Land Rovers started out in 1948 and changed very little over time. In 1983, with increased competition coming into the 4x4 ute market, they decided to update their image and produced the incredibly functional Defender.
The Range Rover Defender is the definitive off-road vehicle; off-roading is what it was built to do. There are no subtleties of style, design, or refinement. It is all utility. The Defender is designed to cross rivers and scale mountains – that’s its job.
The original updates to the Land Rover series were the Land Rover Ninety (90) and the Land Rover One Ten (110), referring to their wheelbase length. The Land Rover 127, the name again corresponding to the 4x4’s wheelbase, was added not long after. Stylistically, they were still very similar to the Land Rover MkIII but with the addition of a more comfortable suspension, less vulnerable rear axle, 4WD, higher windscreen, and a more powerful engine. In 1989, Land Rover came out with a third model, the Land Rover Discovery, which prompted the company to change the names of the Ninety and the One Ten to the newly-minted Land Rover Defender.
The Australian military has long used Land Rovers and commissioned their own six-wheeled version, the Land Rover Perentie, but this was found to be vulnerable to land mines. The current Defender Station Wagon comes in 90 and 110 wheelbases and is able to seat four comfortably in the 90 version. The 110 is designed to take five with two more in folding third row seats.
Design changes were brought about in 2007. These, however, were mainly technological with the only alteration to the body shape being a modification of the bonnet to accommodate the new larger engine. In 2009, Land Rover also released a wider range of variants, including cab versions, panel vans, and a high-capacity pickup. Again in 2012, more amendments were made to the vehicle’s workings with the only physical change being the reintroduction of the soft top version at customers’ requests.
The first Land Rover Defender 4x4s were powered by 2.25L naturally aspirated engines with the option of either petrol or diesel. Later, a larger 3.5L V8 was fitted, generating up to 100kW of power, and these engines were mated with either 4- or 5-speed manual gearboxes.
The search for increased power had long been a dream of the Land Rover range, and in the 1980s they fitted bigger engines to satisfy demands from their customers – larger cylinder V8 engines and turbo diesels were designed. When the company released the Land Rover Discovery with a newly-designed engine, they detuned and fitted it to the newly-named Defender, thus giving it a smoother ride at higher speeds.
Legal requirements in 2007 led to Rover using the Ford Dura Torq, popular with Ford Transits, which was also made to comply with emissions levels and safety regulations. These gave Land Rover a power output of 91kW and their torque rating rose to 300Nm. This was fitted to a 6-speed gearbox with a lower first-gear ratio making it easier to control at low speeds. Fuel economy for the latest Defenders has it running a combined level of 10L/100km and producing 266g/km of CO2 emissions.
The mid-1980s saw a rise in the interest in Land Rover vehicles as family utility cars, rugged outdoor vans capable of taking the family into the wild back of beyond, gained popularity. Traditionally, the trim fitted into Land Rovers had been particularly simple, but with growing domestic interest, they began adding more home comforts as standard.
The recreational market saw the options packages include radio/cassette players, washer wiper headlights, stylish wheel choices, and the ability to choose surfboard or bike racks as well. Land Rover also created a more fun look for the vehicle, adding brighter colours, graphics, and styling options to the normally conservatively liveried vans.
The current Defender still comes with a limited standard package, but it now includes such luxuries as air-con and a cubby box. The exterior benefits from headlight levelling, ABS, 5-spoke alloy wheels, heated rear screen, and rear wipers. The options packages are the Cold Climate Pack and the Leather Pack, adding somewhat to the comfort of your Defender’s interior. There is also the choice of such exotics as expedition racks, bolt-on ladders, sunroof, and chequer plates.
The Land Rover Defender has been fending competition from the others in its own range as well as the BMW X3, Nissan Patrol, and Toyota Land Cruiser. All competitors will win on cute, curvy looks, comfortable interior, connectivity, and refinement, but that was never Land Rover’s manner. They have kept faith with the solid, bulky design that has served them well for over 65 years. It is still considered one of the best pure 4x4 ute vehicles on the market, and it performs at its best when facing a challenge.
The competition may look prettier, but if travelling without roads is what you are looking for, then there is little short of a tank that can beat Land Rover’s expertise in this arena.