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Land Rover Defender 110 Double Cab

Click to view picture gallery“Land Rover, now in its 61st year,
  might be owned by the Indian
  conglomerate TATA but that hasn
t
  stopped the Land Rover Defender
  being the most recognised vehicle
  in the world. It
s also the ultimate
  off-roader
...

THE LAND ROVER DEFENDER MIGHT BE A TRUE COUNTRY WORKHORSE or military-use vehicle but unfortunately they do not always live in the country, and often get used as fashionable family transport for the school run. And , it would seem, no television celebrity chef on tour or a holiday or history programme presenter can be seen driving in anything less than an iconic British Defender.

However, in the right place — the countryside — the Defender remains the vehicle of choice for many farmers, lords of the manor, agricultural, forestry and engineering workers, the rescue services, Police and, of course, the military.

It is probably the latter group that will determine if the Defender is going to survive. If the vehicle still continues to bring in orders for military work then it makes sense to produce them for the shrinking UK retail and business markets, In fact, there are still 169 countries worldwide buying Land Rover and Range Rover products, including the instantly recognisable Defender.

My experience of Land Rovers stretches way back to a country childhood where the early models were used by farmers as the alternative to a tractor — as well as the family car on market days. In the many years since then I've travelled in, and driven, Land Rovers in many parts of the world, in the most extreme and hazardous conditions. And generally, they have survived; as have I. So it is with mixed feelings that I find myself writing about what now might be an automotive dinosaur.

Having evolved from the first Series 1 Land Rover introduced in 1948 to the Defender introduced in 1990 (and updated in 2007), the 2009 range is available in fourteen body styles including Station Wagon, Hard Top, Pick-Up, Double Cab Pick-Up and Chassis Cab.

The vehicle is available with the choice of three different wheelbase lengths — 90, 110 and 130 — which nominally refer to the lengths in inches. Greater personalisation can be obtained to meet all manner of working conditions by adding equipment from the huge Land Rover accessories list, as well as specific bespoke changes to the body which are undertaken by Land Rover's Specialist Vehicle Division or by other outside body builders.

The latest engine to be used in the Defender is a 2.4-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel unit which produces 120bhp of power — but delivered where this workhorse needs it: at engine speeds from less than 2,200 to over 4,350rpm. More importantly, the 265lb ft of torque is delivered from a low 1,500rpm. This unit is also claimed to be 30% quieter.

Drive to all four wheels is via a new six-speed gearbox which has a much wider ratio spread. In reality, first gear is a crawler gear, ideal for towing heavy loads — up to 3,500kg — on- or off-road. A new sixth gear ratio is set 20% higher, giving improved fuel economy with less noise and vibration at open road cruising speeds. There is, of course, the usual high and low ratio transfer box and the usual array of differential locks to maintain the Defender's 'as good as it gets' off-road prowess.

Whilst the exterior — even throughout the 61 years of design evolution — remains unmistakably a Land Rover, the interior has recently undergone significant changes to make it more sociable and nicer to drive. A better laid-out facia, improved instrumentation and marginally better positioned switchgear certainly help although many of the controls are of a design that's been in use for many, many years — the column stalks, for instance.

Why the ignition/start key is still on the left-hand side of the steering column, where it is difficult to see or get to easily, I've no idea. The good news is that the heating, fresh air and air conditioning system is vastly improved. In cold weather the heater warms up the car and clears the screen 40% faster, and the maximum cabin temperature can be 12% higher when required. There are even heated front seats offered as an option. The front seats are taller for better support and, where fitted and depending on the model, the rear three asymmetrically-split seats can be folded reasonably easily thanks to a spring-loaded mechanism.

Depending on the customer's requirements, there is a wide range of upholstery options, from durable vinyl to half-leather, so both work and play applications are covered. The driving position is still cramped but the headroom is extensive and the elevated seating position for all passengers is excellent.

To acquaint myself with the Defender again, my test model was the 110 Double Cab, which is also available with the 130-inch wheelbase. Basically, this five-seat Double Cab is the Station Wagon but the rear load area is separate from the passenger compartment and covered by a canvas back, with access gained via the familiar Land Rover drop down tailgate.

It means tools or dogs can be transported away from passengers. Also, this configuration fits with the many other uses found in the military, explorer and safari markets. However, this compact load area, which also houses the spare wheel and the canvas covering, is not secure so expensive tools cannot be left in it whilst the vehicle is unattended.

It was certainly an experience to re-visit the Defender, and the Double Cab version is a very specific tool. Other Double Cabs such as the Mitsubishi L200 and Nissan Navara have been popular: they drive much better on the road and they are more comfortable with better equipment levels than the Defender. But the mainstream market for these vehicles has become less and less — in this country, at least.

As a tough and versatile workhorse nothing really comes close to the Land Rover Defender Double Cab or the Defender range as a whole, but the number of customers really needing vehicles of this type is diminishing. In Europe the 'Green Police' influence not just 'where' and 'when' we drive, but 'what' we drive. Hopefully, worldwide demand means Land Rover can survive being built in the UK — or even elsewhere if TATA decides to go that route. But survive it must!

Reasons you might not want to get behind the wheel include primitive road holding, too heavy and fuel hungry and it's uncomfortable. Road tax is also expensive. But reasons you would pick a 'Landie' include the fact that it's undeniably a tough and durable workhorse, has a practical and iconic design and is, not to mince words, the ultimate off-roader. — David Miles

Land Rover Defender 110 Double Cab
| 26,905
Maximum speed: 82mph | 0-62mph: 15.8 seconds
Overall test MPG: 23.8mpg | Power: 120bhp | Torque: 265lb ft
CO2 291g/km | VED Band G 400 | Insurance group 12