Land Rover Defender – The Goodbye Test

 After almost 68 years, Land Rover has finally pulled the plug on Defender production, and the last one rolled out of the factory in England just over a month ago.

That’s a very long time for a carmaker to build a single model, and even if the box-shaped 4×4 metamorphosed through many mechanical and aesthetical updates during that time frame, the basic Defender silhouette and structure remained the same for all those years. Same goes for this latest one, the 110 Adventure – one of a trio of special editions built by Land Rover to celebrate one of the longest production runs in automotive history.

Alongside the Heritage (a pale green Defender styled similarly to the original Series 1) and the super-luxurious-by-Defender-standards Autobiography (which isn’t sold in our market), the Adventure is Solihull’s way of saying ‘cheers’ to its much-loved off-road icon. Adventure spec, which adds R130 000 on to a normal 110’s price, means special two-tone paint, unique alloy rims shod with extra-grizzly tyres, some burly underbody protection, and LED headlights; but inside it’s also softened up with a black suede headliner, some cool aluminium trim pieces, fancier floormats, and Windsor leather upholstery on the seats, door panels and parts of the dashboard.

All these extra interior bits certainly elevate the cabin’s ambience by a few notches, but don’t expect anything close to Range Rover levels of luxury here. That’s never going to happen in a vehicle based on one built in 1948.

It’s also unfair to expect much of the way it drives. In fact, I can’t sugarcoat it at all. Moving this big brute around in a city environment is an absolute chore. The clutch is heavy, the six-speed manual gear-lever is stiff and clunks through its notchy gates, and its turning circle could be compared with that of an ocean freighter. Slotting into a normal sized parking bay requires much planning, and usually two stabs … at least.

The steering column is fixed in position very close to the dashboard; there’s very little room for driver’s right and passenger’s left elbows; and front-row seating positions are only adjustable in two ways. I also couldn’t help but notice over my week-long test, that upon encounting another Defender comrade in traffic, I was often greeted with some sort of wave or salute. I assumed it was their way of saying: “Hey buddy, I feel your pain”.


Introduced in 2012, the current 2.2 turbodiesel engine has lived a short life in the Defender. Outputs of 90kW and 360Nm aren’t anything to write home about, especially by modern standards, but they manage to lug the Adventure’s two tons around adequately. Short gear ratios (notably first and second) do well to disguise any sluggishness on pull-away, but it really starts to huff and puff above 120km/h in the fast lane. It’s also quite noisy, clattering loudly at idle and groaning with a faint turbo whistle above 3000rpm. Somehow the rackety soundtrack suits the rough-and-tumble character to a tee, though.

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But then, and this is a big but then, I took it to our off-road test track at Gerotek (the same place the military uses to develop war machines) and it all started to make sense. This vehicle was designed in the mid-1940s as an agricultural implement – purpose built to traverse deep furrows, pull heavy things around in mud, and basically go places others can’t. Comfort is not a forté, but off-road … that it can do.

With low-range engaged I entered Gerotek’s off-road test trails, and disappeared into the bush. Some of the obstacles there are quite daunting but then that’s exactly what this vehicle’s all about. A sense of adventure. It says so right on the package.

The Defender made mincemeat of every task, from bouldery inclines, to chassis-wrenching axle twisters, to slippery descents. There were times I winced at big, saw-toothed rocks which I thought would tear a hole in the floor, but the 110 just laughed and cleared everything in its path without a care.

There are no fancy electronic aids here. It won’t cleverly send power to wheels with most grip; it won’t adjust throttle sensitivity with a turn of an electronic drive mode dial; and it won’t use its ABS system to guide itself down a steep hill. But that doesn’t matter. As long as the driver knows at least some off-road basics, the Defender’s up to the challenge of clambering, clawing and gripping across some of the roughest possible terra firma the old-fashioned way. This is man and machine in its purest form.


Strip the Defender Adventure of its cushy adornments and like its great, great, great grandfather, it’s basically a tractor underneath. But an extremely charismatic tractor, to be fair. The fact that it’s even remotely usable on a daily basis is a feat in itself but, as I said, don’t expect much in the way of creature comforts. I can’t think of much worse to negotiate a traffic jam or parking lot in, but then I can’t think of much better to navigate the deep bush in either.

Cheers Defender

Source – iol

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