PH Fleet Update: Land Rover Defender

A person or machine that works hard and reliably over a long period. That's what the compilers of the OED have decided defines a workhorse. And they really ought to pop in a picture of a Land Rover Defender just beneath the entry, because little else describes the venerable 4x4's nature more perfectly.

AK10VMU certainly saw its fair share of work during its 10 months or so with us. During that time we managed to rack up a fairly chunky 19,000 miles. We took it to Paris, (for the motor show rather than for a romantic weekend, and also to discover just how difficult it is to park a LWB Defender in the Latin Quarter), went for more than a few jaunts in the rough stuff (including one where editor Chris-R managed to nudge the Defender gently into a mudbank) and gave it more than its fair share of cargo to haul.

In fact, we really did give it a stunning variety of loads to haul, which included (variously in and behind the Landie):

  • Christmas trees
  • Plasterboard
  • An old Renault Master van
  • Dogs
  • Gerbils (not at the same time as the dogs)
  • Wardrobes (various)
  • Elderly relatives
  • Toddlers (who approved of 'the truck')
  • A Bailey Caravan (not belonging to PH)
  • A Suzuki SC100 'Whizzkid'

Of course, the Defender's main role was as tow car and race support vehicle for the trusty PH Caterham Academy racer, in which capacity it performed near-perfectly.

In order to hook up the small-but-perfectly-formed Mini SuperSport trailer that Cheshire-based PRG Trailers kindly lent us for the season, we had to have an extendable tow-hitch fitted, as the low-slung trailer and the departure-angle-friendly standard tow hitch literally didn't see eye to eye, but other than that it was hard to fault the Land Rover's towing ability.

It was steady, stable and barely seemed to notice the extra 700-ish kg of metal and fibreglass that it was hauling along - in fact more than once I had to stop myself from blithely sweeping into the verboten lane three of the UK's motorway network at the last second, having entirely forgotten I was towing.

If we're being picky, the poor turning circle - which is artificially docked to prevent extreme lane-change manoeuvres ending in disaster - means you have to plan your reversing antics very carefully indeed when fully trailered-up, but you'd be amazed at how a whacking-great Land Rover combined with a car on a trailer can get people to move out of the way for you when reversing.

But the other niggles of life with a Defender - the graunchy gearchange, the bouncy ride, the comparatively poor NVH levels - are far less of an issue at the significantly lower speeds of the trailer trundler than they are if you have any sort of obligation to keep up with faster-paced traffic.

The Defender's ability to swallow all the inevitable gubbins associated with going motor racing (tools, clothing, helmets, stocks of unhealthy cholesterol-heavy food, that sort of thing) and still provide plenty of room to act as an impromptu rain shelter or changing room is not to be sniffed at either.

As a commuting tool, however, the Landie's imperfections were thrown into sharp relief; getting into a genuine 'modern' car (i.e. one designed from scratch in this millennium) after a run into work in the Landie often felt like switching from a Mega Drive to an Xbox 360.

But there was always a sense of occasion to the Defender that modern cars so often lack. Just as no matter how good Forza Motorsport might be, there's just the odd occasion when you still want to go and play Out Run, so there's a kind of odd nostalgia associated with the Landie that you just don't get on more mainstream cars.

And besides, despite its imposing bulk the Defender is still a narrow car (slimmer than our old PH Fleet Nissan 370Z), so you have to balance its agricultural urban behaviour against the fact that it can squeeze through surprisingly narrow gaps and clearly terrifies a certain section of the roadgoing public into automatically moving out of your way anyway.

So. After 20k miles what do we think? Is it a perfect car? No. Is it objectively even any good? Not really, although its towing ability and off-road talents are beyond either doubt or dispute. Does it appeal despite (and perhaps because of) its myriad manifest flaws? You bet.

The Defender dies in 2013, and I feel privileged to have spent some time running one. Replacing it is going to be a hugely tall order for Land Rover.

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (44) Join the discussion on the forum

  • kourgath 17 Apr 2011

    For me the 90 has a level of versatility missing in most other cars. Today I had a brilliant days motorsport of serious off-roading (I won the RTV), drove home at 70 with the kids in the back with the bikes on the rack.

    Last week I showed arounnd 20 people how to drive off-road in it, I can hook up a 3.5 ton trailer and tow where ever I want, I can put half a ton of anything in the back and then hose it out. I don't have to wash it at the weekend (that is when it gets dirty), the small dents and scratches don't look out of place - most people call it character. It isn't a shed - it's the 'Rat look' apparently smile

    I can have a 4.6l V8 running on gas giving me real-world costs similar to the 1.6 hatch we also have, it is on cheap insurance despite all the mods, I can take the roof off etc etc. I can service it myself and fix most of the mech problems too. It is a giant mechano kit.

    OK so I can't go round the 'ring in under 10 mins in it or feel as fresh as a daisy after a couple of hours driving in it. No, I don't want a high speed crash in it or even hear the stereo, however, should I have to go some town or city I don't know, I want to be in the Landy. Bash guards all round, dents on the wings already - who wanna play chicken smile

  • Caulkhead 15 Apr 2011

    Bruniep said:
    image is very strong but I suspect that a Land Cruiser is better all round
    Down here in Oz the Cruiser is simply known as the Land Rover recovery vehicle. All was going well for L-R until Toyota decided to build the same thing only reliable.

    Not cheap mind but with a 4.5L V8 turbo diesel (205bhp and 316lbft) it should do for about 20 years. They are a common site here in Queensland, see
    Twice the price of a Defender and still has cart springs. I suspect LR could make a very reliable Defender for £45k. eek

  • Riggers 15 Apr 2011

    PhilJames said:
    Pistonheads 'Design a new Defender' competition? biggrin
    Genius. Let's see some entries, folks biggrin

  • PhilJames 15 Apr 2011

    Pistonheads 'Design a new Defender' competition? biggrin

  • Trusty Steed 15 Apr 2011

    The image is very strong but I suspect that a Land Cruiser is better all round.

    Please wash you mouth out with soap you rude boy! A Land Cruiser is plastic rubbish! A Defender is a proper off road vehicle that, it has been said before "is a turn up at any event vehicle", I for one will not part with my TD5. come the end of the Defender, there will be alot of people who will miss this vehivle! how many other vehicle owners wave at each other? Not many!! Keep your badge green and gold folks!!

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