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Land Rover Defender 110 First Drive
FIRST THOUGHTS: The Defender is every bit as tough looking as you expect, but this current generation is a whole lot more comfortable inside than ever before too.
It might be the only car in Australia without airbags and be little changed since the Series I trundled onto the market back in 1948, but the Defender has an army of fans that view messing with the boxy off-roader as heresy.
Don't believe us, then do a quick Google or Facebook search and look at the backlash amongst hardcore Defender fans to Land Rover's DC100 Concept at the recent Frankfurt Motor Show.
But the Defender can't stay the way it is now. Well, it can, but only until 2015 when pedestrian safety legislation will kill off the current-design off-roader.
Although the LWB Defender may continue until at least 2017 as it's considered a commercial vehicle and they're exempt from the tight legislation due to be introduced in 2015.
But, we really hope Land Rover hasn't been frightened off producing a radical new Defender, just because of a handful of Defender lovers. And we can't help but wonder why the brand would try and build two types of Defender...
Even just a quick tootle around the block in the big rig is enough to tell you why so many people love it, although not enough people love it enough to buy the thing in huge numbers.
And that's another of the Defender's problems. Its lost the sales race to cheaper Japanese rivals like Toyota and Nissan (on average only around 25,000 Defenders are sold around the world each year).
One glimpse is enough to tell you the Defender is designed to be tough and dependable and there's not a single piece of metal, metal, metal, or metal on the thing that isn't intended to make it as tough as tough nails and as dependable as a knife and fork.
That said, the Defender is as ruggedly beautiful as, say, a hammer, or a can opener. And just like those items, Land Rover's designers have kept to simply tweaking the look of the thing.
If it ain't broke... but, as we mentioned, future legislation means Land Rover has to finally bite the bullet and design a modern Defender.
But until then, we've got this beastie here. And under its bonnet is a 2.4-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel making 90kW at 3500rpm and 360Nm from 2000rpm. Although, by the time you read this the MY12 Defender will be almost in dealerships and it'll be fitted with a new 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel.
Power output is the same. And performance is just about bang-on too, although top speed, not that you'd ever reach it in this thing, will be lifted to 145km/h up from the 132km/h top whack in the car we're testing.
Fuel consumption will be unchanged at 11L/100km (combined), and while that seems high it's not too bad given the shape of the Defender and its weight which, depending on the variant, can be anywhere from 2041 to 2120kg.
The engine is mated to a six-speed manual transmission and while it's not the smoothest of gearboxes in the world, if you take your time with it and be confident with your clutch action and shift you honestly won't have a problem.
Try and rush it or let the agricultural nature of the gearbox intimidate you and it'll bite you every time.
Our time with the Defender saw us take it deep into Sydney and then back out again and onto the carpark they call the M4. Not once did we grind a gear or stall the thing. So, don't let anyone tell you, or believe anything you read about the Defender being a difficult car to drive. As long as you drive the thing, it's a cinch.
But it is heavy and because the brake pedal feels so dead you've really got to give it a good shove to haul it up. This was the only thing about my time with the Defender that gave me any cause for concern. That said, it only took an hour or so in traffic for me to get used to the brake pedal action.
Besides the brakes, what struck me most about this new-ish Defender was just how unlike a chaff-cutter it sounded. And that's down to a new, full acoustic engine which replaces the simple splash cover on the old model, and really does reduce engine noise. While we wouldn't suggest the Defender is refined, it's more livable than it used to be.
In terms of ride, given its got coil springs front and back, it's pretty good. And not far behind the ride of, say, a Toyota HiLux. The steering is consistently weighted and heavier than the steering in Toyota's Troop Carrier, but my pretzel-like arms managed it so yours will too.
The Defender offers that typical Land Rover roll into corners, but you shouldn't let it worry you because after the initial roll the thing simply settles on its springs and gets on with the job.
And as long as you don't start messing with the steering it's actually capable of carrying a fair amount of speed through the bends, it's certainly better on-road than a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen. And thanks to permanent four-wheel drive there's plenty of grip on offer.
Climb up and into the Defender and the best way to describe the interior is rugged and utilitarian. There are no fripperies such as chrome accents or enviro-wood; the plastics are hard and there's metal everywhere. You can get half-leather as an extra-cost option, but why would you bother...
The Defender's interior is achingly practical with storage boxes and shelves aplenty, the instruments are all-LED and are easy to read and, thanks to the LEDs, incredibly reliable.
The front seats are tall and reasonably supportive, but taller drivers might find they're a little hard-up for legroom (the front seats don't have a lot of forward and aft travel).
The back seats are large enough for adults to sit comfortably but there isn't a lot of rear seat footroom. The boot is huge and the rear seats are split fold and tumble at the flick of a handle (the seats are spring-loaded making folding them forward a cinch).
Until now you could get your hands on no less than nine variants of Defender, but, for MY12 the cab-chassis model has been discontinued; you can choose from three different wheelbases: 90,110 and 130. The Defender is rated to tow 3500kg and that load space in the back is huge; and so it's perfectly suited to rough-roading with a camper trailer in the more remote corners of the country.
VERDICT: The Defender isn't a small car, at almost two metres tall it won't go into many underground car parks. And at around five metres long, it's not terribly manoeuvreable in the city.
But, get the Defender out onto a boggy track and you'll soon realise that nothing comes close to it.
And anyone who reckons a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is in the same ballpark is dreaming; the Rubicon is absolutely horrid to drive, whereas the Defender is a lot of fun. Unless you're in a hurry, when it can feel a little cumbersome.
So, if you live in the back of beyond, or even in the city and you'd like to venture out into the back of beyond, then the Defender is still, despite more modern competition, probably the most capable, and toughest, proper four-wheel drive on the planet.
|Country of manufacture||Great Britain|
|Priced from||$44,490 for the 90; $48,990 for the 110|
|Number of cylinders||4|
|Engine size||2.4 L|
|Claimed max power (kW)||90 kW @ 3500 rpm|
|Claimed max torque (Nm)||360 Nm @ 2000 rpm|
|Claimed fuel consumption||11 L/100km|
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