Long-term test goodbye - 1 July 2008
This test was all about finding out if the new, updated Defender could cut it as a genuine family 4x4, and take on the new breed of 7-seater SUVs. On paper it’s got everything – great styling (ok, not exactly styling, but does anyone NOT think this is a handsome car?); it’s got three rows of half-leather seats, with a folding third row; it’s got a 2.4-litre turbodiesel engine and six-speed gearbox borrowed from the Transit; and it’s got four-wheel capability to embarrass a Challenger tank.
And it translates from paper into the real world surprisingly well. Yes, there is a culture shock: the first week with this car took some adjusting, to the stiff clutch, massive steering wheel, sheer weight and size of the thing. But you soon realise there are very few faults – it just does things differently. In fact the new interior is excellent, with chunky switches and good air conditioning system; it cruises at 80mph, it’s surprisingly comfortable and quiet on the motorway (smooth roads are fine – bumpy one are where it feels crude).
In fact, in the final week, the one insurmountable problem was the same one that really got in the way in the first few days: the turning circle. It sounds like a minor setback, but it’s a really annoying limitation that makes you wary of taking it on certain journeys, especially urban. It means you have to be prepared to do 20-point-turns to get in and out of car parks, or even to get round tight bends in narrow streets. I can’t believe the Land Rover engineers can’t solve this one, but they clearly can’t – it’s too obvious a flaw for them not to have noticed.
Altogether, and with a price-tag of £30k, you’d think it was a no-brainer – no other car would survive for a minute in the competitive SUV world with the problems the Defender has. And yet… And yet the Land Rover continues to sell, and a friend of mine has just bought one as his main family car with his own cash. Why? Well, I’m not about to spend my own cash on one (I’d have a second-hand Discovery3 for the same money) I can completely see the appeal. I’m going to use the c-word now – it’s got ‘character’. Even in a few short weeks we got to know the Defender, peeled back a few of its layers to understand it more, appreciated its weaknesses, its quirks and its incredible strengths. What other car do you know of with layers?
The kids absolutely loved being in it too, and their friends all asked for lifts back from school in it – that doesn’t happen in a BMW X5 or a Volvo XC90. And for the driver, the Defender brings an element of adventure, romance even, into your journeys, by feeling unstoppable, dependable, heroic. Imagine a dark night, it’s lashing with rain outside, the wind howling; you strap on your boots and put on your Goretex, grab the Defender keys and open your front door, allowing the storm to briefly rage in your hallway. You turn to your family (who have gathered to wish you luck) and you say ‘I’m going to get a Chinese takeaway now’, and your youngest son looks up at you with an anxious tear in his eye. ‘Don’t worry son,’ you add with a reassuring smile. ‘I’m taking the Defender.’
That’s what it’s like being a Defender driver. I’m going to miss it.
By Mark Walton
MPG since last report
Design classic, unstoppable, cause no SUV-rage
Smaller on the inside than the outside; terrible turning circle
Defender Who? - 19 May 2008
The modern Defender is an old fashioned Tardis. This is a car that’s so big on the outside, it makes everything else in my street look like a Matchbox toy, circa 1974. Look down the line of the parked cars, and above everyone else’s rooftops you’ll see the Defender’s bonnet bulge. Yet when you climb in and sit at the wheel, you find your legs are tucked under you, your knees are virtually touching the dashboard and your elbow is wedged against the door. And the back seats are a teensy little bench like the kind you’d expect to find in a primary school.
And yet somehow, fold up the third row of seats and open that gaping back door, and it becomes a cavernous boot. It’s not that wide – those folded seats restrict that – but it’s deep enough and tall enough to swallow not one but several washing machines. Or enough logs to keep the Walton family warm for weeks. Or an 18-week-old Friesan calf. (That’s an estimate, not tested).
By Mark Walton
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My love of our long-term Defender isn’t just about Ray Mears off-road fantasies and humdrum domestic activities. Family Walton also genuinely needs a tow car, because my 12-year-old daughter has a pony and I have an old sailing boat. While it’s been with us, the Defender’s hitch has been properly used and abused.
To understand fully how at home the Defender is in this territory, you just have to look at the Defender brochure, There’s a whole chapter dedicated to the subject of Carrying, Towing and Winching. Winching. Oh god I wanted a winch… but instead I had to make do with a multi-height towbar, plus electrics, which altogether costs £326 (including the ‘S’ type auxiliary plug, used for interior lights on trailers etc).
First problem was the height – the Defender is such a tall car at the rear, even on its lowest setting the towball was on the high side for our Ifor Williams horsebox. You can buy a useful ‘adjustable multiheight tow bar’ which gives a bit more height flexibility – it slides up and down and is locked with a big pin, instead of nuts and bolts, which is handy if you’ve got trailers of various sizes to pull.
Once hitched though, as you would imagine, the Defender is totally at home with a trailer behind it. That 2.4-litre Transit engine, with 232lb ft of torque available from just 1500rpm (and a peak of 265lb ft at just 2000rpm), means it pulls away from a standstill effortlessly, as though there’s nothing behind it. And because the Defender already punches such a big aerodynamic hole in the air, a trailer makes no difference at all on a long journey – it feels stable, unfussed, and on a 200-mile round trip, we got an identical 23mpg.
The only problem with the Defender is that turning circle, which I’ve mentioned before in my magazine reports. In town, with no trailer, it’s a hindrance because it’s hard getting into a small parking space or getting round tight, narrow streets; with a trailer it just cramps your reversing style. You have to start switching from lock to lock earlier than most other tow cars when you reverse, otherwise you just end up following the trailer, instead of ‘kinking’ it in the direction you want. In tight reversing scenarios, it makes you look like a complete amateur. Which hurts my pride.
Actually, there is one other issue, and that's the price. Our long-term test car is a 110 Station Wagon in top-of-the-range XS spec, which means half-leather seats, air-con, CD player and five-spoke alloys. Add a few options, including the third row of seats (£400) and the metallic silver paint (£475), and you’re up to (gulp) £30,000. It may have an agricultural heritage, but the Defender is definitely premium now.
By Mark Walton
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