For a long time in the 1970s, Land Rover traded on its reputation and little else.
A steady stream of design improvements have brought it bang up to date, though, and the latest Defender has demonstrated that you no longer need to be merely a patriot to buy a Land Rover.
Well, that's my job done, thanks to the above paragraph that I ripped from an issue of the British magazine Autocar ... published 25 years ago!
Just about every review since that one a quarter century ago has rehashed a theme: Rover company devises a farm workhorse to save it from failing in the early postwar doldrums; it's hugely successful. Subsequent owners of the brand ignore it and the Japanese take most of its market; Defender fights back, but being a patriot still helps.
My challenge is not just to avoid hitting any trees in the Jeep Woodhill 4WD Park near Auckland, but to avoid the usual Defender cliches and list of "faults". So let me say this: a Defender is a vehicle you can either live with, or you can't. If you can't live with its little eccentricities and oddities, don't jeer at it, just buy something else.
The last time I drove a new Defender was four years ago, just after the introduction of what is still the current version, or more or less the current version. I am one of those who can live with a Defender, but was concerned about several aspects of that upgrade.
Its completely new dashboard with integrated air conditioning was closer to the driver and front passenger than the old one. It made the front cabin feel cramped.
Several summers later, I quite like it. It verges on being a handsome designand doesn't seem cramping any more, although more air vents would be good.
I had a love-hate relationship with the then-new six-speed manual gearbox. I didn't mind the low first, which was sometimes useful off-road but a pain on-road, and liked the new sixth that allowed the engine to tick along at a sliver beyond 2000rpm at 100km/h, helping deliver good fuel economy for a vehicle with the aerodynamics of a concrete block.
But I hated to be forever changing gears in Auckland's traffic.
This time, I don't mind the manual as much. Fourth is the new third.
With a curb weight of around 2100kg, depending on equipment, the 110 Defender looks and feels heavier than it really is. The low-ish weight of the alloy body explains why a piddly 2.2 litre turbodiesel can provide decent performance. It was a 2.4, but European emissions rules meant a re-fettle including losing 200cc of capacity. However, power and torque remained unchanged at 90kW and 360Nm at 2000rpm.
This Ford engine, plucked from the Transit and also offered in some versions of the Ranger ute, is willing and well behaved. It seems "bigger" than its modest 90kW. When the full history of the "classic" Defender is finally written, this may turn out to be its best engine.
Another thing: it has the best fit and finish of any Defender I've seen. The brilliant white paint job is so well done.
A Defender 110 station wagon costs $71,500, but it needn't stop there. Land Rover has a wonderful collection of accessories, almost entirely practical, of superb quality ... and not inexpensive.
A set of industrial-strength rubber floor mats for the 110 costs almost $450. Sidesteps/body protection runners are more than $1700 but would probably withstand an incoming mortar.
The raised air intake, or snorkel, which is good for crossing deep rivers, costs nearly $1600 whereas a top quality aftermarket item is around $650.
And the bill keeps growing. Just grit your teeth and think of England.By Phil Hanson Email Phil