Blog : Defending the legacy…

Keith Adams

2012 Land Rover XTech
2012 Land Rover XTech

I had a quick spin in a Land Rover XTech special edition today. Once again, it’s almost impossible to justify why such a antediluvian, beastly, bumpy, lumpy and unwieldy has a place on the new car price lists in 2012. You can’t get comfortable, you need the window open if you want meaningful elbow room and, despite being fitted with the latest 2.2-litre turbodiesel and six-speeder, it’s not exactly economical.

Okay, it’s going to be near-unbeatable off-road, but for those who like to use their off-roaders, er, on-road, the Defender’s lack of usability is a genuine handicap.

But despite all that, and I am sure you know where this is going, I still adore the Defender. I absolutely adore the way it looks and its sheer all-round classlessness. My London-bound friends will tell you that they’re all over the West End and are currently the coolest thing to be seen in there. Mind you, at £27,995 for this one, it’s probably only Sloanies that will want to buy this. As a Defender you could conceivably trick-up a £3000 example to look largely similar to this car – and be just as bouncy and uncomfortable.

The one other thing I really like about this car is there’s so much heritage componentry in it – it’s easy to find. I’ll post a few images below and see if you can identify where they come from. As a BL aficionado, it’s a delight to see just how much Land Rover have dipped into the parts-bin – and that’s without taking into account the MGF window switches and Range Rover steering wheel.

Keith Adams


  1. “the Defender’s lack of usability is a genuine handicap”
    I totally disagree with that statement K!. I run a 2003 TD5 Defender, and as it’s running in “top form”, with it’s brick like aerodynamics, noisy derv lump and stiff suspension, yes it can be uncomfortable, yes unless you are used to driving one, you will likely open the window for more elbow room, and yes Price’s of the X-Tech and similar named models will likely be reserved for the “Hoy-Poly”. Mine is the most sure-footed tow vehicle I have had next to driving a truck, with the suspension recently renewed, it is not as bouncy as one would expect, and for what it is, with a 18 foot trailer attched loaded with yet another defender on the back, still manages to return a range of 450 miles to the tank.(considering it’s kerb weight is something like 2 ton, I find that more than acceptable).
    It’s got a huge load area, seats five in moderate comfort, has a fair stereo, and a commanding view on the road.
    Oh and far more grunt than many of those “pretenders from Europe and Asia”.

    The thing is, most “Green Oval” products these days are sold as “designer wear” for the “rich and shameless” and the remaining minority buyers are those who buy them with the Defenders design brief in mind. “Rugged, Strong, dependable off road as well as on, and of course you can have serious fun “off piste” if that is your thing. They are however stuck in a rut when it comes to looks, as JLR have always been “shy” to move away from the original brief all those years ago, and any successor has to be “in keeping” with it’s previous incarnation. But, don’t forget they essentially got over the “looks” hump with the Range Rover, and later on the Discovery and their “offspring”.

    Many upgrades can be bought to improve the Defenders comfort, handling and yes fuel economy (by having the ecu remapped). But for private owners and industry alike there is nothing that comes close to the continued simple mechanical side to repairing one when it needs it, with only the more up to date version’s needing the occaisional “plug in” for the electrical parts that sometimes cause issue. Mind you, with a Defender you always know what you are looking at, where as the Evoque has many wondering if it is really another great off roader from Land Rover, or just an “accessorie” to go with your handbag of choice..

  2. And long may it continue in production. Those interior door lock buttons are originally from the SD1 aren’t they?

  3. Special editions such as this show how flexible the Defender’s design is to embracing two-tone paint colour schemes beyond the roof colour, alloy wheels and half-leather seat facings, not to mention technology such as ABS, traction control and electric this and electric that.

    Yes, it is an old design that limits improvements in quality and safety technology, not to mention being rather expensive, If the frivalous exterior detailing of the new L405 Range Rover is anything to go by, it will be a very sad day when the current Defender’s successor is formally unveiled in three years’ time.

  4. Not sure if they’re SD1, but used on 90/110 since 1986 and Keith the 83-92 defender shared the Range Rover steering wheel after that has been defender specific including the current one.
    I’m not a small guy and have no issue with elbow room and in terms of comfort i can drive from yorkshire to cornwall and not have any back ache – something i couldn’t do in my Saab 9-3.
    Also apart from the Discovery commercial is there another 4×4 commercial vehicle under 3.5t that can tow 3.5t, one of the main reasons a lot of people still use them for towing and why if you look in the carpark of livestock market around here you’ll still see quite a few of them, including new ones.

  5. they are sd1 locks just looked at my sd1!!! if i could afford a defender id have one in a shot. they are so coool and do what they say on the tin. nothin else like it out there. imho..

  6. The Defender has had a new lease of life in the farming sector thanks to the massive leap forward the 2.4 TDCi model made in driver comfort (and heater output!), despite some naysayers mourning the loss of the 2.25 diesel for “new fangled rubbish…”

    The problem still stands however, the Defender simply isn’t as comfortable a place to work as a Ranger or L200 unless you like driving with your elbows together. Those who are spending their own money on a vehicle will appreciate such things. The big utilities are moving over to Ford’s Ranger apace, with the Defender’s versatility as a cherrypicker etc. platform keeping its hand in.

    L-R need to decide which way they want to develop the Defender and either go all out to make the best work vehicle out there (and that DOES include operator comfort) or make it a chelsea tractor.

  7. When I worked at Land Rover’s parts division the oldest drawing I used dated back to 1926…

    There’s still a market for a proper easily repairable /configurable/military small truck/utilitarian 4wd as well as the planned Defender replacement – when the latter comes in Tata should take the existing Defender back to its roots, even if there isn’t room at Solihull for it.

  8. The Defender is a horrendous vehicle on the road. I had to drive one 250 miles up the A9 for work, and spent the following four hours, pitching, bouncing, rolling and swaying around the road. It’s deeply uncomfortable, slow, thirsty, noisy, the steering requires constant correction, the brakes need a week’s notice to do anything, and the elbow room? Or lack thereof. It makes for an incredibly tiring vehicle to drive over any sort of distance. And the seats are like park benches.

    Whilst I don’t dispute it’s ability as a tow vehicle, it really isn’t a competitor to the so called pretenders from the far east. I’ve driven over the years a Shogun, Trooper, Hilux, Navara, Ranger amongst others, and I would take each and every one of them as a daily vehicle long before a LR. Yes, a Navara can fairly bounce around the road too, but at least it’s comfortable whilst it’s doing it.

    Bring on the new Defender.

  9. Chris C how did the oldest drawing date back to 1926 when the first land rover wasn’t launched until 1948.
    Doive I’d suggest getting the one you drove looked at as the steering shouldn’t require constant correction. Nor should the brakes be bad.
    Our 03 isuzu double cab at work drives far worse than my 1990 defender.

  10. Ive driven many Defender and a range of Hiluxs etc for work and leisure.

    I find the leaf springs on the back of the Hilux comical compared to the Defender. They pitch forward onto the front suspension which is too soft anyway. The Defender is vastly superior in that part – its controlled in its ride if maybe a bit stiff. Like a Mini (well, perhaps).

    As for control on wet roundabouts ha! Give me a Defender with permanent 4×4 any day.

  11. @12, Martin,

    The first Land Rover was pretty much a ‘parts bin special’ so it is entirely plausible that some of it’s components would have come from some much older designs- much like the early Rangies and Discos used Morris Marina door handles long after the Marina ceased production.

    As for the Deafener, it still somehow has incredible charm as a design despite it’s obvious faults.

  12. It is still the best off roader in the world and still looks good – I hope its replacement is a rugged – the concept they showed looked too much like a Maxus van or a Dacia!

  13. mmmm – lets see, those are early Metro column stalks, I can also spot Rover 800 door lock buttons, and the ignition switch is the generic 1970s BL one – fitted to everything from Minis to Marinas. Land Rover used to still use the old BL style ignition key on the Defender until relatively recently – only think was there was a blank circle where the BL logo used to reside.

    Pretty sure the last time I was in a Defender the courtesy light was a Maestro/Montego item. And the last of the old style dashboard models had Rover 800 air vents also.

  14. door lock buttons are from the rover 800 and the range rover late 90s. the revised door release handles shown in the picture are from the Disco. the good thing about the defender if you break any of these bits they are cheap. the door handle above is about 5 pounds. the defender is an old tank, but oh so cool as well. I got mine Warrented (= UK MOT) last week and is now licensed also. it is great to have it back on the road. alex

  15. My last defender had problems with the door locks – drivers door would only lock from outside, passenger only from inside due to missing/borken mechanisms. Was round at a mates house who was stripping an old Montego, removed the door cards from the Depender, and hey presto, the Montego mechanism did the trick!

  16. @Post no 6. It’s the RR wheel, minus the RR lettering and with a different centre pad.

    I have done thousands of miles in the latest generation Defenders doing all sorts of work, from motorways to towing to plodding through mud on sites. They are still good but the novelty wears off, something it never did in older versions. The gearbox is awful, they must be the thirstiest of all diesel Defenders and that new dash is terrible.

    I loved the Td5 and I loved the old Tdi – especially the 200 – but they are now well past their sell by date now and the build quality is a total joke. Body cappings rusting on a four month old 110, a 90 with the roof gutters shedding paint, rear bodies crooked to the chassis… Anyone who puts their own money down on one has more patience than I. At least they hold their value.

  17. That particular steering wheel design has only been used in the Defender for about six years. Before then it was used from 1993 – 1997 in North American specification Defender NAS 90 and 110 models.

    As Donkey Trophy says, the centre pad is different compared to that found in the first generation Range Rover. On the Defender its top surface is more rounded and bulbous, while on the Range Rover it had a flatter surface. This steering wheel design was last used on the Range Rover in December 1993, with its new air bag enquipped and non-air bag equipped steering wheel designs being shared with the 1995 MY Land Rover Discovery.

  18. The door lock buttons (used on the p38 range rover too) are daft as you’re forced to drive elbow out the window, so you keep accidentally locking the door – very annoying.

  19. i cant understand people moaning over comfort lets not forget what they were originally designed to be, hose out with no creature comforts if that matters to you buy a discovery or freelander!!!

  20. @ 10 Chris C – Good point!!

    Keith, when I read the first paragraph I was getting a bit worried – thought, for a moment, you were going to say that you no longer liked the Defernder!!

  21. Before the ZR, the remote fob was used on the R8 Rover 200 & 400 and the Rover Metro/100. The key blade was originally seen on the Metro in 1980, followed by the Maestro, Montego and MGF /TF and then in reverse on Rovers and MG Zeds.

  22. Give me TD5 or give me Death. Those new-fangled Transit engined Offenders are shite and won’t last the course. The vehicle should have been allowed a graceful death with the ending of TD5 powertrain.

  23. @ 26 ant80-

    As was pointed out in post #9 these days even hard-core commercial users demand comfort and ergonomics from their working vehicles. When you’re spending all day and several hundred miles in what is, essentially, a working tool it’s no good if it’s not comfortable.

    Fundamentally the Defender is still a better vehicle to drive than much of the Eastern competition, which still have leaf spring live rear axles and part-time 4WD. They also tend to trade ride comfort when unladen for poor payloads – a Defender may be rock-solid when empty but drop a bag of gravel in the load bed and the ride becomes very, very good and it stays perfectly stable.

    It’s the layout of the cab (especially the new TDCi ones) and the seating position that’s the problem.

  24. @34, BalloonFish,

    Seems to me that the Japanese competition have it right for most users by trading payload for unladen ride comfort since it seems that the vast majority of users of Navarras and their ilk are small businessmen who buy said vehicles for tax purposes, but use them as family cars.

  25. Amazed to see some BL/Rover group parts still abound. I thought they were all gradually eliminated over the years of BMW and Ford ownership.

  26. @37, the later models have options of abs, traction control, forward facing 6th and 7th seats, the doors are steel frame and steel skins, they have a body computer, options of leather seats, some of them are rather nice 🙂 and the after market dressing and tuning companys such as twisted and JT? are having a fielday with the Defender. but yes ive only got a Y1986 110 model! and a DiscoII and a Disco1. all of them are v8’s! alex

  27. Hearts and head time!I get having one of the older ones, as one could do the work yourself and cheaply but, the modern ones are well past their sell by date in comparison with others.I know three power engineers with them and they praise the off road capability but hate everything else and the one waiting for a Ranger replacement is like a kid in a candy store. LR have one hell of a job replacing an Icon but, replace it they must and it needs to be modern in every aspect. With the way Tata are handling things I think they’ll succeed but the wait can’t be much longer.

  28. @35, Chris Baglin

    That’s certainly true- the Japanese products have a much wider appeal because they’re a case of ‘jack of all trades, master of none’, whilst the Defender is a master of heavy-duty work but loses out at anything else.

    The Defender has found itself in two niches- people who NEED one and there’s no alternative and people who WANT one precisely because it’s a Defender.

    The problem with the replacement is that it may not appeal to either camp. Going head-to-head with the established pickups on the market may end in disaster and the new one won’t have the retro-fashion appeal of the current one.

  29. @40
    But then the other 90% of customers for a rugged ‘proper’ 4WD go for something like a Landcruiser, highly capable off road, more reliable, and not saddled with geriatric ergonomics. That’s a big market to chase

  30. In the past I’ve worked in Sudan, Egypt, Saudi & The Enirates. What you see very little of are any Landrovers,especially Defenders! On occasion you may see the odd battered series Landy in Africa. Rare to see a Defender.
    What you do see is lots of Toyota’s Even the original Land Cruser pick up is still made,ok its still has leaf rear springs. It also has,as do the new land crusers Non turbo straight 6’sdiesels.builtfor harsh envoroments,also see are lots of Toyota dealers too.
    When I worked in Sudan I had a regular commute with local driver of 800KM 500 on desert tracks. More often done without missing a beat in in Land cruser. Sometimes in a Hi lux (Not very pleasent) Never any drama’s though. What i do feel is LR has abandoned their old markets and are just concentrating on the luxury end. I guess where the money is?

  31. I think it’s more the case that the old markets abandoned Land Rover, for more reliable rival products with a touch more comfort! Australia is also full of Land Cruisers.

    Luckily for LR, the Range Rover created a whole new market for luxury Chelsea Tractors, where ultimate reliability when crossing a desert wasn’t such an issue!

  32. I guess you might choose a Landie as something to tend a UK farm with. However, if crossing the sparsely populated Australian bush or African savannas, a Toyota would be the weapon of choice.

  33. Good breakers these,£500 a door,£500 a wing complete,£600 a tub £200 rooflining,£1500+ for TD5 engines,£600+ for 300 TDi,empty axles £300 a pop no wonder so many get nicked.
    Say what you will about comfort,elbow room and build quality,nothing japanese at all can go where these things can,the Navara is a joke for reliability and the L200 are not that far behind.

  34. @Colm

    Didn’t know that about the Trooper! Good info! Turns out they
    were sold as Acuras too – Honda’s equivalent of Lexus.

    They also sold the Isuzu Rodeo as a Passport.

    Honda were big into rebadging SUVs as before the CRV they didn’t have their own, and unlike Nissan their model strategy doesn’t revolve around making everything an SUV ‘crossover’.

  35. @47 Francis
    As Top Gear once proved, The Toyota Hilux pickup is virtually indestructible. As proven by the legion of rebel fighters and terrorists who use them across the world…

  36. Someone in my (entirely suburban) street bought a brand-new Defender 110 Station Wagon a couple of years ago. Never has a spot of mud on it, doesn’t even have a tow bar. Utterly baffling!

  37. I remember Jeremy Clarkson getting excited about the Shogun during a roadtest, mainly because it coped well both on & off road.

    There was a border dispute between Chad & Libya known as the “Toyota War” due to the Chadian forces being able to push back the Libyans with machine guns mounted on Hiluxs.

  38. @49,aye, an old one.Funny how a lot of them dont survive some of Costains or Mcalpine construction sites,but hey i can only comment what i see in our workshops.

  39. The orginal Land cruser I mentioned in my earlier post. They still make them. Straight 6 N/A Diesel. What a machine tough as old boots. You see lots of them on news progs been driven by the Taliban.
    Lots of mention of how good the defender is off road i will cause some Controversy here.I say in my experience the Defender 90 is very good off road. However in my experience the 110 can be like a beached whale at times I would class a 110 as being average off road. I used to marshall at the local LR club time trials plus have done some extreem off roading myself a SWB series 3 or even a Range rover Classic is better than a 110.

  40. I remember reading a comment on a website forum some time ago that they have a saying in Australia that if you want to drive out into the bush, use a Land Rover. If you want to come back again, use a Toyota!
    It seems that the Land Rove no-longer has an excellent reputation for reliability.

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