Land Rover’s new Defender LXV Special Edition is likely to represent the model’s swansong, bookending the Defender’s singularly utilitarian history with the most luxurious version ever built.
Tracing its roots back to the original Land Rover series launched in 1948, this is not only a last hurrah for the British off-road icon but also a celebration of 65 years of the Land Rover badge itself.
The desire to create a vehicle that would tackle any terrain was at the forefront of the Land Rover psyche since its foundations were first sketched in the sand by Maurice Wilks.
Luxury and comfort were never part of the formula.
But the Special Edition LXV is a decidedly different take. With a mere 605 in total to be built, Land Rover is treating the diehards to a touch of indulgence.
With its blacked-out windows and mostly all-black livery, the LXV looks more like a specially prepared black-ops version than any poshed-up Land Rover Defender.
The effect is grounded by a set of striking 16-inch Sawtooth alloy wheels in Santorini Black gloss or Fuji White – contrasting with the LXV’s Corris Grey roof, grille, headlamp surrounds and facia.
Inside you get Land Rover’s ‘exclusive’ all-leather sports seats boasting LXV-embossed headrests, orange contrast stitching on the seats, thick-rimmed leather steering wheel and centre cubby compartment to complement the various LXV decals positioned around this Defender.
And for the Land Rover traditionalists there’s the obligatory (but optional) Union Jack decal for the tailgate.
Unfortunately, for all the glamour the ergonomics haven’t improved – at all. The cabin is woefully cramped, offering zero elbowroom for the driver along with a ludicrously positioned handbrake lever that requires body-builder-size biceps to engage.
The centre stack hasn’t improved much, either (not since 1948, apparently) with its still cliff face-vertical only bolstered by a metallic-look plastic surround.
However, with all the extra bling it’s a more exciting proposition than most previous-model Defenders, albeit something of an acquired taste for anyone but a true believer.
Fortunately, Land Rover isn’t really going after the 4X4 diehards with the Defender LXV; they see it more as a status symbol for the upwardly mobile who want a stylish urban runaround rather than anything humdrum or practical.
That’s not to say the LXV is any less capable than any other Land Rover Defender in the marque’s off-road lineage.
Available in five different body styles, the LXV is based on the standard Defender that is powered by a 2.2-litre diesel engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission producing 90kW and 360Nm of torque.
This engine is noticeably quieter than previous Defenders, with none of that nasty truck-like clatter finding its way into the cabin even when pressed.
The current 90-series Defender received a significantly upgraded NVH package for 2012, with more efficient soundproofing and seals that seem even more effective on the LXV Special Edition.
Requiring all of 14.7 seconds to go from zero to 100km/h, the Defender LXV is certainly no firecracker, but it does have plenty of pulling power.
The ratios are suitably well placed to take advantage of the engine’s grunty low-down torque, with third being a particularly versatile gear on road and off.
Again, though, the six-speed ’box requires a bit of manhandling at times, but at least it’s clean-shifting and positive.
Despite what the acceleration times might suggest, the LXV never feels deprived of pace. It all feels well matched and more planted than earlier Defenders we drove.
There’s more weight and feel in the steering, too, but it’s still a vehicle that requires your full attention on the bitumen. There’s just an inherent nervousness to the Defender, even with this more refined version.
Armed with a single variable-vane turbocharger and Land Rover’s ‘Stall Control’, it’s possible to crawl along in difficult off-road conditions with your right foot completely off the accelerator.
Off-road comfort is also surprisingly good. The suspension effectively absorbs the largest ruts and potholes without any reverberation through the cabin.
With permanent four-wheel-drive and dual-speed transfer case, the Defender LXV proved enormously capable and breezed through the test run’s off-road trail without the slightest challenge – crossing fast-flowing rivers effortlessly.
It’s no doubt that Land Rover will have little trouble selling all 605 Defender LXV Special Editions – the UK alone will be taking 10 per cent of the LXV 90s.
This is a model that may have retained its quirks, but after all it remains an automotive icon that may well be the last of its generation – a first and only generation.
Land Rover Australia is yet to decide if it will take on the LXV for local sale.