Writing in the Winter 2015 80th anniversary edition of Good Motoring magazine (published 1 December 2015), Al Suttie offers sound advice for anyone thinking about buying a used Land Rover Defender.
The original workhorse and warhorse, the Defender can trace its ancestry back to the first Land Rover of 1948. Due for replacement in 2018, the Defender’s production comes to a halt at the end of 2015. Even so, it remains the most versatile and able off-road vehicle you can buy. Not the most refined, perhaps, but definitely the original go-anywhere 4×4.
While its rugged charm holds the key to much of its appeal, Land Rover fettled and finessed the Defender throughout its life. The best models are the most recent, which deliver reasonable on-road manners alongside the legendary terrain-busting off-road ability.
For most buyers, a May 2007-on Defender is the best choice as the Land Rover received a 2.4-litre turbodiesel engine from then-parent company Ford, along with a six-speed manual gearbox. It’s a Transit van unit producing 120bhp and 266lb.ft of low-down shove for pulling the car through mud. A 2.2-litre unit replaced this engine in August 2011 with the same power and shove but lower emissions and improved economy. All Defenders with these two engines are easily identified by the extra bulge in their bonnets.
What to look for
Land Rover Defenders are hard-working cars and many will have been used off-road, either to earn their keep or for the owner’s enjoyment. This takes a toll on even the most hardy 4×4, so you need to get down and under the car to check the chassis for dents, scrapes and possible rust. While under the car, inspect the engine, transmission and differentials on front and rear axles for oil or fluid leaks.
The suspension will feel quite firm when driving on the road, but this is normal. So are a few creaks from the bodywork and interior, but check both are in good condition. Defenders are often used for towing, so make sure the brakes work smoothly and stop the car straight.
Towing also puts a lot of strain on the clutch and gearbox, so try every gear including reverse to make sure they engage easily. Accelerate hard in lower gears to be certain there’s no slip from the clutch. Also, engage the low ratio transfer box to make sure it works properly as it is key to the Defender’s superb off-road driving skills.
Both engines should pull strongly and without any stutters. A diesel particulate filter was fitted from 2012, so make sure the exhaust is free of black, sooty smoke and avoid any car that has been used for repeated short journeys as this destroys the particulate filter.
Which one to buy
There’s nothing to choose between the two diesel engines on offer, so it comes down to condition and which body style best suits your needs. For off-road work, the shorter Defender 90 is more nimble and can still tow up to 3.5-tonnes of braked trailer.
The longer Defender 110 provides much more cabin space and seating for up to nine. This is an alternative to an MPV and comes with the added advantage of a massive load area. Other body styles include pick-ups and crew cabs, but these are likely to have been used as commercial vehicles and not treated to the same care as a passenger car.
How much to pay
A 2007 Defender 90 with rear windows and seats will start from around £12,500 in good order, while a 110 model requires an extra £1000. Last of the bunch Defenders come in at up to £40,000 for a nearly new model with all the bells and whistles. As for uprated versions from the likes of Kahn or Twisted, they can fetch up to £80,000 depending on the extent of the conversion work.
Overall rating: 3/5
Not the best road car, but an unbeatable off-road icon.
Others to consider
Mitsubishi Shogun: the Shogun has a long and proud heritage among off-roaders, and it’s a better bet for driving on-road than the Defender. Well equipped and cheaper to buy than the Landie.
Toyota Land Cruiser: revered around the world for its go-anywhere driving and reliability, the Land Cruiser is a cannier choice than the Defender, if lacking some of its rival’s charm.
Follow GEM on Twitter @MotoringAssist for the latest industry news.