The end of an era: the Land Rover Defender 90 is all-but sold out, and while there are tears being shed by loyalists, pragmatists can rest assured there are other options out there.
This is it. The end of an era. The Land Rover Defender is on its way out the door, and it won’t be replaced until about 2018.
This hardcore off-road machine has carved itself a niche as something of an ultra-cool urban cruiser, despite the fact its roots are far from that.
The original Land Rover from 1948 was designed with agriculture in mind, and farmers bought them in droves over the years, with utility the main selling point and comfort low on the list. Over the years the original Land Rover has morphed and changed plenty, but this body style has been around since 1983.
Back then it was just called the 90, representing the length of the car’s wheelbase in inches (though in actual fact it measures 93 inches, or 2360 millimetres). Land Rover slapped a new badge on the car in 1990, and from that day on people have referred to this car and all of its predecessors as the Defender. Just make sure you never say that to a Landy enthusiast…
And this car, then, is the final iteration of the Land Rover Defender 90, the Heritage Edition.
This rare model – limited to just 2564 examples worldwide – is already well and truly sold out, with its $54,900 (plus on-road costs) price tag clearly not deterring those with more dollars than sense. In fact, there have been instances of buyers pulling out, with envious punters apparently forking out nearly $100,000 for the privilege of owning one of these final Defenders. The British brand could probably have built 10-times that number of Heritage Edition models, and still had demand for more.
The Heritage Edition catches plenty of glances in traffic thanks to its brilliant Grasmere green paint finish (it looks flat, but it’s actually a three-layer pearl), and pays homage to the first ever registered Land Rover, which had the numberplate HUE 166 and was affectionately referred to as Huey. You can see there are plenty of HUE 166 highlights on this vehicle, including on the flanks and in the cabin.
There are also heritage hallmarks like the original Land Rover badges front and rear, and these models were built on the same production line that the first ever versions of the Land Rover rolled down, in Solihull, England.
Inside, that retro Land Rover logo is emblazoned on the Almond cloth trimmed seats, and there are also red and yellow trims around the gearshifters and a metallic four-wheel drive plaque to help you on your way.
It looks great – for a Defender – but this is a cabin with some serious issues that haven’t been resolved over the years.
The seating position is horrendous.
There are no airbags – yes, you read that correctly, zero airbags.
Climbing in and out is painful, verging on ridiculous for those in the back seats.
And Australian models are fitted with a Supercheap Auto special Alpine CD player which couldn't look more out of place if it tried.
Those things will either float your boat (if you’re a Land Rover sympathiser) or float it like a set of concrete-filled tyres (if you’re a normal buyer).
It is pretty hard work. The rear two flip-down seats are best considered “for occasional use only”, as climbing in through the boot is hardly glamorous (the front seats don’t fold down to allow access), and anyone above about 165cm will feel cramped – knees up, head down.
The front seats are positioned very close to the doors, making for cramped occupancy for larger occupants, and – as colleague Trent always says – you may need to have the windows down to allow for enough space for arm movement, as the Land Rover Defender requires quite of a lot of steering effort.
The Defender’s steering is slow, meaning lots of arm-twirling and because the rack itself is slow U-turns soon become three-, five- or even seven-point turns.
The vehicle rides on coil springs front and rear, but still bounces over bumps – big and small – and leans a lot through corners. On-road prowess isn’t this thing’s forte, though: it’s designed to be super capable off-road, and having driven Defenders over treacherous terrain in the past, we can assert that they are menaces in the mud. We didn’t take this one off-road, though: with just a few dozen in Australia, it wasn’t worth the risk.
As painful as it is to drive around town, it is, perversely, a lot of fun to drive, mainly because you feel like you’re driving a piece of automotive history. Almost every other vehicle on the market right now is more advanced than the Defender, but at the very least you feel like you’re involved in the drive experience.
Under the bonnet is a 2.2-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder engine with 90kW of power and 360Nm of torque, which is paired to a six-speed manual gearbox. There is no auto. Never has been, either.
The engine isn’t as refined as many other diesels on the market – it isn’t as linear in its power delivery as some, with some low-rev turbo lag from a standstill, and a relatively narrow torque band.
The gearshift isn’t great, either, with a number of testers claiming they had trouble when attempting to rush the shifts. Slow and steady, then…
The Defender, as with all Land Rover models, is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty, but there’s no capped-price service program.
Look, it would be hard to live with a Land Rover Defender 90. It isn’t city-friendly by any means, despite the fact you’ll often see them scattered in those cramped backstreets where hipsters sit on milk crates and discuss beard care.
If you set aside the legacy value, and if you have no plan to actually go off road, the Defender 90 is a pretty hard vehicle to score highly. It’s just so damn flawed, yet still manages to be one of the most characterful and likeable vehicles you can buy.
If, however, you’re going to use it for its intended purpose, you’d be totally justified in choosing it … or any number of competitor vehicles with similar levels of capability and better levels of safety, like the Toyota FJ Cruiser, Jeep Wrangler or even the Suzuki Jimny.