The Last Defender - Defender 110 Station Wagon

What is it?

That’s a ridiculous question really, isn’t it?  There are very few vehicles on the road today that are as recognisable as the true Land Rover.  Since 1947 the basic shape hasn’t changed much.  As my neighbour, Steve said, "You can walk past Toyota and Hyundia garage and if they didn’t have badges, wouldn’t be able to tell them all apart.  There’s no mistaking a Defender."

On the road

The 2.2-litre diesel engine coupled to the 6-speed gearbox is what the Defender has needed since it’s introduction.  It’s no longer a noisy and agricultural 4x4 that’s only driven by enthusiasts and farmers, the combination ensures that the Defender not only is capable at cruising within motorway speeds, but also offers a degree refinement with improved fuel economy. 

After a 300 mile round trip to Ainsworth in Peterborough, the Defender left me feeling contradicted.  I expected it to leave me feeling like I’d been on an epic trek, defined and exhausted.  But arriving home having driven though hail, rain and a sunny spot (typical British summers day), I was still as fresh as a daisy, yet the Defender still made the journey exciting, because it’s still a Defender, it’s difficult to explain!

There’s still downsides of course, like its ridiculous turning circle and lack of cabin space, which I’ll get to later.  I also found that the clutch can become a bit tiresome whilst negotiating city traffic, but overall I would be more than happy to live with this 110 on a daily basis for the rest of my days.

Off the road

Just as you’d expect, the Defender unstoppable. Driving up a local green lane on wet, lose rocks the Defender took it all in its stride, and only occasionally when full articulation was reached did the Traction Control kick in and aid the big 4x4 to climb even further up the boulder strewn lane.  Although these electronic aids could cause issues in years to come, in my ’96 Discovery I’d be risking damage by giving it a bit of extra momentum, at least with TC, you can still take it easy and sedately over most obstacles.

Just as the extra wheelbase over the 90 helps keep the 110 stable on road, the extra length off road is often more of a saviour than a hindrance.

Interior

No one wants a steering wheel this big!

Well, where do I start?  First of all you need to adopt a very personal way of entering a Defender, and no matter how you achieve this task, it will never be described as graceful!

Once you’ve climbed inside and made yourself comfortable in the part leather, heated, premium seats, the first thing you’re confronted with is probably the largest diameter steering wheel that you will ever come across in a vehicle.

Seriously, I can’t fathom why they used something so big in such a small amount of space!

Once you’ve come to terms with the mammoth steering wheel, you’re presented with a dashboard that is based on a large, single moulding and supported on a robust steel frame that helps to eliminate squeaks and rattles, which it does quite admirably.  The fact that all the switchgear is within easy reach shouldn’t be surprising as there’s so little personal space up front to begin with!

The LED illumination instruments are a godsend and are easily read, and the powerful heating and ventilation system is designed to cope with the most extreme climates, including Manchester.  It does have some annoying little foibles though, the rear washer button is separate to wiper button, why?

Although the second row of seats are quite narrow, it’s the centre seat that we christened the ‘nut cracker’ seat.  Why?  Ask my mate Barny who tried to sit in it!

The third row forward facing seats are very comfy, and if I’m ever forced to be a back seat passenger in a 110, I’d want the second row folder forward and sit in either of the 2 third row seats, as they’re comfier and you get more leg room.

Safety Stuff ‘n’ Equipment

In modern cars these days you have a good level of roll over protection inherently built into the ‘A’ pillars as well as strengthening bars in all doors.  This is not the case in a Defender.

There’s a reason why the only Defenders that were officially sold in America had a full roll cage and side steps fitted.  And in case you know nothing about Defenders at all, you don’t even get an air-bag.

This press vehicle did come with the following goodies:

Convenience Pack: Electric front windows and remote central locking.

Cold Climate Pack: Heated windscreen and front seats.

Comfort Pack: Air conditioning and an upgraded audio system.

On the ‘feature’ list you get the impression that Land Rover are trying their best to eek out the specs of the Defender by adding, ‘manually adjustable exterior mirrors’ and a ‘bottle jack’ amongst the list of features!  Joking aside, it isn’t meant to be an all singing, all dancing family 4x4, the Defender is still a workhorse. 

Conclusion

The Defender is like your favourite pair of old boots, they look smart, even when they’re worn and covered in mud, yet still remain tough and rugged, but they don’t half pinch your little toe on occasions!

I often wondered why, when the engineers and designers at Solihull spent all that money and redesigned the interior prior to the sale to Tata, they didn’t bring the seats inboard a couple of inches. This would have made a huge difference to the comfort, after all, it doesn’t have a centre seat anymore.

Having said that, every time I squeezed myself behind the wheel of the 110 I got excited and wanted to drive off to some extreme and exotic location. “Where shall we venture today?  The Pyrenees?  The Sahara?  Iceland? Asda, you want to go to Asda?  Oh well!”  

Even though there’s just the two of us at Mud Life Towers I would buy the 110 over the 90, having extra space in the back that doesn’t impede on rear passengers sells it for me, as does the comfort the extra wheel base has on the shorter 90.  Yes it has its faults, and as daft as it sounds I’d rather drive a 110 than a Discovery Sport.

Having said that, maybe a Defender isn’t such a practical vehicle anymore.  When I went to buy a new couch the other day I realised that it wouldn’t fit.  Not only is the back door too narrow, but the side folding seats took up valuable room.  It dawned on me that the good old Defender isn’t as practical as I’d once remembered, whereas the couch slotted straight into my old 300Tdi Discovery.

After all my moaning I would still jump at the chance of owning one, though my list of improvements would be quite long.  A better security system would be the first upgrade as they’re so easy to steal.  Ball bearings in all the door hinges would deter thieves stealing the doors and bonnets, a smaller steering wheel and a full external roll cage would finish the priority list.

Am I sad that production has ended?  Yes, but I'm certain that it wasn't an easy decision to make.  Am I surprised?  No, not one bit.  In the 21st century, how long can you keep making excuses for its shortcomings, really?  It’s a great vehicle, but we must move on.

The Defender in its current form had it’s had its day, but it will be sorely missed.

Goodbye old friend.