Land Rover Defender 90 XS


By Tim Saunders

Since 1948 there has only been one vehicle for serious off-roading.


The British-built Land Rover, which has earned a reputation as the most rugged and versatile 4x4 in the world. Which, of course, is why the British Army, the Fire Brigade and countless aid organisations throughout the world, use them.

The current model was introduced in 2007 and an average 25,000 are sold every year.

“The substantial improvements to the Defender in 2007 transformed its on-road refinement and comfort whilst extending its legendary capability off-road for which Defender is synonymous,” says John Edwards, Land Rover Global Brand Director. “With the introduction of the new 2.2-litre diesel engine and two option packs, the Defender for 2012 now offers greater customer choice than ever before,” he adds.

Despite the smaller capacity and reduced emissions, the new engine produces the same power as the outgoing 2.4-litre engine. Performance remains similar too, though the top speed has been raised to 90mph compared to 82mph, for the previous version.

In Indus silver the riveted aluminium Defender 90 XS Station Wagon tested looks “like a sardine can”, according to a work colleague – an unfair and unjustified remark, I say. I feel it’s particularly striking while also being hugely practical as its body will remain rust free for many years to come. It’s quite incredible how the design has remained virtually unchanged since its introduction all those years ago. This three-door vehicle has a very loyal following. In much the same way as motorhome drivers wave at each other so do, I am pleased to report, Land Rover Defender drivers do, too. It makes such a pleasant change to the aggressive competition that is prevalent on Britain’s roads today.

Inside, you are transported to a bygone era - again few changes have been made over the last 64 years. It’s really refreshing. I sat in the driver’s seat for a good 10 minutes trying to figure out where to slot the ignition key. It’s on the left of the steering wheel and rather than turning it away from you, the driver has to turn it towards them. Space between the front occupants and their doors is tight, too, meaning that resting arms on the door frame isn’t particularly comfy. There aren’t any airbags either and the dash is given to practicality rather than design but it’s attractive in a Tonka toy sense of the word. The passenger grab bar is certainly appreciated by my wife during our cross country jaunt. Its windscreen wipers remind me of an old Mini or a classic car of that era, quite small and slow. These could be improved for serious offroaders, I feel, who need wipers more capable of removing mud from the screen but if there haven’t been any complaints over the decades, then who am I to question?

Modern Land Rovers get carpets and leather trimmed seats. The test model is even fitted with air con, electric windows and a CD player. The Defender will seat four adults in comfort and the rear seats incorporate an easy-to-use spring-assisted fold mechanism, useful when they need to be moved out of the way for carrying large or awkward loads.

Driving a Land Rover is an entirely unique experience. Thankfully there is power steering these days but the handbrake is awkwardly placed at the side of the driver’s left leg, requiring them to lean forward to operate it, quite a chore when performing a hill start. The 2.2-litre diesel unit is vocal and the stereo has to be turned up to drown it out. Apparently the lower first gear provides a low crawl speed, making towing on-road and off-road easier. When making a gear change on the six-speed manual box there is a very distinctive sound as the gears slot into place. Generally gear changes are stiff rather than smooth.

Bear in mind that the previous week I was testing a top-of-the-range Range Rover Autobiography where everything was electrically operated and adjusted. Driving the much more basic Land Rover is an absolute contrast as you will see at But in many ways it is a more enjoyable driving experience as there are fewer bells and whistles. Although it’s permanent four wheel drive, the high ratio for road driving and low ratio for off-roading are manually operated by a lever next to the gearbox and that’s generally all the Land Rover driver has to worry about. This lever can be changed at speeds of up to 5 mph and the Land Rover will travel at up to 40 mph when in low ratio, making it a formidable vehicle and an absolute must during amber weather warnings, which hit the UK during the test. It’s interesting to note that the Defender’s facia is based on a single, large moulding supported on a robust steel rail to help eliminate squeaks and rattles and this seems to work very well indeed.

A 60 litre fuel tank sees the Land Rover cover around 330 miles from full and you can see why hardened Land Rover enthusiasts fit a second tank to enhance its range.

Overall, though it is easy to see why the keenly priced Land Rover Defender is so popular. 


On the road price: £29,500 inc. VAT

Engine: 2.2 litre diesel

Transmission:  Manual 6 speed

Fuel consumption: Combined 27.7 mpg

CO² Emissions: 269 g/km



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