Classic Land Rover workhorse dresses up but can\'t hide its mud-loving heritage.
The Land Rover Defender is a classic, but is it worth forking out extra for the new XTech model?
In a year that's seen virtually every model in its lineup replaced or updated, the elder statesman of the stable, the Land Rover Defender, hasn't missed out on all the fun. The limited edition Land Rover Defender XTech takes the legendary off-road Brit and raids the accessories cabinet for a bit more sparkle to what’s renowned (ironically) as a utility.
The Land Rover Defender XTech is finished in either Orkney Grey or Nara Bronze paint, with contrasting gloss black 16-inch 'Saw Tooth' alloy wheels. Land Rover has worked hard on selecting the right wheel and tyre package, with Goodyear Wrangler MTR tyres chosen in order to allow engineers to dial-in more camber for off-road capability and on-road handling.
Gloss black is also seen on the unique three-bar grille - replacing the more complex standard version - the headlight surrounds, and everything in between. There’s black anodised chequer plate bumpers and it’s capped with a black roof.
The simplistic look continues with clear indicator lenses replacing the regular orange units, with clear covers used again for the front repeaters and the LED taillights, where there’s also a stenciled Defender graphic.
Offered as both a four-door long-wheelbase Defender 110 or, like our test car, as a two-door short-wheelbase Defender 90, the Land Rover Defender XTech delivers a familiar feeling behind the wheel.
Climb up into the cabin and it’s a case of same old, same old – but then again, if it ain’t broke … Sadly, though, the Defender clearly shows that, especially in Jubilee year, it’s been around since before the Queen’s coronation. The high driving position isn’t so bad, but the dated two-spoke steering wheel and agricultural gearshift won’t leave you wondering.
There’s comfy, heated half-leather seats, power windows, a heated windscreen and a body-coloured dash insert, but this is as far as the mod-cons go, and its upright dash design is positively ancient. The flat surfaces offer a military-like, purposeful feel rather than a luxurious one. Even the radio looks dated, and while there are modern air-vents, the cabin can’t hide its age.
Our Defender XTech’s two-door base means that there are no back seats – just body painted benches – but also no side windows, which hampers visibility. The four-door 110 Utility Wagon adds side windows, but still has a metal paneled rear to make little genuine improvement. The large, upright mirrors are useful, but the blind spot of the paneled sides limits confidence.
Not helping either is the XTech’s steering: around town, it’s vague and teamed with floaty suspension, it’s hard work in traffic. Massive adjustments for minor movements combine with a lack of feel to make the big truck difficult to place with any precision. The clunky, agricultural gearshift gets the most from the grunty 90kW 2.2-litre turbodiesel’s handy 360Nm, but it’s geared more towards climbing slippery mounds of mud rather than accelerating into traffic gaps and onto freeways – to think otherwise would be a mistake.
Of course, it is actually okay at freeway speeds. Sure, it’s noisy, with plenty of road and engine noise, but it’s fairly stable. We’d prefer stronger brakes though. The truck-like behaviour and character does see the Defender XTech come into its own off the beaten track though.
The Land Rover Defender – in XTech form or otherwise – is built for this stuff, and makes no apologies for it. With proper low-range gearing, the contrast between its luxuriously padded Range Rover Sport and smaller, hot-selling, Range Rover Evoque stablemates becomes apparent: this is the granddaddy of off-roaders, a work truck as apposed to a Toorak Tractor, making the added visual goodies somewhat confusing and ironic.
So does the added sparkle work? Well, polishing a Meccano set for adults may seem futile, but the Land Rover Defender XTech turns heads and scores knowing nods of approval, even on city streets. It’s rugged yet handsome, and while it can head to the shops for milk, it’s more about milking the most out of harsh terrain. Ironically, the changes are simple in the same way the Defender’s character is simple and effective.
Punters will know that Land Rover is working hard – extremely hard – on a Defender successor with the DC100 concepts it has shown at various motor shows. Its product planners and marketers know any replacement has a lot to live up to. But if your mantra is original is best and you’re after a Land Rover Defender that’s a tad special, then the X-Tech may be for you.
The Land Rover Defender XTech is due in Australia in November with a price yet to be announced, but if UK pricing is anything to go by – it commands a 25 percent premium over a regular Defender – it won’t be cheap. In fact, option the 16-inch alloys and identical Goodyear tyres for $400, and you’ve got the same car without the visuals and heated leather seats.
Ironically, the visuals are what this car is about: it takes an icon, adds some visual attitude and for that doesn’t lose an ounce of respect. It’s still the mountain goat of off-roaders; it’s just wearing a fancy hat.