BUYERS GUIDE - UTES & CAB CHASSIS MEDIUM
The Land Rover Defender cab/chassis and utes are no more. Production ceased on January 29, 2016 and the replacement Defender is a wagon-only model – no ute.
Quality improvements began with BMW’s ownership of Land Rover in 1994, but the real turning point was the Ford takeover in 2000.
Since 1983 the little-changed Land Rover ute bodywork sat on top of coil springs that provided a ride quality no other one-tonne 4WD ute could match.
When Land Rover developed the Defender 130-inch wheelbase model from the traditional 110-inch model the coils were retained and the rear springs were fitted with inner auxiliary coils to better handle the 130’s increased payload, without compromising unladen ride quality.
Along with the ride quality of coils all post-1983 Land Rover utes featured full-time 4WD operation, thanks to a standard centre differential: only recently have some Japanese utes caught up with this superior driveline.
The Land Rover driveline incorporated a lockable centre differential, but this wasn’t automatically engaged in low range, allowing the Land Rover to manoeuvre at very low speeds, without the risk of expensive driveline damage that plagues all other ute drivelines.
The Defender also continued with a powerful, reliable transmission-mounted handbrake and didn’t rely on drum rear brakes for handbrake performance, or on a set of tiny drum-in-disc handbrake shoes.
The post-2007 Defender needed minor exterior bodywork changes that went largely unnoticed, but Landophiles were onto the bonnet bulge in a flash. The bulge was necessary, because the Defender’s new powerplant – a modified Ford Transit ZSD light-truck diesel – was taller than the outgoing TD5.
The 2.4-litre four put out 90kW, which was enough power to go with the Defender’s brick-dunny shape, and 360Nm at 2000rpm. Importantly, the new engine had 315Nm at a low, 1500rpm – more torque than the five-cylinder did at any point in the rev band.
For 2012 a new 2.2-litre diesel engine replaced the 2.4-litre diesel, matching it for power, torque and fuel consumption. A full acoustic engine cover replaced the previous splash cover, reducing radiated engine noise. Despite the smaller capacity, the new engine produced the same power and torque as the outgoing 2.4-litre engine and at the same revolution points.
Post-2007 cosmetic changes
Real Landie freaks noted that the twin fresh air vents at the base of the windscreen were replaced by a blanked-off panel. Curiosity then led the Defender-savvy to open one of the hand-assembled doors, ignoring by habit the waves, indentations and varying gaps that are characteristic of these ‘flat’ aluminium panels. Inside was revelation.
The post-2007 Defender dashboard was unlike anything that had gone before it: a single-piece moulding incorporating a plastic-covered binnacle with large, legible instruments, including – be still my beating heart – a rev counter!
But there was more: four, fan-fed air vents that pipe real, air-conditioned air (not the mildly cooled and dried puff of yesteryear), a CD/radio, switches for the front powered windows and a passenger-side bin with a solid grab handle. Incredibly, the passenger’s right foot no longer needed to fight for space with the heater plenum.
Fear not, Landie friends: the clock was still analogue, not digital. New seats were still a tad short in the cushion, but there was more shoulder support than previously and the second-row seats in crew-cabs were quite comfortable for adults. Yes, the front seats were still too far outboard and too close to the door panels, but they were slightly better than before.
A new gear stick poked out of the sound-deadened transmission tunnel, stirring a six-speed manual gearbox that was derived from the Disco 3 manual. A new, stubby lever operated the old transfer case and centre diff lock.
In the best Land Rover tradition the starting battery was under the passenger seat, away from the battery-destroying effects of engine heat. It used to be easy to slot a second battery under the driver’s seat, but that area was partially filled with engine electronics.
There was room for a 55Ah deep cycle volt box, with some relocation of modules and cables. An alternative location was via the back doors, in the full-width, box-section void under the rear seats.
Class-leading, long-travel coils with new spring and damper rates suspended live axles that had full-time 4WD.
The Defender ute range in Australia consisted of the 110 single-cab cab/chassis, 110 pickup and 110 crew-cab pickup, and the 130 single-cab/chassis and 130 crew cab pickup. ABS brakes and traction control were options on the 110 models, but not on the 130s.
On and Off-road
After playing around in the mud and the ruts in Land Rover’s latest in 2007, we were sitting around a NSW Blue Mountains campfire working out the lineage of this boxy machine that has changed little visually since the Series II Land Rover.
If the company hadn’t interrupted the model sequence with name changes to ‘County’, ‘110’ and ‘Defender’ we worked out we’d have been driving a Series Nine Landie!
This was by far the best Land Rover Series/County/Defender to date. The Transit’s common-rail, light-truck diesel was built to lug happily and was fitted with an ‘anti-stall’ function like Big Trucks have, making hill starts and steep, off-road climbs a breeze.
The six-speed teamed well with the engine and transfer case, giving an overall reduction of 63:1 in low-low and a cruising speed of 100km/h with only 2000rpm on the clock in overdrive sixth (0.74:1).
There was useful gradeability in top gear, so most freeway hills could be handled without a downshift.
Shifting wasn’t difficult, because the lever action was superb and the clutch was light enough, if somewhat lacking in friction-point ‘feel’.
It was a quirky clutch action and you’d expect something to be quirky – it’s a Land Rover, after all. But, surprisingly, the transfer case lever worked positively, selecting low range or centre diff lock functions without baulking.
The rated towing capacity of up to 3500kg dildn’t worry the new powertrain. We did a bush recovery job, flat-towing a stranded competitor vehicle for 25km and the Defender hardly noticed the two-tonne imposition.
The post-2007 interior was much more refined than previous Defender cabins and the noise level was way down. For the first time, a quality sound system was a worthwhile inclusion. The aircon system made up for the loss of the windscreen-base, fresh-air vents.
The front seats were still a tad on the small side, but our taller testers found them quite comfortable for long trips. The rear seats could accommodate three adults in more comfort than most crew-cab utes provide.
This latest incarnation of the boxy Land Rover ute proved to be the last. A more emiisions complaint 2.2-litre engine was installed in 2012, but that was the last change. European safety legislation caught up with the Land Rover’s 1970s’ design, dictating active and passive safety changes.
A new model isn’t scheduled, because the 2020 Defender lineup is based on the Discovery platform and there is no ute derivative.
Some early models had gearbox problems, which can be expensive to repair, so beware of vehicles with dodgy shift actions or noise.
Shock absorber durability was an ongoing problem with Defenders and many used vehicles have after-market shocks. Tired shocker symptoms include wheel bounce
and vibration at speed, or excessive steering wheel kick.
Land Rover TDi diesels need professional servicing, including valve clearance adjustments every 20,000 km and camshaft timing belt replacement every 80,000
km. If in doubt about the belt’s age, allow around $500 for a replacement. Avoid buying a diesel that lacks a service history, because poorly maintained
Tdis will have reliability problems.
Later model Defenders seem to be very reliable and while there are still instances of oil leaks, failed wheel bearings and electrical dramas, there’s no
consistent problem pattern.
Early Transit diesels had vacuum pump failures, but a new pump is said to have fixed that issue. Servicing costs should be no higher for a Defender than for any other 4WD.
Maintenance and repair parts for Defenders are among the lowest priced on the 4WD market.
Some of the latest Defenders have traction control, but older models have open front and rear differentials.
A pair of after-market diff locks is the traction solution.
A long-range tank is essential.