Used Land Rover Defender 1990-2016 review

Category: Large SUV

Section: What is it like?

1990 - 2016 review
Land Rover Defender (90 - 16)
  • Land Rover Defender (90 - 16)
  • Land Rover Defender (90 - 16)
  • Land Rover Defender (90 - 16)
  • Land Rover Defender (90 - 16)
  • Land Rover Defender (90 - 16)
  • Land Rover Defender (90 - 16)
  • Land Rover Defender (90 - 16)
  • Land Rover Defender (90 - 16)
  • Land Rover Defender (90 - 16)
  • Land Rover Defender (90 - 16)
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What's the used Land Rover Defender 4x4 like?

The Land Rover Defender is a favourite among farmers and other countryside dwellers. Okay, so its road manners leave a lot to be desired, and, despite a number of updates designed to add a bit of marketing sparkle and keep it relatively fresh, its styling hasn’t changed much since it was first launched in 1990. Indeed, it hasn't much changed since that original concept was unveiled in 1948. It is, however, a very capable off-roader.

Production ended in January 2016, and the all-new, all-singing and dancing, and distinctly upmarket model was launched in 2019. However, numerous variants of this older version were built during the car's life; the range encompasses three wheelbases and 14 body styles.

Engine options are mostly confined to diesels. Early models came with a 107bhp 200TDi shared with the Discovery and Range Rover of the time, before being modified in 1994 to become the 11bhp 300TDi. These engines are well liked for their durability, but each is undoubtedly loud and unrefined compared with more modern diesel engines. Still, at least they provide the Defender with enough go to get up to speed briskly.

From 1998, a newly developed 122bhp TD5 engine replaced the 300TDi and powered all Defenders until a 120bhp 2.4 engine was installed from Ford. These are the ones to go for if you regularly drive on the motorway, because they come with a six-speed gearbox to improve fuel economy and refinement at speed. In 2012, a 122bhp 2.2 diesel was fitted that gets a diesel particulate filter (DPF) that made the Defender Euro-5 emissions compliant.

The Defender is far more at home in the countryside than it is on the open road, though, because the ride is fidgety and unsettled at speed, and to the uninitiated it can feel unpredictable and nervous. 

Don’t expect much in the way of luxury. The dashboard is utilitarian, despite featuring buttons and switches from the larger Discovery SUV, and the driving position is so cramped that you’ll be forced to lower the window if you want somewhere to put your elbow.

Still, it's not all bad news, because there's enough space for a couple of adults in the back, as long as you go for one of the larger, 110 models.

The compelling figures that make the Defender stand out are its off-road ones, though.  This is a car that will tackle a 45deg slope going forwards or backwards. It will wade through water half a metre deep without modification and traverse a 35deg hill. Its approach and departure angles are each an astounding 47deg. 

These extraordinary stats combine with its huge ground clearance and compact wheelbase to give rock-hopping qualities most alleged off-roaders simply couldn’t imagine. Low-range gearing, unswitchable traction control (optional with ABS) and differential locks complete the picture.

Don’t take those on-road criticisms to mean that you shouldn’t buy a Land Rover Defender. Just bear in mind that this is a car for going off road – a car for farms, jungles and deserts. It may look outdated next to modern 4x4s, but very few vehicles can match its sheer talent for going anywhere and everywhere.

If you're interested in finding a used Defender, or any of the other large SUVs mentioned here, head over to the Used Car Buying service to find lots of cars listed for sale at a great price.

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