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Land Rover Defender lives on

... has defied reports of its imminent demise and will be around for at least the next five years.

"We have plans in place to continue the Defender at least until 2014," says Murray Dietsch, Land Rover's product manager. "It is such an iconic model for us that there is absolutely no rush to see it off ... in fact there has been a considerable amount of strategy and planning invested in making certain it is around for as long as possible."

Dietsch, an expatriate Aussie who worked on key engineering programs such as Territory for Ford Australia, says the steady demand for Defender is something he is constantly amazed at.

"Year in and year out we make and sell around 22,000 of them ... it is just a constant unchanging level of demand. The people who own Defenders are a very special group. They are not concerned with aesthetics or refreshes — they just love the cars as they are."

The key to Defender's survival — and the likely architect of its eventual demise — is the increasingly stringent government regulations relating to emission levels and overall vehicle safety.

The 2.4-litre diesel engine is currently Euro IV compliant and will also meet the Euro V regulations when they come into play in Europe in October. The crunch will come when the far more stringent Euro VI rules are enacted at the end of 2014.

"We can keep the engine compliant until the end of 2014 but that is when a whole lot of extra requirements start landing — and not just to do with emissions but general vehicle design and safety requirements such as airbags which require considerable investment.

"I really have no idea where we go then."

Understanding why the Defender imbues such iron-clad loyalty amongst owners is difficult for an outsider. Since the launch of Series 1 in 1948 the boxy, no-nonsense workhorse has been unfailingly uncomfortable, cramped, functional and single-minded. Latte-sippers need not apply.

Through four generations over 60 years the Land Rover Defender has sold almost 2,000,000 examples, won favour in 130 countries, fought for 60 military forces (sometimes on both sides), taken aid to the world's most desolate places and ensured explorers reached their destination and came home.

A day bashing around Land Rover's legendary test and proving facility at Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire in a couple of 110s from the Land Rover Experience garage did nothing to diminish the impressions of capability — nor enhance those of any aspirations to comfort.Difficult mud and water terrain was dismissed as unworthy, the impossible became merely difficult.

The functionality of the Defender's narrow, tall and boxy style something that has defied trends and the wind tunnel for all of its 60 years is only underscored as the cars slip through narrow overgrown path between trees that would turn aside many of the more luxurious off-roaders more favoured in polite society.

However, evolution will not be denied and the bonnet now has what Land Rover, tongue firmly in cheek, refers to as a ‘power bulge’ to accommodate the taller Ford Transit-sourced 2.4-litre common rail turbo diesel (90kW and 360Nm) with high-mounted alternator and air intake.

Also a victim of progress in the last update were the iconic airflaps under the windscreen — made redundant, says Land Rover, by an airconditioning unit that heats higher and cools lower with 40 per cent better efficiency.

The door seals are still from a simpler time, something noticed as soon as the water crossings became deeper than the sills: water flowed in and water flowed out. It just seemed appropriate, somehow.

Land Rover Defender

Price: 110 wagon $48,990; 130 crew cab $50,990
Engine: 2.4L/4-cylinder turbo diesel, 90kW/360Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual; constant AWD dual-range with lockable centre differential
Economy: 11L/100km (110), 11.1L/100km (130)