The List




The List


Land Rover Defender


Shaped like a brick and about as accelerative as one too, the Land Rover seems an unlikely candidate for The List. Additional descriptive adjectives, such as underpowered, heavy, softly sprung, hardly seem to clinch the argument in its favour either. 4x4s are uncool, unnecessarily large and complex beasts driven only by people who display a selfish lack of regard for other road users, right?


Well, in some cases, maybe. The Porsche Cayenne springs instantly to mind, as do any of the luxury 4x4s from Germany. But the Defender is different. It may no longer be the vehicle of choice for Islamic fundamentalists and other desert-based, machine-gun toting zealots, but it is the only 4x4 in the world that can truly claim impeccable, classless cool.


The original series 1 cars were first produced in 1948, and were intended to be a British version of the American Jeep that had seen active service in Europe during WWII. The use of alloy panels over a rudimentary but strong steel chassis, together with a tough four wheel drive system, enabled the Land Rover to earn its reputation as a durable, go-anywhere vehicle that could cope with extreme abuse and could be serviced with little specialist equipment.


Subsequent versions improved the breed, adding more sophisticated engines (albeit with consequent increases in complexity), coil spring suspension, and less basic interior specifications. This has led to the Land Rover being slightly diverted from its original brutally functional aesthetic, but few would argue that the addition of proper ventilation does not improve the car.


It is, however, the its natural ability, as opposed to any of its other attributes, that has gained it a place on The List. Here is a vehicle that is quite capable of traversing 45 degree muddy inclines, yet will happily sit in traffic on the King’s Road. And most of all, it will not look out of place in either environment. It is the truly classless car; not in a bland way, like the VW Golf may be described, but in a way that states both everything and nothing about the person driving it – you could be a farmer or a minor royal, the Land Rover will not do anything to reveal your exact identity.


In some ways, then, it is the Lotus Elise of the utility vehicles market: ruthlessly committed to a single purpose, with little regard for secondary concerns, such as comfort, and, in the Land Rover’s case, on-road ability. It is this single-mindedness, together with its classically simple shape that, ultimately, has earned the Land Rover its place on The List.


There are many variants to choose from, each with its own quirks, but the general impressions are the same. The engine (in this case one of the later td5 models) starts with a typical diesel clatter, but settles down once idling. There is a general feeling of heaviness to the major controls, but this seems in keeping with the nature of the vehicle.


Acceleration is fairly lethargic, even in this later model, and earlier examples are even worse, but once up to speed it is more impressive. Until 70 MPH is reached, that is, at which point the block-like aerodynamics result in the sudden feeling that the engine power output has halved. This is not a car for high speed motorway journeys.


Find a nice corner and the Land Rover will track confidently around it at moderate speeds, albeit with a large amount of roll. Go in faster and understeer is the predominant characteristic; it may be possible to loosen the rear by playing with the throttle, but it is probably not advisable unless you have a very large expanse of empty tarmac within which to practise. The steering, via the large wheel is accurate enough, but is certainly not particularly quick – big oversteer would require some very nifty hands to catch.


To talk of on-road ability, though, is to completely miss the point of the vehicle. It is only when the tarmac turns to mud, the concrete to bare rock, that the Land Rover truly proves itself. Many superlatives have been heaped on its off-road ability over the years, but it is only when you find yourself climbing a 45 degree grass bank that you realise why it is so highly praised. It just tracks through and over everything in its path, and will only be beaten when it is almost time to get out the climbing ropes and crampons. Just ensure that you are able and willing to give it the life that it really craves.