicle that you will either like or hate. There is no middle ground. It is built for a purpose and that is to provide transport to places not normally accessible to people in any soft roader or even some of the genuine 4WDs. Compromise is not part of the Defender DNA.
Land Rover has done a great job of making the Defender 110 as refined as possible for running on the black top. The ride is good given the vehicle's real purpose.
The 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine is a delightful engine that easily copes with the size and weight of the 110 Defender. It's no V8 Range Rover off the mark, but for use around town you can just about leave it in third gear which hits the torque sweet spot. On the open road the Defender 110 cruises easily at 100 to 110 km/h with the engine sitting on around 2000 rpm in sixth gear. And, it pulls away easily in sixth gear from slowing down to 60 km/h. Drop it back to fourth and it pulls up steep hills without stress.
Land Rover last year replaced the 2.4-litre turbo diesel with this new 2.2-litre powerplant. The new engine matches the older, larger engine in torque, power and fuel consumption. The new engine produces 360 Nm of torque at 2000 rpm and 90 kW of power at 3500 rpm. In order to reduce excessive engine noise Land Rover installed a new acoustic engine cover.
Like the exterior the cabin is a no-frills affair. The tall seats are comfortable, supportive and suitable for long days in the saddle.
The rear pew is a three seater with good head and shoulder room with adequate leg room. It folds to create a larger cargo area. Behind the back seat is a typical wagon layout with a squared-off wheel well along either side that would double up as seats for military or NGO use in third world nations.
There's a single barn door that opens at the rear with a handy fold down step to assist passengers. Rubber mats cover the floor. There is an option for a third row of forward facing seats taking the capacity to seven passengers.
Safety is a big problem that could spell the end of the Defender as we know it. Land Rover Defender 90 (short-wheelbase version) is due to call it quits in 2015 due to pedestrian safety issues. The Defender 110 is considered to be a commercial vehicle and its deadline isn’t until 2017.
With these vehicles built for the bush the airbag issue is also a moot point. Defender is designed to tackle creek crossings where is it possible to hit terra firma on steep entries. This could trigger an airbag.
Land Rover is going to have to look closely as the issues that make a Defender a Defender when they are eventually forced to replace this tough-terrain icon. One possibility is that the airbags are automatically disabled when low-range is selected, but Land Rover’s legal department may see issues with this. It’s an over-complicated world out there these days, life was much easier for engineers back in 1948...
Over rough tarmac and gravel outback roads the Defender effortlessly absorbed corrugations and pot holes without the tail becoming unhinged. We took the Land Rover Defender on some easy 4WD tracks at the back of the Gold Coast, then off that track onto difficult, deeply rutted mogul-style mud tracks. Defender, in low range simply crawled up and down with no traction loss.
Steering was the only necessary driver input. With Defender's ground clearance and entry, departure and ramp-over angles it makes this vehicle one of the best off-roaders in the market. Forward vision is very good and the Defender even has powered front windows. The ergonomics are best described as ordinary - or perhaps enthusiasts would admit, an acquired taste. Certainly, the placement of the handbrake under and on the left of the steering column is not quite user-friendly.
The steering column has no adjustment and the driver's seat no height adjustment, so finding the ideal driving position depends on your build. The gear lever is direct, with a tight gate. But once accustomed to it, we had no problem managing smooth changes. Defender is renowned as a tough, reliable vehicle. The current model was released in 2007 which is when the on-road comfort levels were refined.
It sits high off the ground which for those who are a little over-weight may see as an issue to get in and out and also those with knee problems. These issues underline the fact this is a no-compromise off-roader.
A practical, tough box on wheels that puts function ahead of form, Land Rover Defender is built for work, whether that be towing, serious off-roading, grey-nomading or farm duties.
RANGE | Land Rover Defender Wagon 110
2.2 Single Cab: from $45,730
2.2 Hardtop: from $44,230 (as tested)
2.2 Crew Cab: from $47,230
Land Rover Defender Wagon 110
Warranty: Three years/ 100,000 km
Dimensions: (L) 4.61m, (W) 2.04m, (H) 1.8m
Engine: 2.2-litre 4-cyl diesel, 90kW/360Nm
Transmission: 6 speed manual; 4WD