Top Gear episode 4 review: Land Rover Defender buying guide

Land Rover Defender buying guide

The Defender’s off-road ability is legendary (Picture © Land Rover)

What, no controversy? Yes, performing the sort of u-turn that would impress even the most hard-to-please driving examiner, Top Gear dispensed with controversy for episode 4 and stuck to the facts. 

We saw James May declare his admiration for the Mercedes-AMG GT; to the casual observer, there is nothing surprising about a petrol head lusting after a high performance sports car, but in this case, “Captain Slow” admitted: “I have always thought that AMG Mercedes were a bit, as my mother would say, unnecessary.”

Then came the moment no Top Gear fan ever thought they’d witness: Jeremy Clarkson choosing a frugal hybrid eco-car over a red-blooded, twin-turbo BMW M3. It could have been enough to have some viewers leaping up from the comfort of their sofa to change channels in disgust. Fortunately for them, it wasn’t the moment the Green Party hadn’t won over Clarkson. Rather this was Clarkson’s first experience of the BMW i8 hybrid supercar, and he was hooked.

Then came an obituary. Not for Will Smith, deciding he couldn’t live with the shame of being beaten by Margot Robbie – his co-star in their new film Focus – around the Top Gear Test Track. But for the Land Rover Defender, which won’t be built after this year.

This is something of a momentous occasion. Few cars are as venerated as the Defender, a car with roots that can be traced back as far as 1948, when the original Land Rover was launched as a “Go Anywhere” vehicle for farmers and the military.

Hundreds of thousands of drivers own a Defender. Millions more dream of owning one. If you count yourself as one of the dreamers, perhaps our buying guide to the Defender models can tempt you to take the plunge and buy a true icon of the road?

Land Rover Defender buying guide: Which model to go for?

Land Rover Defender buying guide

Short wheelbase 90 with a Station Wagon body (Picture © Land Rover)

The beauty of the Defender’s ladder chassis means that all sorts of bodies have been built onto the running gear of the chassis, but the most popular with private drivers are the 90 and 110.

The names refer to the length in inches of the car’s wheelbase (distance between the front and back wheels). The 90 is a three-door model that isn’t terribly practical but looks perfectly proportioned. The 110 is a five-door model and has more space for passengers and luggage, and is popular with families. Depending on its specification, the 110 can seat up to nine people.

The most popular version of the 90 and 110 is the Station Wagon, which has a solid roof and windows in the rear of the cabin. Buyers can also choose from the Hard Top, which is essentially a van, or the Pick Up, which has an open load bed behind the cab.

Land Rover Defender buying guide: Which is the most affordable?
If you aren’t afraid to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty, the 200 Tdi is more than likely the cheapest Defender, priced from around £3,500 in the classifieds. Doubtless it will require ongoing TLC, but for many drivers that’s all part of its appeal.

Launched in 1990, it was powered by a 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engine that “boasted” 105bhp and direct fuel injection, which was considered advanced in the day. It meant that the car’s performance was elevated from a slow plod to a steady trot and made it better suited to towing.

Land Rover Defender buying guide: Which is best for a family?

Land Rover Defender buying guide

Station Wagon bodystyle on a 110 long-wheelbase chassis is best for families (Picture © Land Rover)

It’s safe to assume that most families after a practical car would appreciate added ‘luxuries’ such as back doors. In which case, choose the 110 Station Wagon. If you can stretch to a newer model, choose forward facing seats, as inward-facing seats were dropped due to EU safety legislation. Also aim for a post 2006 model which used a 2.4-litre Ford turbodiesel engine and had an improved dashboard layout. You’ll need to budget around £14,500.

Land Rover Defender buying guide: The driving experience
Not driven a Defender before? Brace yourself for a shock. On the road, they are crude, uncomfortable, cramped and generally feel as if they belong to a bygone era. The steering is slow to return to the straight-ahead position, the suspension gives a bouncy ride, the brakes are so-so and noise levels – from the wind, engine, transmission and tyres – grow tiring on a long journey.

However, the Defender comes into its own off-road. It’s a tough workhorse that really can get most places when fitted with the appropriate all-terrain tyres.

If you intend to tow with a Defender, go for the post 2006 2.4 TDCI model, which had plenty of torque (265Ib ft at 2000rpm) and a six-speed manual gearbox which helped it pull away and gave a more relaxed high-speed cruise as well as better fuel economy. As for fuel economy, even the relatively modern 2.4 TDCI versions will only return 25mpg at best. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Land Rover Defender buying guide: What to check for on a used Defender
If you aren’t mechanically minded and you are buying an older, high mileage Defender, have it checked over by a friendly local garage or Land Rover specialist. (Do this once you have seen plenty of cars and think you’ve found the best car for your budget.) They’ll charge an inspection fee of £100-£200.

Do all the usual used car checks and check the car’s details with a Land Rover dealer, as there have been a number of recalls over its lifetime and the dealer will be able to tell you if any car you may buy has been affected.

The car requires annual servicing and the steel chassis needs careful inspection, as it will rust. Older cars may have had new cambelts or headgaskets fitted, and the suspension can take a hammering, so listen for knocking noises which indicate wear and tear. The four-wheel drive system needs to be tried, notably the transfer box and differential lock.

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