IT’S not going anywhere anytime soon and it’s still the king of the hill in off-roading circles. It can only be Land Rover’s venerable Defender. The boxy 4x4 has been living on borrowed time for a while now, although that hasn’t stopped its maker from conducting a comprehensive update programme to keep it going until at least the middle of the decade.
Economy and emissions are the two big hurdles for any car to overcome these days, and the Defender is no different. Constantly changing global regulations can easily prevent a car from being sold in important markets, and Land Rover engineers have performed heart surgery on the Defender to help prolong its life before a successor appears.
You wouldn’t know it from the outside but, according to Land Rover, almost everything under the bonnet is new. Out has gone the 4x4’s 2.4-litre diesel lump, replaced by an improved and cleaner 2.2-litre unit. Yet, to accommodate it and its various ancillaries, it was more than a five minute job.
The result is a more refined experience - on and off the road. It’s a cleaner one too, although the bespoke and fragile tech that makes it happen had to be squeezed into the engine bay to protect it from the elements. It’s not every car that’s capable of fording rivers and ploughing through sand dunes.
Whatever you plan on doing with the the Defender, there’s no question that you’ll notice the difference with the new 2.2-litre engine installed.
The other noticeable improvement is the quality of the gearshift. Changing gear is now an altogether more refined act and no longer a chore when driving in town. Also, the anti-stall technology fitted to the Defender ensures that you can concentrate on the terrain ahead instead of constantly hovering over the clutch pedal, while the vehicle’s stubby secondary gear lever remains so you can quickly shift between low and high ratios and lock the transmission when grip is close to zero.
For the ultimate in versatility you can’t go wrong with the 110 Station Wagon model, which could easily be described as a go anywhere people carrier. When specified, rear seats can be swung out from the side to increase the total count to seven, making this particular Defender a little more versatile.
It’s true that you don’t get the fancy storage options – unless you count a voluminous box that doubles as a front seat arm rest – of a conventional people carrier. But with those extra seats swung out of the way, there’s room in the rear for all manner of objects, from everyday luggage to farm supplies or even diving gear for a weekend of adventure sports.
Best of all, Land Rover’s practical ethos translates into rubber matting everywhere, allowing you to clean the various areas without having to accommodate precious trim materials.
Alternatively, there’s still the option of a ’90’ which refers to this particular Defender’s wheelbase. It’s the mountain goat of proper off-roaders, with no slope too steep or woodland track too tight to turn in. What you sacrifice in overall rear space and seating options you gain in terms of out-and-out agility.
Livestock, straw bales, plant and machinery can be thrown in back, making the Defender 90 a compact working tool. The enhanced maneuverability over the 110 Station Wagon has also seen it used as urban transport by a dedicated following of hardy style-conscious souls. Proof that, despite its age, the Defender remains fashionable.
The best bit about this revitalised Defender is the fact that it’s now a more user-friendly vehicle to drive. Yes, the steering still requires a fair few turns and focuses the mind when negotiating town traffic and the ride can still be a little harsh on poorly surfaced roads, but the new engine really has done wonders to the overall feeling of improved refinement.
With anti-lock brakes plus traction control available, there’s every reason to feel as safe and secure as you would in a regular car. The former in particular is a surprisingly useful addition for off-roading, as it takes the guesswork out of particularly tricky hill descents.
Although the Defender is now entering the twilight of its career as a go-anywhere, do-anything 4x4, it shows no signs of exiting this world with a whimper. The latest updates have successfully breathed new life into the off-roading icon, and while it might be a cliche it’s true that even after all these years there really isn’t anything else that comes close.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Land Rover Defender 90 2.2D Hard Top, priced from £20,995.
Engine: 2.2-litre diesel unit developing 120bhp.
Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving all four wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 90mph, 0-62mph 14.7 seconds.
CO2 Rating: 266g/km.
- Power4 (higher than average performance)
- 0-60 mph
- Economy3 (average fuel economy)
- Insurance groups3 (average costs)
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