What is the Land Rover Defender?
Few British cars are as famous, as recognisable or as rugged as the Defender. No British car is as ancient, either, this Land Rover having been in continuous production since 1948. Nor is any British car as freighted with history — the Defender reeks of exploration, the sunset of empire, royalty, soldiering and, more prosaically, the muddy tracks of farming and construction.
It has a die-hard following — and requires a die-hard attitude to tolerate its many failings. Yet its go-anywhere capability, robust constitution and distinctive style — this is a vehicle whose silhouette can be drawn by the most inept sketcher — have made it a staple of rural life for more than 60 years. It has competitors, such as the Toyota Land Cruiser, Nissan Navara, Mercedes G-wagen and Jeep Wrangler, but for many people only the Defender will do.
This is a stout machine, and it requires stout movements to make it go, its controls continually reminding you that this is heavy-duty hardware of the kind found on farms.
It’s noisy, it’s vague at speed, it corners uncertainly — though it’s better than it feels — and it performs with no great enthusiasm. But it won’t fall apart on ploughed fields, fends off all comers in the car park and is almost unstoppable in peat, streams, gullies and Welsh hills.
If you need a car that can go anywhere — and tow out those who thought they could do the same — this is it. A Defender can even winch itself up the face of a dam. And the knowledge that it will do all this, and more, is enough to sustain the lightly battered constitutions of its drivers. Defenders can be bought by the length — Land Rover offers three wheelbases — and as station wagons, vans, pick-ups, crew cabs and more.
For family use the five-door station wagon is best — though you must be resigned to the total absence of airbags — and your choice of engine is a 2.2-litre diesel and nothing else.
This section of a Driving road test considers comfort, quality and space, and you can be quite confident that a Defender will deliver a sizable shortfall of all three.
Its cockpit is cramped and noisy, its seats aren’t comfortable and the controls are a long way from being slick. Much of a Defender’s interior is no more than approximately fitted, and its trim is doggedly functional, even if you can now order air-conditioning and a stereo, features that would have seemed absurd to the car’s creators.
Yet there will have been many over the decades for whom there is no more comfortable place than a Defender, its cabin providing respite from the beating sun, lashing rain, excitable insurgents or hungry wildlife. If, however, you’re after a 4×4 that provides the pampering insulations of a car, forget it.
What to look out for when buying a used Land Rover Defender
How reliable any potential purchase is likely to be is largely down to how much the car has been used and abused. But even cared-for Defenders aren’t as tough as you might think, with electrolytic corrosion an issue even on relatively new examples. Wear in the driveline and transmission is also common, as are leaks from the power steering, worn suspension bushes and water leaks into the cabin.
Land Rover has issued five recalls for the Defender since 2000, four of which were for braking issues. There were potential problems with the handbrake, anti-lock system and flexible hoses, while some 1998 and 1999 cars could suffer from the flywheel breaking up.
The One to Buy
Land Rover Defender 110 2.2D County Station Wagon
- 2198cc, 4 cylinders
- 122bhp @ 3500rpm
- 266 lb ft @ 2000rpm
- 6-speed manual
- 0-62mph in 15.8sec
- Top Speed:
- Road Tax Band:
- L 4785mm, W 1790mm, H 2182mm