MOTORS REVIEW: Land Rover Defender

Land Rover DefenderLand Rover Defender
Land Rover Defender
IF I had my way all Land Rover Defenders would be exempt from road tax.

Engine: Turbocharged 2.4-litre, four-cylinder, diesel

Power: 120bhp and 260lb.ft.

Performance: 0 to 62mph in 14.7 seconds and 82mph

Fuel economy: 26mpg (combined)

CO2 emissions: 295g/km

Price: £26,630

Our Royal family has such a priviledge and there is no doubt in my mind that the Defender, after 60 years production, qualifies as an equally important national treasure.

As British as Real Ale, Oak trees, Jack Russels and orderly Post Office queues, the go-anywhere off-roader has served time in our armed forces, contributed to the upkeep of our environment (have you ever seen a Forestry Commission worker driving anything else?) and boosted the national economy with more than 1.8 million sales.

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That sales figure is all the more impressive when you consider that, according to Land Rover, 75 per cent of those are still going strong.

The first Land Rover appeared in 1948 and from day one its simplicity was its strongest asset.

Created by brothers Spencer and Maurice Wilks, the Land Rover's simple ladder chassis, coil springs and a basic bolt-together construction combined utilitarian simplicity with rugged, dependable quality.

By 1959 the 250,000th Land Rover had already rolled off the production line.

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Now, with numerouis adventure and endurance events, mountain rescues and wars on its extensive CV there are no less than ten Defender variants available from the factory, plus many more specialist versions such as fire engines, hydraulic platforms and military versions.

The first Land Rover to roll off the Solihull production line–HUE 1–is still going strong today and earlier this year I spent 20 minutes rattling round in the old boy as proof that he is still up to the task.

Stronger, indeed, than the first Land Rover I drove, on a local farm, aged of 13. Leaning on its chassis and capable of around four-miles-to-the gallon it was tired but, even with its teenage band of wannabe mechanics the difference between life-and-death, it kept going...

Taking to the tall driving position of a brand new XS-spec Defender 110 double cab pick-up (£26,630) last week, after more than ten years absence, felt like a reintroduction to an old friend.

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The basic formula obviously endures. The Defender is still largely hand assembled, and unlike most modern cars and trucks, all the major parts simply bolt together.

Exposed rivets, welds and heavy duty door hinges all characterise the rugged, square-set shape.

With a new 2.4-litre four-cylinder diesel engine derived from that found in another enduring British workhorse, the Ford Transit, and a six-speed gearbox the Defender is literally stronger than ever.

Creating 260lb.ft. of torque at just 2,000rpm and peak power of 120bhp, the more powerful engine–bringing with it a new bonnet bulge–ensures that the Defender remains the class-leader when it comes to towing. A braked trailer of anything upto 3500kg should prove easy meat.

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With a locking centre differential, low-ratio gearbox and, of course, full-time four-wheel-drive the Defender can also climb at angles of 45 degrees and in water half a metre deep.

For 2007 revisions were also made to the Defender's interior in an attempt to make it more comfortable.

Reliability and durability are always key, however, and though this XS-spec 110 came with air conditioning and even heated seats the sense of simplicity and purpose is overiding.

Refinement is greatly improved over previous Defenders when you ineviatbly take to the tarmac. The sixth gear even means that you can drive on the motorway in relative peace.

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The Defender is still no serene cruiser though, the purposefully heavy gearbox and clutch contribute to that and, despite claims of improved sound deadening, you can still see daylight through some door seals.

Driving in an urban setting is also made scary by the Defender 110's vast 7.2 metre turning circle. Those squared-off front wings do mean you can clearly see the bonnet's outer perameters, however, and place it accurately.

It does, however, remain the market's only remaining hardcore off-roader. Built completely for purpose, pandering to the needs of school run 4x4 owners have, thankfully, never been written into the equation.

Adventure, endurance and durability remain Land Rover's main priorities for the Defender and, as such, I'm sure I'll still be keeping my eyes peeled for BG57 OMA (tested here), in 30 years time.

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I just hope that the Defender, in some form, is still with us when that time comes.

European pedestrian safety guidelines, set for 2010, pose the biggest risk to the enduring silhouette of the British motor industries most enduring design while green taxes are hitting Defender owners (whose 2007 vehicle's emissions have been reduced to 291g/km) hard.

Perhaps strangely its future lies in the hands of Indian automotive giants Tata Motors.