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Land Rover Defender bows out in style

Insights

As production of Land Rover’s venerable Defender draws to close, Geoff Ashcroft looks at one of the last to come off the production line - the Defender Adventure.

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Kudos is something few vehicles have. And a week spent hustling this celebration edition Defender through the UK countryside revealed just how much kudos a Land Rover can exude.

 

On being spotted by other ‘Landie’ drivers, I was treated to the Land Rover wave - raising the right-hand index finger off the steering wheel, as a nod to acceptance.

 

It has a lack of pretence, a classless feel - and its one that the farming industry has accepted by the bucketload.

 

Like a cantankerous old relative, you cannot help but smile at the Defender’s awkward ways.

 

Don’t be fooled by the leather - it’s still cramped in there.

This Adventure model celebrates some of that awkwardness, but it is slightly tempered by the addition of premium leather sports seats with a range of adjustment unheard of in a Defender.

 

You still cannot move the steering column though, but you can pull yourself into the cab using the steering wheel, combined with a technique perfected by Olympic high-jumpers, to launch yourself into the seat.

 

Internal cabin space was never one of the Defender’s strong points so beware closing the door - the interior handle is likely to make an impression on your right thigh.

 

Adventure spec brings deep pile carpets, plush headlining, under-ride sump and sill protection, expedition roof rack with access ladder, snorkel, and other such fripperies to gloss over its distinctly utilitarian nature. There are electric windows and air conditioning too.

 

Station Wagon brings a little more practicality.

You will certainly be noticed with this verison’s Phoenix Orange metallic paintwork, which harks back to the G4 Challenge era.

 

Defender Adventure is one of three Celebration Series models that also includes Heritage and Autobiography specifications - each one celebrating different elements of Defender’s protracted history.

 

Power has been given a boost for this Adventure model. It means the 2.2-litre four-pot gives 150hp - up from 122hp - and there is a useful increase in torque, too. Handy then, for making the most of its 3,500kg towing capacity.

 

On the road, the Defender Adventure feels spirited. Though short gearing ads to that feel. However, the Defender cannot be rushed. There is an intrinsic thunk-clunk every time the clutch pedal is depressed as the cogs are swapped through the six-speed box. Go easy on the Defender and it will reward the patient driver with smooth progress.

 

In its natural habitat, the Defender is unbeatable.

So much effort is needed on the clutch though, that a journey in stop start traffic will create an imbalance in your leg muscles. And when you do get going, those 235/85 R16 Goodyear Wrangler M/T tyres sing harmoniously above 50mph, until wind noise cancels out tyre roar.

 

You will be constantly correcting the steering. Part of it comes from this 90’s short wheelbase, as the effort required to pilot two tonnes of house brick at speed, on block-tread tyres designed for deep mud and ruts, will take its toll on any driver.

 

But on-road manners are not what the Defender is all about. And any road journey, no matter how short, will always be a compromise in a Defender.

 

Yes, that’s 67 years of production.

Yet show it any other surface than a paved road and the Landie takes on a whole new persona. Ruts, bumps and loose surfaces never felt so good.

 

And with locking differentials and a low ratio box, there are few others able to match the Defender as a hard-core work tool.

 

But they are coming. And the Japanese double cab pickup truck contingent have likely beaten the Defender into submission, with improved comfort and convenience, lower running costs and 4x4 credentials. Importantly, unlike the British stalwart, they are much easier to live with.

 

The end of the Defender is unlikely to result in fewer of them on the road any time soon. They are so mechanically straight-forward, that running repairs with an imperial adjustable, a big hammer and a left-handed screwdriver are likely to see owners hang on to them for many years to come.

 

Cheerio old bean - it’s been a blast.

And there are countless quarter-million milers still hard at work on farms around the country, and this is a league that double cab trucks have yet to enter.

 

While I have never driven a vehicle that offers such a sense of go-anywhere adventure, I have never driven one that is so physically demanding either.

 

Yes, Defender has all the hallmarks of being a future classic, but I won’t mourn the atrocious driving position; the heavy clutch pedal; the vague steering; its wooden brakes; having to lower the driver’s window to steer properly; or the raw, mechanical clunk-thunk that accompanies every gear shift.

 

Farewell old friend, it’s been eventful.

 

Need to know

  • Model: Defender 90 Station Wagon - Adventure
  • Price: from £43,495
  • Engine: 2.2-litre, 4-cyl turbo diesel with 150hp power upgrade
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual, with low range and diff locks
  • Performance: 0-62mph eventually, 27.7mpg combined, 269g/km
  • Towing capacity: 3,500kgs

What’s next for Land Rover?

What’s next for Land Rover?

There have been reported sightings of a test mule, rumoured to be a Defender replacement, in the Oxfordshire countryside.

While the firm showed off the DC100 concept a few years ago, it remains tight-lipped about what might replace its utilitarian, go-anywhere workhorse.

HISTORICAL TIMELINE

  • 1947 Land Rover project approved
  • 1948 The Land Rover is launched at the Amsterdam Motor Show on April 30
  • 1948 First Station Wagon introduced
  • 1949 British Army orders its first Land Rovers
  • 1950 Freewheel 4x4 system replaced by selectable two or four-wheel-drive
  • 1953 Long-wheelbase version introduced
  • 1957 Diesel engine introduced
  • 1958 Series II Land Rover unveiled with more refined styling
  • 1959 250,000th vehicle produced
  • 1961 Series IIA with 2.25-diesel engine
  • 1966 500,000th vehicle produced
  • 1968 Headlights move position to the front wings
  • 1970 Best year of sales with 56,663 vehicles retailed
  • 1971 Land Rover Series III launched; 750,000th Land Rover produced
  • 1976 1,000,000th Land Rover built
  • 1979 V8 engine option introduced in March
  • 1983 Land Rover goes coil sprung with introduction of the 110
  • 1984 Land Rover Ninety introduced
  • 1990 Land Rovers are re-launched and renamed Defender 90, 110 and 130 with new 2.5-litre turbo-charged direct injection diesel engine
  • 1992 Land Rover North America is founded with a limited edition of 500 Defender 110 vehicles powered by the 3.9 litre V8 engine
  • 1993 Land Rover North America follows up the success of the launch of the Defender 110 with the Defender 90 soft top
  • 2007 Major Defender evolution includes addition of six-speed gearbox
  • 2012 New 2.2-litre diesel engine replaces previous 2.4-litre unit
  • 2013 LXV Special Edition celebrates 65 years of Land Rover
  • 2015 Celebration series marks the end of production
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