Land Rover Defender 110 XS Station Wagon
Sector: Large SUV Price: £32,885 Fuel: 27.7mpg CO2: 269g/km
When Maurice Wilks designed the original Land Rover back in 1947, if you’d asked him how the roads of the future would look, even he’d have been unlikely to imagine that same car would still be around. But, 65 years on, many of his ideas can still be found in a modern-day Defender.
It’s gained wider arches and a more substantial-looking body in the meantime, but from farms to front-line battlegrounds, that now-iconic boxiness is recognised the world over. And they’re built to last, with 75% of its ancestors still working hard on the roughest terrain Planet Earth can throw at them.
So the Defender isn’t short of character. Its rugged design has managed to retain its country-chic feel, and nothing else looks or drives like this. But it’s fighting from an outdated position, of large gear levers and heavy pedals, body roll and an interior devoid of creature comforts, including air bags.
Here’s the thing, though. None of that matters. Defender has an army of fans so loyal that the chiselled, futuristic concept car Land Rover has tried to tout as the replacement hasn’t struck a chord. Even when the most workmanlike of modern equivalents, like the Toyota Hilux, offer comparable off-roading abilities without the sacrifice in comfort, there’s no swaying them. Until the time comes when this is legislated out of production, Land Rover will have a difficult job replacing it.
It’s hard not to see the appeal, though. The Defender is noisy, thirsty and basic, especially in town, but it’s a lot of fun too. It’s gained a more efficient 2.2-litre diesel engine, similar to the one in the Freelander, for 2012 and those familiar with its ancestors will find the latest version is much easier to live with. There’s still no shoulder room up front, but it’s deceptively quick off the mark and surprisingly capable at motorway speeds too.
But you do have to drive it. Think of the Defender as the off-roading equivalent of a Caterham. Every driver input has to be carefully considered, and getting through the trickiest terrain is incredibly satisfying, not to mention surprisingly easy.
So a modern equivalent will get you from point A to point B quicker, and with less fuss, than a Defender. This post-war relic still has the talent to keep up with the modern SUV, seats seven, can cover long trips and you’ll never look pretentious driving it. Good fun.
Defender’s character, image and off-roading prowess means it gets away with crudity no others can manage. But this remains a brilliant way to cross rough terrain, provided you’ve got spares to hand, and the new engine and recently announced sports seats means it’s usable on modern roads too.