Land Rover Defender — April 2007

Date: Friday, April 20, 2007

Sixty years since it first went into production and Land Rover reports that sales of its iconic Defender are still going strong. Without much marketing or sales hype, the firm still proudly sells 23,000 of them worldwide every year, perhaps hinting at the model's cult status for those who need a hard working 4x4 that can go deep off-road.

 

But it's not just the vehicle that's hard working; the driver also needed to be hard working too. Driving a Defender leaves an indelible mark on all those who have attempted to hold a steady course and remain in full control at all times, unable to relax while at the helm.

Pedals are heavy, the seating position is nothing short of uncomfortable, that TD5 motor was notorious at stalling from tickover and then there is that legendary heating and ventilation system which dates back to the Ark.

But love it or loath it, Defender is here to stay. And the 2007 model has been given a number of improvements to enhance performance, comfort and refinement. Don't fret, it's not gone soft, although it's no longer such a fraught or tense driving experience.

TDCi Transit Engine

One of Defender's biggest improvements can be found under the new shaped bonnet, which is the only external panel that has been changed. And it no longer says Defender on the nose, but proudly displays Land Rover across its nose, following the family styling found on Freelander, Discovery and Range Rover bonnets.

Beneath that pressed aluminium bonnet is a 2.4-litre, common-rail four-cylinder Ford Duratec engine borrowed from the Transit. Being a much taller engine necessitated the raised hump in the bonnet and the Ford motor has been fettled to fit, and required the air-conditioning compressor and alternator to be relocated, to keep the vehicle's 500mm wading depth.

Despite having one fewer cylinders the Duratec engine produces an identical power level to the outgoing 2.5-litre five-pot, at 122 bhp, but delivers 266 lb/ft of torque, with most of it available from 1,500rpm to 2,700rpm. Those hoping for more muscle will be disappointed to know that the Discovery's 2.7-litre V6 TDi just wouldn't fit.

Coupled to the new motor is a six-speed manual gearbox with a wider spread of gears giving lower ratio first and second, with a taller sixth, for cruising. The result is an efficient mix of muscle that just keeps pulling all the way to the electronic limiter.

About 90 per cent of grunt is available throughout 60 per cent of engine revs and it cranks out enough to hit the 82mph speed limiter in fifth and sixth (2,900rpm at 82mph in top) which has been installed to meet tyre speed ratings says Land Rover as, unlike the old model, there's now enough poke to travel much faster.

Beneath Defender, there's little to shout about. New springs, revised dampers and thicker anti-roll bars do their stuff, while a castor angle that's been tweaked by 2° now stops Defender from drifting off-line when out on the open road.

It still tows an impressive 3,500kg, keeps its solid beam axles, centre diff-lock and low range transfer 'box. But it does get the option of electronic traction control.

Land Rover says that changes have only really been made where they were needed. But there will be plenty of people out there that could give Land Rover an even longer list of suggested changes.

New Cab   

The second major change to come with 2007 Defender is an all-new interior. And what a change it is. For the first time ever the vehicle now gets a heating and ventilation system that is capable of demisting windows and increasing comfort for those inside. It creates higher in-cab temperatures and cools much more efficiently than any other factory-built Defender.

And doing so has prompted a much-needed complete revamp of the facia. Gone are the fresh-air vents from beneath the front screen and in comes a dashboard borrowed from Discovery, using a four-gauge instrument pack with a revcounter and digital odometer on all models.

Such a makeover gives the Defender an air of clarity when it comes to buttons and controls, with functions finally grouped together, just like you'd find in a car.

But there's not an excess of storage space. Between the taller front seats there's a deep storage box — which would be great to use as an armrest if it were just 10cm taller — a grooved recess in the top of the dash gives somewhere to keep a few pens and a small shelf on the passenger side could hold a torch. But that's it. You still have to throw the rest in the back.

The model line-up still includes 90, 110 and 130 models, and there's even a pick-up version and seven-seat Station Wagon. Second seat rows now split 60/40 and can be repositioned using the fold and tumble technique to free-up useful floor space when needed.

Side-facing seats are now consigned to history and all five- and seven-seat models get forward facing pews using the tiered seating arrangement first seen in Discovery 3.

On/Off the Road

At the Defender's UK launch event, What Van? had the chance to go off-road at Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire, but getting there required driving the Defender across a demanding 90-minute road route, including motorways. We must admit that it wasn't a journey that we were looking forward to.

Jumping into our 90 Hardtop, we were pleasantly surprised by the new interior, but the gloss was knocked off somewhat when the door was closed. There are still seat adjustment issues in this model due to its part-steel bulkhead — less so with the Station Wagon — and we felt wedged against the driver's door in that familiarly uncomfortable Defender driving position.

Pedals are still reassuringly stiff to operate, even though the clutch control has been lightened by 20 per cent, and getting the right foot to the brake pedal resulted in the thigh frequently making contact with the bottom of the steering wheel.

But the new engine is quieter, keener, has no irritating flat-spot at idle thanks to an anti-stall system and it doesn't surge forward when the turbo comes on boost. It's quite driveable for a Defender, but the electronic throttle can be lazy, as the signal from your toes to the fuel delivery system seems to go via Bluetooth to the moon and back.

Even on the motorway, with the throttle firmly embedded in the floor, the internal noise level is much improved. It is possible to hear the radio without having to use ear-splitting volume levels and it is also possible to communicate with a passenger without the need for a megaphone.

Indeed, the vehicle gets a premium CD-audio system with tweeters on the dash to take advantage of the heavily revised interior.

But off-road is where Defender continues to shine, even wearing road tyres. Show it some mud and it revels in the challenge. The low ratio 'box gives plenty of choice too, as there are 12 ratios in total, which should satisfy those who still like their Defender to be hardcore.

The new models are priced about £400 more than the outgoing versions and new Defender is just starting to find its way into the showrooms.

VERDICT

Land Rover has finally dragged its Defender into the 21st century and not before time too. We're pleased with the improvements made to the interior, but feel as though it's only just playing catch-up when it comes to comfort — it should have reached this level with the TD5. Fortunately, it has remained refreshingly mechanical and apart from the engine management system looks set to stay that way. Not for wimps.

 

 



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