Review

Land Rover Defender SUV

Land Rover Defender SUV

reviewed by Carbuyer

Pros
  • Strong residual values
  • Go-anywhere ruggedness
  • Iconic looks provide decent interior space
Cons
  • Interior plastics are hard and cheap-looking
  • Exceptionally crude to drive
  • Neither cheap to buy or run

"If rugged off-road ability is at the top of your priority list, then little beats the Land Rover Defender."

It's no secret that this year (2015) production of the Land Rover Defender will cease after almost 70 years. It'll be replaced by an all-new model, but in the meantime, it's not going down without a fight. The original off-road classic, which has permanent four-wheel drive, a rust-resitant aluminium body and a choice of various body styles, will, in its final months, be joined by three special editions.

It's usual at this point to mention a model's rivals, but the truth is, the Defender has none. Even sister cars including the Range Rover and the Land Rover Discovery can't match its extreme off-road ability, especially in its shortest 90 form. However, they and all other SUVs are far better to drive, better equipped and much more economical. That said, none possess the Defender's thick-skinned character and heritage. Buy it on these terms, and the Defender won't disappoint.

It comes in three sizes: 90, 110 and 130 (the numbers refer to the distance between the front and rear wheels measured in inches). A variety of bodies are available on these different chassis.

Unlike its near-rivals, which offer a multitude of different diesel and petrol engines, the Defender is available with just one: a 118bhp 2.2-litre diesel. However, it gives you reasonable pulling power – certainly enough to drag the vehicle along rutted tracks and up steep inclines. The downside is that even the most economical model can barely manage 30mpg. In addition, high CO2 emissions mean a Defender costs over £500 a year to tax.

The two trim levels with the greatest accent on comfort are County and the more upmarket XS. To the standard model's rubber floor covering and cloth seats, County spec adds electric windows and a CD player with an MP3 connection. To these modest refinements, upmarket XS adds part-leather seats, air-conditioning and Bluetooth.

The previously mentioned special editions are Heritage (inspired by the earliest versions), Adventure LE (with extreme off-road capability) and Autobiography (offering enhanced luxury).

MPG, running costs & CO2

2 / 5

Four-wheel drive means fuel consumption is high

A 2.2-litre diesel is the only engine available with the Defender and fuel economy is pretty dismal. Land Rover claims that 28.3mpg is possible, but in reality you’ll be lucky to achieve this. The Land Rover also sits in the highest bracket for road tax, meaning it will cost a daunting £500 every year. These high running costs are the payoff for having an SUV that is as capable off-road as the Defender.

Engines, drive & performance

1 / 5

The Defender doesn't feel at home on the road

Old controls make the Defender heavy and tiring to drive. The Land Rover’s tall body and off-road suspension means it suffers from lots of body lean in the corners and if you are used to a normal car, it will take quite a bit of getting used to.

The car’s tall body does at least mean you get an excellent view of the road ahead and the Land Rover doesn’t suffer from the huge blind spots that many modern SUVs have.

Take the Defender off-road and its poor on-road performance is soon forgotten, and there are few modern SUVs that can tackle the steep slopes and deep rivers that a Land Rover Defender can. For ultimate off-road ability the 90 is the model to go for, because it can tackle even steeper hills than the longer 110 model. 

Interior & comfort

1 / 5

The bouncy ride and noisy interior make it tiring to drive

If you are looking for a quiet motorway cruiser then the Defender is definitely not the car for you. Its old design means that engine noise is excessive and wind noise is just as bad. The Defender has grippy tyres that make it excellent off-road, but their tread sends a lot of noise into the interior. The dated dashboard and trim, meanwhile, squeaks and rattles in a way that you’d never find in more modern models.

The suspension, which is sturdy enough to deal with off-roading, also bounces about on-road and highlights bumps and changing road surfaces that cars such as a Nissan Qashqai would glide over.

Practicality & boot space

2.6 / 5

Van-like interior makes it a true working vehicle

Space inside the Defender might not be as generous as you would first think, given the size of the car outside. That is particularly noticeable behind the wheel where offset controls and a lack of adjustment make it difficult to get comfortable.

The model is available in various configurations and with everything from two to seven seats. The Land Rover has been designed to work in muddy conditions, so unlike a modern car you could hose the inside clean if you wish and the interior feels tough and durable. You can also choose to specify your Defender in a variety of different body shapes including van, station wagon, and a five-seat double-cab pick-up. The pickup can also be specced with a high-capacity load bay.

Reliability & safety

3.2 / 5

Ancient design means poor safety standards

Sales of the Defender have dropped over the years thanks to its high running costs and old fashioned design and, as a result, the car didn’t feature in our 2014 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey. Other Land Rover models didn’t fare particularly well though, and the company as a whole finished 20th out of 33 firms in our manufacturers’ rankings. At least there is little to go wrong with the Defender, thanks to its basic design, and the vehicle’s age means that any problems should have been ironed out a long time ago.

Its old design doesn’t help the Defender when it comes to safety, though, and the car has never been tested by Euro NCAP. It lacks safety features such as seatbelt pretensioners and airbags, but some models can now be fitted with anti-lock brakes and traction control.

Price, value for money & options

2 / 5

Defender lacks equipment across the range

It may have a basic design and agricultural feel, but the Land Rover Defender is not a cheap car to buy. In fact, it can only really be described as good value for money if you intend to use it as a working vehicle – that's its intended purpose and, because of this, equipment is very basic. If you do want a touch of luxury, you can have items such as a leather interior at extra cost.

What the others say

2.8 / 5
based on 3 reviews
2 / 5
Off-road, very little can touch it. On-road, there's very little to recommend it. Unless you spend a lot of time out in the wilds, any number of more-modern 4x4s make better buys.
3 / 5
Taken from Ford's Transit, the four-cylinder engine isn't quite up there in terms of power and torque, but it still feels punchy and responsive. Also, despite a long throw, the shift action of the six-speed gearbox is positive. And while the motor is a bit noisy, a long-striding sixth gear gives a more relaxed feel. On the road though, the Land Rover's shortcomings remain, with body roll in bends and unresponsive steering.
13 / 20
A dinosaur and the daddy at the same time. The Land Rover Defender is an off-roader that can travel on-road, rather than the other way around. Recent changes mean that it's not quite as mind-numbing and physically demanding to drive than before, but this remains a car that puts agriculture before culture
Last updated 
8 Apr 2015
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