Fleet News

Land Rover Defender 90 XS

Land Rover

Review

A friend managed to overturn his Defender with a trailer full of sheep on the back (all sheep unhurt), while another used his to drive to the pub and back across the fields. One even went to his wedding in his muddy old version.

It all sounds like some whimsical, hackneyed sub-Archers country tale dreamt up by Londoners in roll-neck jumpers, but the fact is that the Defender still proves to be the baler twine holding everything together in some parts of the country more than 50 years after its invention.

And the Defender is still a key vehicle in many parts of the fleet industry as well. The utility industries – telecoms, water and energy – all still swear by them for doing the job in some of the rougher regions.

Then there's the adaptability of the Defender, which means that many companies and organisations have had the cars adapted to suit their needs.

There's normal fare like winches and roof racks, but Land Rover Special Vehicles Division has also modified the trusty old workhorse into workshops, fire engines, ambulances, drop-siders and tipper trucks.

And Land Rover reckons that three-quarters of all Defenders ever built are still running, which is quite a percentage and possibly unmatched for a car of its age.

When you get in a Defender, you realise why. Most of the moving parts can be fixed by hitting them with a hammer.

But I was in for a shock with the short-wheelbase XS test model sent to us. From the outside, there was a certain 'blinginess': gunmetal radiator and headlamp surrounds, side runners and step plates on top of the front wings.

It looked fantastic, but a little too swanky – ideal for a townie deciding the country image was this season's black. But it was nothing that ploughing through a couple of muddy fields or dank ponds couldn't fix.

Inside was where the real shock was to be found. The Defender has landed in the 21st century. Look at this for a sell-out. Heated part-leather seats! Heated windscreen! Electric front windows! Leather-covered gearknob! Air conditioning! The list of softie specification went on and on.

Fortunately, there has been no improvement in the archaic driving position. I could barely get my right knee between the steering wheel and the very adjacent door, the clutch pedal kept hiding in the most awkward spot in the dark recesses of the footwell. The 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine makes a hell of racket without giving much on-road performance. Heaven.

I say heaven, because there's a unique character to the Defender. It's a car with a purpose and a proven heritage, more so than nearly any other, and it's a delight because of, and in spite of, its foibles.

It might be the size, though I think it's the car, but people let you out of junctions and defer to you on the road. Everyone loves a Defender and I loved chugging about town in it.

And actually, once you've clonked through the gears it will do a steady motorway cruise without too much fuss, although the radio does need to be turned up quite loud.

So for the £25,595 price tag, you're getting a very old car with some new gadgets thrown in, which doesn't seem much to the untrained eye. But for those in the know, those whose job is their vehicle, the Defender still has a twinkle in its eye.

Fact File
Model: Land Rover Defender 90 XS
Engine (cc): 2,495
Max power (bhp/rpm): 122/4,200
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 195/1,950
Max speed (mph): n/a
0-62mph (sec): n/a
Fuel consumption (mpg): 27.9
CO2 emissions (g/km): 282
Transmission: 5-sp manual
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 60/13.2
Service interval: 12,000 miles
On sale: Now
Prices (OTR): £25,595

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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