IT'S the end of the line for one of the world’s longest continuously manufactured vehicles, the Land Rover Defender. And the 68 year-old British icon, father of all 4x4s, and arguably the original SUV, has bowed out in true style.
WHAT IS IT?
One of 2654 produced globally, the Heritage celebrates the first Land Rover (released in 1948) and is painted in period Grasmere Green with a contrasting white roof, and fitted with steel wheels, an original-style grille, ‘HUE 166’ stickers (denoting the first registered prototype’s UK number plates), and has few creature comforts inside.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
The Defender is the daddy of all 4x4s, influencing and changing the automotive industry as surely as it has forged new paths around the world for seven decades. This is the very last Land Rover Defender and only 47 will be imported into Australia. All are accounted for, so here’s our very final say on the new Defender.
Jeep Wrangler, Mercedes-Benz G350d, Toyota FJ Cruiser, Toyota LandCruiser 70 Workmate Wagon
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Land Rover has given the Defender a most elegant and dignified send-off and in Heritage 90 guise, its beautiful green/white paint work, steel wheels, and period grille detailing are an unashamed sop to the past. Yet, the four-seater cabin remains a surprisingly functional and charming place to be in – if you don’t mind the occasionally sharp ride, loud powertrain, massive turning circle, gymnasium-level heavy gearshift, and complete disregard for modern safety gear like airbags. Everybody knows a Land Rover can go anywhere and still be manageable, if somewhat cumbersome on road, but that’s no longer the point. This is the end, a one of a kind, and the Defender will be consigned to history. What a fine farewell.
PLUS: True original, fit-for-purpose 4x4, compact, tough, and always super-cool
MINUS: Loud, bumpy ride, cumbersome on road, heavy gearshift, cramped and noisy cabin
THE WHEELS REVIEW
The world’s first SUV, the original Land Rover, has survived almost an entire human lifetime, from the Cold War to global warming.
Inspired by the WWII Jeep, the Land Rover was created in 1947 after Rover car company engineering director, Maurice Wilks, drew an outline of a proposed light tractor that could double as an off-roader in the sand and showed it to his brother, Rover managing director, Spencer Wilks. Today, the go-anywhere 4x4 workhorse is as much a British motoring thoroughbred as the Austin Mini and Jaguar E-Type.
But now the Defender is dead. Tougher emissions and safety standards finally killed it off in January. As the last of its type, the Heritage is a celebration of an extraordinary 68 years of production, mixing “nostalgic design cues with modern creature comforts,” according to Land Rover. Hence the retro colour scheme (Grasmere Green with contrasting white roof), silver bumpers, old-school headlight surrounds and grille, painted steelies, HUE-166 number plate graphics (denoting the prototype’s UK numberplates), aluminium trim, and beige cloth/vinyl upholstery.
The genius of the last Defender is how convincingly period these additional items seem especially considering the dash, with its Discovery-based instruments, air-con, power windows, and Alpine sound system with Bluetooth audio and phone streaming, has only been around since 2007. Maybe it’s the plastic masquerading as metal, but the result transports you completely out of the present.
The flipside, of course, is ancient packaging. The narrow body means very little elbow room. The Leyland-era switchgear is scattered across the dash, seat adjustment is rudimentary at best, airbags are non-existent, and engine and road noise are intrusive. The cumbersome steering, hefty gear change and heavy clutch need to be manhandled, but that’s okay. It’s a lot like driving a recently (and expensively) restored classic.
Incredibly, though, the Defender is a fab drive. Powered by a Ford Transit diesel engine, it lunges forward hungrily, pulls rousingly through the gears, and cruises relatively quietly at speed. The steering is low-geared but direct, the ride bouncy but not punishing, and the turning circle Queen Mary-esque, yet it’s still easy to park. Yep, the final Land Rover is challenging but uniquely rewarding once mastered.
Additionally, the lofty ‘side-saddle’ forward-folding twin rear seats are ultra cool, particularly as they can only be accessed via the menacing swinging tailgate (don’t let it slam shut on an incline). And those skylights are like nothing else.
Unfortunately, every Heritage has already been sold and there will never be another. Like the Rover company that created it, the Defender’s time has also passed.
Model: Land Rover Defender Heritage
Engine: 2198cc 4-cyl, dohc, 16v turbo diesel
Max power: 90kW @ 3500rpm
Max torque: 360Nm @ 2000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Fuel economy: 10L/100km
On sale: sold out