Make no mistake: the Defender 110 can still go head-to-head with the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Land Rover Defender 110 Station Wagon 2.4-litre, four-cylinder common-rail diesel, six-speed manual gearbox, 90kW/360Nm: $48,990 (Manufacturer’s List Price)
Location: Newnes Forest Road, near Lithgow, NSW
Physically, it might look identical to how it did 63 years ago when Maurice Wilks’s idea of a ‘go anywhere’ 4x4 was first launched at the Amsterdam Motor Show as the Land Rover, but make no mistake: the latest Defender 110 can still go head-to-head with a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.
Apart from a can of coke, which has been around for more than 150 years in some form or another, the iconic Land Rover Defender (as it has been known since 1990) is easily one of the most globally recognised products in the world today, with well over two million sold across every corner of the globe.
It’s also one of the most versatile vehicles in the world with literally hundreds of applications from a simple farming appendage to highly specialised military roles. The Land Rover Defender is indeed a formidable bit of off-road kit and highly respected by both civilians and military personnel alike.
About the only thing that seemed to change from model to model on the Land Rover through the years was the spare wheel; it either went on the bonnet or the rear tailgate. These days the spare is on the Defender’s tailgate, most likely for safety reasons. It’s not that it blocks any forward view though, at least not with Land Rover’s unique ‘Command Position’, which allows the driver to sit deep into the vehicle while at the same time offering the driver and passengers an unencumbered forward view of the road ahead.
The Land Rover Defender 110 Station Wagon is an enormously large vehicle and driving it around town can be a rather daunting experience for uninitiated. That’s especially so when attempting to parallel park on a busy street with a queue of impatient drivers waiting to get by.
It’s not exactly ideal for shopping centre car parks either, despite the van-like load space in the back of this thing. I myself nearly got caught out, but something tweaked as I was heading towards the ‘maximum height 2.0 metres’ sign (Defender 110 and 130 are all of 2.021 metres tall). Of course, it was no problem in the outside car park, except of course, for its 4.639 metre (130 is 5.170 m) length!
However, I doubt these particular issues are much of a concern to most Defender 110 buyers, most of whom would be using them for their intended off-road capabilities and all round robustness.
That’s certainly the point of our road test this week: to match exactly the same trails as the Wrangler Rubicon we tested a couple of months ago. Only this time, the trails around Lithgow’s Zig Zag railway have seen a lot more rain.
It’s also worth noting that the standard tyres on the Defender 110 are Continental ContiCrossContact all-terrain, which are rated for equal performance on-road and off-road.
About the last thing I expected to collect from Land Rover Australia was a Fuji White Defender 110. Do they realise that we’re taking this thing off-road?
There’s actually something kind of cool about driving a white Tomb Raider-mobile around Sydney’s Northern Beaches. I know it’s the latest edition but the Defender feels 100 per cent retro, given the model’s timeless profile.
It’s been a while since we’ve had the pleasure of climbing aboard a Defender and let me tell you, it’s a bit like climbing into a truck, only there’s no grab handle on the driver’s side, so you just have to use the steering wheel to hoist yourself up into this cabin.
It’s utilitarian design over beauty in the Defender, and that’s been the case throughout its 63-year existence, but it’s considerably more contemporary that it was prior to 2007, before something of an interior make-over occurred. One or two modules have been styled off those in the Discovery, so that it would at least look like something from the 20th century, never mind the 21st century.
For starters, there are power windows up front, a modern instrument cluster and a proper analogue clock (Range Rover style), cup holders and air conditioning. That’s about the extent of the luxury kit - if you can call it that.
However, the front and rear seats are reasonably well bolstered and actually quite comfortable, even after a few hundred kilometres behind the wheel.
As you would expect in a off-roader of these gargantuan proportions, there’s no shortage of load space behind the rear seats, especially as this test vehicle is not fitted with the optional third row seating. Don’t expect door pockets either; they’ve been replaced by what must be the largest centre console storage box ever designed for a passenger vehicle, which can consume 14 litres.
Ergonomics is where the Defender falls down (understatement of the decade), with precious little space (none actually) to rest your right arm when sitting on a straight stretch of motorway for an hour or two. There are only a few millimetres between the outer rim of the steering wheel and the vertical door trim. It’s like trying to eat a meal when you’re sandwiched between two larger passengers on a Jetstar flight. Ergonomically challenged is one way of describing the experience.
That said, for all its flaws, and there are plenty, at least in an urban operating environment, the Defender 110 is actually quite a civilised and manageable vehicle on the open road.
The torquey 2.4-litre diesel mated to the six-speed manual transmission is a good marriage. First and second gear ratios are typically short, but there’s 315Nm available from just 1500rpm through to 2700rpm. Peak torque of 360Nm kicks in from 2000rpm and you’ve got 90 per cent of peak torque from 2100rpm to 4350rpm. That means plenty of low-down pulling power up and down the ratio range. You’ll need to man-handle the shifter a little, and the clutch requires a decent old shove, but it’s certainly nothing to be afraid of - in fact, you’ll enjoy it after a while.
There’s absolutely no problem accelerating away at the lights and keeping up with the traffic flow either, and once you’re into sixth, the big Defender is happy to sit there all day and consume just 9.4L/100km (tested and confirmed).
While it’s no Range Rover in the NVH (Noise, Vibration, Harshness) department, it’s exceedingly quieter than the previous generation Defender with it’s TD5 diesel powerplant.
When all's said and done though, the Defender is an off-road pure-bred, with a corrosion-free aluminium body and a big reputation. Just how big, we were about to find out.
Inland from the Zig Zag Railway near Lithgow, in NSW, things can get pretty rough. There are long trails of deep ruts with steep descents and climbs in and out of the quarries. The last time we were here with the Rubicon there was little cause for concern, but there’s a lot more mud around today and the Defender doesn’t have a detachable front sway bar like the Jeep.
The fact is it doesn’t need it. Put the vehicle in neutral, engage low range and off we go up what looks like a very nasty climb through the mud and ruts.
Within no time at all the Defender has at least two wheels in the air as we attack and conquer this trail stupidly easy, despite the added degree of difficulty with the wet clay-like conditions.
It doesn’t seem to matter how deep or how wet the ruts are, the Defender simply hammers them, and all in relative comfort. We’ve gone up and down this trail several times and it’s the same story, like a knife through butter. It’s simply not challenging enough for this vehicle.
Further up the trail there’s some seriously thick mud and pools of water, but again, with the correct speed and revs, the Defender is literally unstoppable.
The climb up to the quarry is steep, only this time it’s saturated. If anything might present a problem today, it would be this section, or the muddy pools inside the quarry itself. Into second and it’s straight up the quarry wall without any loss of traction whatsoever.
There is a lot more water today and making it out to the small sand bar in the pool seemed like a long shot given we had tested the surface under the water and it was super soft and quite deep.
Again, in second gear, the Defender had no trouble through the mud.
You may think these off-road tracks were too easy a test for the Defender 110, but that’s just not correct. This has been a hardcore test in anyone’s terms and the Defender has preformed as well as the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, but in far more demanding conditions due to the weather on this occasion.
Sixty-three years old and the Land Rover Defender is still pretty much unstoppable in an off-road environment. Talk about the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
Land Rover has recently released photos of its all-new Defender Concept called the Land Rover DC100. If looks are anything to go by, and if it can perform off-road like the current Defender, then Land Rover should start building it tomorrow.
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