Why the Now-Previous Land Rover Defender Needed to Finish Production

Last Land Rover Defender
At 9:22 AM on the 29th January 2016, the very last current generation Land Rover Defender departed the factory at Solihull, UK.
With production of the Landy finalised at 2,016,933 vehicles, the last one ordered looked decidedly cool in its Defender 90 Heritage Soft Top guise.
No doubt there were more than a few teary-eyed members of the crowd, made up of more than 700 current and former LR employees, as the Landy made its way out of the doors. And understandably so. After all, Land Rover have been building this icon for an incredible 68 years, after it started production in 1948.
Last Land Rover Defender
The Series 1 Land Rover, as it was known then, was priced at £450 way back then, and chugged along using a 50 horsepower 1.6 litre, four-cylinder petrol engine. Before production finished, the Defender took 56 hours per vehicle to build by hand, compared with the Discovery Sport’s 48 hours. If you want to take a virtual tour of the Defender production line, you can do so by visiting the DefenderTour site here.
Here’s the thing: like many, I’m a little sad that the Defender we currently know has finished, but overriding that I also think it’s absolutely time to move on from the current version. Why? Because it really wasn’t that good. Before you start shouting at your screen, hear me out.
Last Land Rover Defender
The Defender was ‘of its day’ – a vehicle built to help farmers drive over seriously rough land, through narrow gates onto fields, and down tiny, winding country lanes, in order to get their animals and meadows. In time, people recognised just how amazing the Landy was off-road, and they started selling in their droves.
And that’s exactly what the Defender is brilliant at: off-roading. But not really that much else. Argue all you want, but the fact is that right up until production ended, the Landy was really pretty bad, and actually still felt like a vehicle from the Sixties.
Last Land Rover Defender
When I was sent a 2014 (or was that 1954) Land Rover Defender 110 double-cab pick-up XS model for review, it took me all of about five miles of road use start to really dislike the thing. That’s a record for any car I’ve tested, by a considerably long way.
Worshipers of  the Defender praise it for many things: “ohhh they’ve got loads of character”, “they look so cool”, “there’s nothing like it out there!”, “they’re unstoppable off-road”. Well yes, I agree they really do look super-cool, and yes, they’re immensely good on the rough stuff.
But that’s as far as it goes for me in the praise department. Here are the reasons I don’t like Defenders. Warning: the following may offend die-hard Defender fans. I’m only writing what I found though. 
1. They’re poorly built. Things like exposed rivets and bits of sealant stuck out from the front of the roof, is not so cool, especially in this age. Richard Hammond purchased a brand-new special edition Defender a couple of years ago, and after only a few weeks he came back to find the floor well wet from the rain. Nothing he didn’t expect apparently. And he’s a big fan of them.
2. They’re cramped. There’s a reason you see lots of Landy drivers pottering about with the driver-side window down, and that’s because there’s no real elbow room, and nowhere to rest your arm on the thin inner door panel. The rear seats on the 110 pick-up version are so bolt upright that you feel like you’re physically sitting forward, and to cap it off there’s no leg room for passengers either, as the front seats are bolted to metal plating that runs across the cabin, which leaves no room for your feet.
Land Rover Defender 110 Double-Cab Pick-Up XS 4x4 suv Review-
Hilariously, the ventilation system is exceptionally crap, and as I found out during the test period there’s no happy medium temperature setting. You get ‘really hot’ or ‘freezing cold’, and that’s it. To make it worse, if you’re a driver the air comes out of a pipe directly next to your left leg, and because of the temperature fail, by the end of your journey you’ll have either a roasted or frozen shin and calf muscle.
3. The cabin is awful. When doing a bit of research on the Defender, I couldn’t help laughing at the media images of the Landy’s interior. The centre console and dash is so ugly that even the photographer couldn’t make it look good. It’s a slab-like dash with zero styling and looks like it’s been hauled out of some nineties Rover car. Not good, and I find it hard to believe fans of it talk about character. That’s not character, it’s just uglyness.
The light switch toggle gets in the way of the ignition, so if they’re on you can’t turn the key, and the indicator/light stalk is so flimsy it feels like it’ll snap off after every use. Oh, and there’s no safety equipment at all. Not even a single airbag. Under the Defender’s ‘Safety & Security’ specs, it states this: ‘Perimetric alarm with engine immoblisation.’ That’s it.
Land Rover Defender 110 Double-Cab Pick-Up XS 4x4 suv Review-3684
4. The drive is frustratingly terrible. The Defender rides and drives like an old agricultural vehicle, and with a clutch as heavy as an ancient tractor’s you’re guaranteed to have leg-ache after every journey. It’s especially bad in stop-start traffic, and even after a few miles I felt like abandoning the Landy and walking the rest of the way home, just to get some feeling back in my leg.
Changing gears on the manual ‘box shows it as being as notchy and random as they come, and possibly worse than most Soviet-era cars. The 4-wheel-drive selector is also heavy, cumbersome, and even the owners handbook advising you to ‘use substantial force’ when selecting high or low range.
Land Rover Defender 110 Double-Cab Pick-Up XS 4x4 suv Review-3711
The sound transferred from the diesel engine into the cabin is unbelievably high, and combined with the road noise from the tyres, and the wind whistling from every massive panel gap and door seal, combines to make this the noisiest vehicle I’ve ever driven, bar none.
5. The older ones are as unreliable as they come. In defence of the Defender, an owner once said to me that “at least parts are cheap”. Yes, there’s a reason for that. Because there are a zillion aftermarket companies selling them, because they know they’ll regularly break down or drop apart.
My point is this. People shout the praise of the Defender, but all of the above on a ‘modern’ vehicle is properly, hilariously bad. If the Morris Minor and original Mini were still being built to basically the same standard as they were from the start, people simply wouldn’t have it. But for whatever reason, the Defender still gets away with it somehow.
Land Rover Defender 110 Double-Cab Pick-Up XS canvas back 4x4 suv Review edited side view-3811
Is there anything I actually like about the Land Rover Defender though? Yep. It looks incredibly cool, but also its off-road ability still rivals almost anything. I like a good off-roader, and as much as I really don’t like the Landy for all the above points, there’s no denying that when it comes time to take it off the beaten path, the Land Rover excels to a point where I class it as an amazing vehicle in this area. See my article on the 110 for more details about its off-road prowess.
As for the title of the this article, yes I’m glad the Defender has finished production. I remember seeing a fairly recent documentary on the Landy, and when one of the guys (who officially showed people the experience of off-roading a Landy) was asked if he was sorry to see the Defender finish, his reply was a respectful tip of the hat to the current version, but added that it was a vehicle ‘of its day’, and that day was at a close. And that sums it up nicely.
Land Rover Defender 110 Double-Cab Pick-Up XS 4x4 suv Review-4001 wading through water
I’m genuinely excited to see what new version of the Defender Land Rover give us, but I don’t envy the designer’s task either. The Defender is, after all, a bona fide icon now, and its owners are as passionate as can be about the now-aged 4×4.
The next generation of Landy will need to fulfil the brief of living up to its predecessor’s legend of being tough, rugged and able to tackle the worst of terrain, whilst still look uniquely cool and characterful in the process. Not easy.
Land Rover Defender 110 Double-Cab Pick-Up XS 4x4 suv Review-3794
At the same time, the next Defender will have to meet ever-stricter emissions guidelines, will likely be built with a chassis ready to take hybrid or full-electric technology, meet stringent safety standards as buyers of modern cars have come to expect, and be comfortable and well-equipped with all the tech people want and/or need.
Can it do all of this, and please everybody in the process? Get ready for the new age of the Land Rover Defender, because either way it’s coming…
Words: Chris Davies | Images: Watermarked ones by Chris Davies | Last model out of the factory: Land Rover media

2 responses to “Why the Now-Previous Land Rover Defender Needed to Finish Production”

  1. Mike Armstrong

    As I’ve heard before. If you want to go into the outback, take a Land Rover. If you want to come back again, better take a Land Cruiser!

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