2008 Land Rover Defender SVX Review

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2008 Land Rover Defender SVX First Australian Steer

“Sixty years of fanatical off road experience rolled into one, all bling, all black, Defender 110. Land Rover’s new SVX makes the ‘Tomb Raider’ edition look ordinary”

-words Anthony Crawford Photography Mark Watson and Yvan Fournier

You didn’t see Lara Croft driving a LandCruiser or even a Jeep Wrangler in the original Tomb Raider movie, that just wouldn’t work, said the movie producers.

With Croft being an archaeologist from English aristocracy and all, the Land Rover Defender was the only real choice for the role.

It’s the same reason that countless expeditions to some of the darkest corners of the earth have chosen Land Rover vehicles to get them in and out of those often-precarious spots.

Take Sir Laurens Jan van der Post, a famous Afrikaner author, war hero and explorer, who led several expeditions into the Kalahari Desert using a couple of Land Rover Series 1 vehicles.

There’s also Colonel Leblanc, who in 1949 took one of the first Series I Land Rover’s overland into Ethiopia and from Algiers to Nairobi, taking orders for the vehicles from GOs and NGOs along with anybody else sold on the vehicle’s off road talent.

The list of Land Rover achievements in exploration is far too long and detailed to properly cover in this article, but several notables worth a mention include, those expeditions in North Africa and the Middle East in a Series 1, by famous female explorer Barbara Toy, who called her vehicle Pollyanna.

Let’s not forget Sir Ranulph Fiennes, a former member of the British Special Air Sservice who the Guinness Book of Records called the “World’s Greatest Living Explorer” for his astonishing Transglobe and unaided Polar expeditions, using Series II Land Rovers.

Or the famous First Overland expedition in the 50’s when six students from Oxford and Cambridge, drove non stop from London to Singapore in two Land Rovers. After six months, six days, and 29,000 kilometres both vehicles rolled into Singapore.

Apparently, the only reason the expedition went ahead was because Sir David Attenborough commissioned a three-part TV series on that epic journey while he was working for the BBC.

It’s about heritage and off road credibility, which attracts such undivided loyalty to a brand that only Land Rover knows.

So much so that in 2003, UK TV phenomenon, Top Gear selected nine all time cars from which viewers had to choose “the greatest car of all time”. You know which car received the most votes – the Land Rover Defender, as it is now known.

In all honesty, looking at the 1948 Series I and a current Defender 110 side by side, it’s hard to see a whole lot of evolution going on over those 60 years.

Apart from some shiny new metallic paint and a set of alloys shod with some contemporary rubber, things look pretty much the same as did when Maurice Wilks bolted together the first Series Land Rover on his farm in Newborough, Anglesey.

It’s a good thing too, that steel was in short supply back then, otherwise he would never have used those alloy panels, which more than any other design aspect of the vehicle, has meant that near enough to 75 percent of all Land Rover’s ever built, are still messing up the mud somewhere.

Not quite sure where this comes from but years ago, Land Rover diehards were said to have referred to all other 4WD makes as “disposables” given their previous disposition to rust in the tough conditions in which many of these vehicles operate.

The current Defender 110 (that’s 110 inch wheelbase) with its ladder frame chassis and mostly aluminium panels (there are some steel panels used today which provide better sealing as well as a higher quality fit and finish) remains an incredibly robust vehicle capable of extraordinary feats off road.

Someone at Land Rover HQ at Gaydon in the UK, must have a seriously deranged mind to want to bling up a dedicated off road instrument such as the Defender.

It’s not that the SVX doesn’t look the business, it’s just that no matter what Land Rover do to modernise this 4WD icon, its still hard going in the peak hour quagmire.

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And while that might be a problem for some, the diehards won’t even flinch at the $63,320 price tag, when it looks like this.

And it does look good, just ask half of Sydney’s male population who stopped by to pay homage wherever we parked in the CBD last week.

One guy driving a Range Rover Sport TDV6 would have traded it on the spot for the SVX. In fact he was genuinely disappointed that I couldn’t help him out.

It’s the Santorini black metallic paint job with the satin black 60th decals on the bonnet bulge and side doors that mostly set the Land Rover worshippers off.

It looks more like an urban assault vehicle used by a SWAT team than the authentic off-roader it is underneath all the bling.

The 16-inch bright finish alloys, metallic look front grille surround and front undershield and side steps are just a few of the features that separate the SVX from the stock 110, but inside is where the bling dial has been maxed out.

Whoever thought of installing a set of supremely comfortable heated leather Recaro seats up front in a Defender should be given a Christmas bonus; it’s the one feature, which makes this vehicle enjoyable to drive long distances, and probably should be an option on any Land Rover product.

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If you happen to be part of a family tribe of six or more, heading out for Sunday Yum cha – that won’t be a problem, the SVX is kitted up as a seven-seat wagon and the third row are individual pilot chairs with heaps of leg and headroom for all.

While the console can’t accept an in-dash Satellite Navigation system, due to their being no free space whatsoever, the SVX does come with a very competent and simple to use touch screen portable Garmin GPS, which is mounted on top of the fascia and powered by a 12-Volt plug.

Music wise, there’s a Clarion High Ice audio system with upgraded speakers, sub-woofer and amplifier, which I found to have limited tonal accuracy with a narrow frequency range at both ends and fairly average on the whole.

While there’s a proper iPod connector, for some strange reason, you still need to tune the radio to a certain frequency, so best to use the auxiliary input.

I especially like the machined aluminium gearshift and diff-lock knobs, they look brilliant, and the oversize shifter is easy to grip as you muscle your way through the six forward gear ratios.

Storage is not abundant either, as there are no front side door pockets, but there is a huge centre console box trimmed in soft touch leather with a pair of cool looking circular lights mounted close by in front of the bottle holders.

Someone at Gaydon has played with the air-conditioning system in the Defender, as it now works properly even on those scorcher days. The SVX also gets a sunroof, with this funny little wheel, which you wind to open or close.

Defenders aren’t hard to drive – you just have to get used to their many idiosyncrasies, like the heavy clutch, which is less heavy than the last example I drove.

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I won’t quote the turning circle, you can get that from our road test of the stock 110 by Paul Maric, but whatever you do, don’t try a u-turn in peak hour traffic as the mob might resort to lynching you.

You can also forget about accurate steering and feedback with the SVX and don’t under any circumstances try and punt this thing into a corner with any kind of pace – at least not until you’re used to the massive amount of play either side of dead centre.

I say that, as although the SVX is just as capable off road as any of its Defender siblings, I suspect any excursions off the tarmac will be few and far between, as it would be such a shame to mess up the paint job.

Apart from the commendable attempt by Land Rover to drag the Defender SVX into the 21st century with the various mod cons mentioned earlier in this piece, the highlight has to be the 2.4-litre, common-rail, diesel engine and the six-speed gearbox that make this vehicle almost acceptable as a daily driver.

All six gear ratios are well spaced and stop/start driving is really not that difficult, at least in short bursts.

It’s on the freeway that the SVX shines brightest, you can shift up to sixth and leave it there all the way from Sydney to Brisbane if you like, such is the torque and relative quiet of the engine at 110km/h.

"When all is said and done, you’re not going to hand over a cheque for an SVX to be used as a weekend workhorse as you would a stock 110, not a chance. You’re buying exclusivity, as one of only eighty-two owners in this vast country of ours, or just 1800 worldwide."