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Click for pictures“The Land Rover
  Defender: British to
  the very core and
  damn proud of it!
  Who was it who said:
  ‘Give me Land Rovers
  and I’ll conquer the
  world’? Well, it was
  something British...”

SET FOOT IN ANY country in the world and the likelihood is that you'll spot a good old Land Rover being used for every-thing from law enforcement to a beast of burden.

A British icon recognised the world over — just like the London Taxi or a Morgan sports car — the Land Rover was first launched in 1948. In its current Defender form it is still driven by Royalty, the military forces around the world, warlords, explorers, farmers and country landowners — not forgetting the Police, Fire and Ambulance services.

There are several different Defender models with a whole host of body options based on 90, 110 and 130-inch wheelbase lengths. In this day and age how totally British is that, to offer your range of models defined still using inches to describe their length… Do the Bureaucrats of Brussels know this?

Because the demands from users around the globe are so varied, Land Rover offers a huge selection of accessories in addition to body options from a pick-up to a station wagon to a tipper. These range from protective chequer plate trim to surf board carriers, to winches, to
gun storage security cases, etc, etc. They even offer different types of tyres to suit the customer's requirements and an extra heavy-duty suspension system is available for 110 and 130 models. Of course, peacekeeping forces around the world need vehicles with extra protective bodywork. And that too is available. A case of whatever
the job may be, rest assured that the Land Rover Defender is the complete tool for it.

Land Rover, once a British company in its own right but now a member of the Ford empire, says the Defender is still a direct descendant of the original Land Rover of 1948.

It still retains the simple construction, the robust steel chassis with bolt-on aluminium body panels and permanent four-wheel drive. Simplicity, strength, durability, versatility and ease of repair have
been, and still are, the hallmarks of the Land Rover.

True, the vehicles have evolved as the competition — mainly from the Japanese brands — has become more sophisticated. The emergence of Japanese 4x4s with better interior equipment levels and that are easier to drive with greater levels of comfort and reliability, have taken sales from Land Rover Defender. You can see for yourself how many UK farmers now buy double-cab pick-ups when once the only vehicle you were likely to see in a farmyard apart from a tractor was a Land Rover. Nowadays, Land Rover sells around 25,000 Defenders worldwide each year. The figure remains the same, year-in and year-out, despite the fact that the 4x4 SUV and pick-up markets still continue to grow significantly.

However, in recent years Land Rover has responded to the compet-ition. Now we have Defenders with central locking, electric windows, better heating and ventilation systems and a revised facia display.
My test car — the top of the range Defender 110 XS Station Wagon with nine seats — even had part-leather trim, a heated windscreen
and heated front seats. A real joy because the heating system is still somewhat primitive.

This particular Land Rover is not cheap, costing £27,795 including VAT. Which is about the same as a pretty good, large modern and fairly luxurious 4x4. Indeed, it is more expensive than the cheapest diesel Land Rover Discovery — a much better and more modern vehicle. Even with its updates, the Defender XS cannot be called a luxury vehicle.
It is, however, ruggedly functional, durable and suited to accomm-odating people wearing muddy boots. Its cavernous load area space with folding rear seats and durable load area lining still allows it to be used as a workhorse when needed. The fact that it has a maximum towing capacity of 3,500kg (3.5 tonnes) and a payload of 995kg, also maintains its 'workhorse' status.

Now, I haven't driven one of these vehicles for years and I was somewhat surprised to see that most of the basic controls — heating, wipers, lights and so forth — hadn't changed in all that time. No surprises then that the customers have been emigrating to more modern machinery.

Driving the Defender is not a comfortable experience due to its front and rear live beam axles and coil springs with dampers. The steering is vague and the 16-inch wheels and 8.5-inch ground clearance with long travel suspension — needed for off-roading — are not a comfortable combination on-road. Even with its cavernous interior, the high-up driving position is cramped for shoulder and arm room. Given the agri-cultural driveability and the number of turns of the steering wheel needed to manoeuvre the Defender out of tight spaces, you would not buy one of these vehicles unless you really needed the ultimate off-roading performance that the Defender is undeniably capable of giving you.

Powering the Defender is a 2.5-litre, direct injection, five-cylinder diesel engine. Again, this is not the state-of-the-art unit you would find in a Mercedes or BMW 4x4, but it is durable and reliable. Power output is a modest 122bhp with 221lb ft of torque. Drive to all four wheels is through a heavy-duty, five-speed manual transmission with
a high and low ratio transfer box and selectable differential locks for maximum off-road traction.

Performance figures are not officially given by Land Rover as it is intended to be a workhorse rather than a conventional 4x4. Suffice to say the legal maximum speed can be maintained with ease and the
0-62mph time is around 18 seconds. Fuel economy should be around the 27mpg mark for on-road driving and CO2 emissions are 299g/km.

As a rugged off-roading tool, the Land Rover (now in Defender form),
is still a world-beater and even today it is still the benchmark vehicle for off-road comparisons. If you want better on-road performance and car-like interior sophistication then Land Rover have it covered with their much more modern Discovery and Range Rovers. The fact that the Defenders still sell in significant numbers means there is still the demand for them, for now anyway.

Living in the country as I do, and seeing the snow fall during the Christmas and New Year holidays, having the Defender on the drive-way just gave me the certainty that — whatever the weather — I
was going to remain mobile. It was a very reassuring feeling.

Reasons to buy include its undoubted workhorse abilities, its durability, a great 4x4 system, a strong diesel engine, excellent towing capacity and low depreciation. Against that must be balanced crude (by modern standards) on-road performance, meagre equipment levels and its workhorse capability — which, paradoxically, is also its greatest strength. Most in its favour is that if you really, really do need a Land Rover Defender then absolutely nothing else will do. — David Miles

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Land Rover Defender 110 XS Station Wagon Td5 | £27,995
Maximum speed: 81mph | 0-62mph: 17.4 seconds
Test MPG: 26.9mpg | Power: 122bhp | Torque: 221lb ft

Visit Land Rover's website Click to go there now

----------------------------------------------------------- Land Rover Defender