Land Rover Defender (1983-2016) review

An all time classic

Evo rating
from £25,000
  • Utilitarian icon that demands every bit of your attention to drive
  • Utterly exhausting to drive, ancient, leaky and hopeless on road

The original Land Rover Defender can trace its roots back to the '40s, and there’s no hiding that when you drive it. It's a physical, difficult and uncomfortable car to drive – it might be legendary in the mire, but it’s absolutely terrible to drive on-road. You’d have to really need its incredible off-road ability to put up with the compromises everywhere else, but many do. We’re not sure why; those dewy-eyed at its approaching demise really should drive a modern pick-up if they genuinely need utility, while a Toyota Land Cruiser  feels like cutting-edge modernity in comparison on the road. An expensive relic then, that’s decades past its sell-by date.

If you’re absolutely sold on the idea of a classic Defender, there is no option but to go second hand, however the given the variability of their uses in cities or more traditional countryside settings will make examples vary widely in specification. In truth, old Defenders are just as hopeless to drive as their more modern compatriots, only they won’t cost you the staggering amounts a later Defender will. Plenty of aftermarket companies claim to make the Defender drive and perform better, with mixed results, though if you’re going down that route perhaps you’d be better suited to something else altogether. 

There was a time when we might have said go buy a Defender and enjoy it for its old-school charm and incredible off-road performance. But that time has passed. Not recently either - a good decade or so back. It’s fun for a day, but you’ll be bored of it after a week and grow to hate it after that. Yet, somehow, inexplicably, the Defender wins many over despite its many shortcomings.

Land Rover has made periodic upgrades through the years, but it has still got all its wheels rooted firmly in the past and it cannot disguise it. Noisy, uncomfortable, leaky and slow, it couldn’t be more removed from the luxury and prestige of the Range Rover models it shares showroom space with.

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