Peter Hitchener road tests and reviews the Land Rover Defender.
There’s an unwritten rule with the vehicle I’m testing this week. When you see another one on the road, you wave to its driver…it’s the done thing.
Drivers of the 2015 Land Rover Defender are a hardy band, and they need to be. The Defender is a world away from glamorous, luxurious SUVs, like its upmarket cousin the Range Rover.
However, this model is coming to the end of the line, so unfortunately there won’t be as many to wave to.
Final orders are being taken for this venerable war-horse, and it will be 2017 before it’s replaced with a new and more diverse commercial range.
The designers have apparently found it increasingly difficult to get the Defender to comply with the safety requirements of world markets, so it’s being retired before the new models arrive.
There’s a wave of nostalgia for this vehicle, which seems remarkably similar to the first Land Rovers which were unveiled in 1948. To this day it looks terrific, tough and traditional.
‘War horse’ is an appropriate description, given that the prototype was put together using a chassis and axles from a Jeep, and early models were always green in colour, coated in a war-surplus aircraft cockpit paint.
It was a hit in post-World War Two Britain, farmers and others who needed off-road capability were early adopters, along with the British Army. Members of the British royal family were often photographed in Land Rovers, short or long wheel base, no doubt heading to the polo or doing the rounds of their country estates.
Despite appearances, the Defender has changed somewhat since the late 1940’s, but much of the thinking remains the same. It is certainly practical and hard-working. It oozes character, and in its own way is a quite a character too. The drive is character-building, and you are in for a real workout!
Getting in and out requires the kind of agility usually associated with a Zumba class, but at least the makers have installed a fold-down step for each door. Now, which foot goes into the cabin first? And are you sensitive to altitude sickness? You will soon find out.
Once you have successfully climbed up, found the ignition and started the diesel motor, your gym session really winds up a gear, from the robust clutch and gear changes to simply steering the thing. Your abs and biceps will love it.
The cabin is neatly laid out and works well. Dated perhaps, but that’s part of its charm. Where are those electric window controls? On the desk of course. Bluetooth? Yes it’s here somewhere too.
The seating is comfortable, not particularly adjustable though, and probably not suited to people with long legs. Go ahead, move those front seats back for more leg room, but not too far! You might find your line of sight blocked by the door pillar!
The air-conditioning works well, and there’s a classy Land Rover analogue clock in the centre of the dash.
Many of these vehicles will be used off-road or above the snow-line. In addition to the gear lever for the Defender’s six speed manual transmission, there’s a second smaller lever for selecting high and low ratio gears.
The three back seats fold away if necessary, and two further fold-up seats are located behind them in the wagon version, so it’s a 7 seater if required.
The Land Rover Defender is of course a work horse, with an army of devotees; perhaps a bit heavy going for the daily city commute, but perfect if there’s work to be done, or off-road challenges to be undertaken.
There’s something endearing and familiar about the appearance of the Defender, that high glass panel skylight above the back doors, the squared off face, and the retro styling that still looks good. After a few days with it, I really fell for the Defender’s charm and reassuring functionality.
There’s a pedigree here, a reputation for hard work and off-road credibility other makers can only dream about.
If it meets your requirements, you will need to be quick. Final orders are being taken and there’s likely to be quite a wait for a replacement.
NUTS and BOLTS – 2015 Land Rover Defender
Engine: 2.2 litre turbo-diesel producing 90kW and 360Nm
Transmission: Six-speed manual (only)
Safety: Not tested
Origin: United Kingdom
Price: from $42,800