Land Rover Defender (2012-2016)

Models Covered:

Land Rover Defender 90 & 110 – 2.2 diesel

By Jonathan Crouch

* Introduction

The Land Rover Defender is one of those iconic cars that almost everyone recognises. The first generation version was – visually at least – hardly changed in over half a century of production, though in its latter years, quite a lot was done to update it. Here, we look at the very last first generation models produced between 2012 and the end of production in 2016, these equipped with a Euro 5-compatible 2.2-litre 122hp diesel engine.

* The History

Once upon a time, back in 1947, there was a man called Maurice Wilks. By day, he was Chief Designer of the Rover car company. By night and weekend, he was an enthusiastic amateur farmer at his small holding in Anglesey, aided by

a power source to a small tractor, the ultimate Swiss army knife of farming equipment. Over the years, ownership of the Land Rover brand came and went but this iconic vehicle remained much the same, gaining coil springs and a slightly longer wheelbase in 1984, then the Defender name in 1989 to differentiate it from some of the brand’s other products. The New Millenium saw this car with a rattly old Td5 diesel engine, eventually replaced in 2007 by a 2.4-litre diesel borrowed from Ford’s Transit and good enough to power the vehicle for five more years until final changes were needed to meet Euro 5 legislation.

Back in 2012, these gained a slightly cleaner Euro5 engine, a 2.2-litre Ford-sourced Duratorq diesel unit, fitted with a diesel particulate filter. Other updates – ventilated disc brakes, the option of more comfortable seats and upgraded stereo equipment – were more minor, but then the previous 2007 upgrade had already introduced a redesigned gearbox, extra sound insulation and a smarter, slightly more car-like interior. In fact, in this first generation Defender’s latter years, quite a lot was changed to differentiate it from the Land Rover original – but ultimately, nothing was really very different. After the end of diesel model production, a final version – the Defender Works V8 70th Edition – was announced fitted with a 405hp petrol V8 and only 150 examples were made.

* What You Get

Is there a more iconic shape in British motoring than this one? We doubt it. This is a national treasure, a statement of Britishness that you’ll find used by aid agencies, mountain rescuers and explorers the world over. Visually, little changed on this first generation model over the years, apart from the raised bonnet necessary to accommodate the larger, more recent diesel engines. By 2012, this part of the car, rather sadly, was no longer fabricated from long life aluminum but most of the other simple, flat, easy to repair panels you’ll find around the bodywork still were, these still bolted, as ever, to a tough steel box section ladder frame chassis. You can even see the rivets. At the wheel in what Land Rover calls its ‘Command Driving Position’, you gaze out through the traditional flat screen and in a post-2012 model, sit on plusher more supportive seats, so it remains refreshingly utilitarian.

For passenger-focused owners, there are two main ‘Station Wagon’ wheelbase shapes. The three-door short wheelbase Defender 90 has just four seats that, rather uniquely, you can only access through the rear door – no MPV-style slidy-foldy chairs here. Still at least rear occupants do sit facing forward rather than perched on the side of the vehicle as they used to be. If you want a bit more passenger versatility, you’ll be more interested in the five-door long wheelbase Defender 110 variant which, thanks to its extra length, can accommodate up to seven folk, with the third seating row again these days conventionally forward-facing and sited ahead of a vast boot which is even carpeted (a bit odd that, given that you’re supposed to be able to hose the cabin out).

* What To Look For

Build quality isn't exactly to Rolls Royce standards, as you would expect, but these are basically sound and well-built vehicles. As with any 4x4, be extra careful that the chassis is straight and that the engine and gearbox have not been abused either by rough off-roading or by too heavy a tow-load (the ‘110’ long wheel base version is a favourite of the horse-box set). Dents and bumps under the car and noisy diffs and smoky exhausts are the telltale signs. Check for bodywork corrosion, especially on the underside of the car but rust is usually not much of an issue, as body panels are aluminium, though the separate steel chassis needs to be checked. There have been reported issues with leakages from the power assisted steering, a problem often paired with a failure in the timing belt.

* On The Road

At last, a driving experience that really is that, a ‘driving’ ‘experience’. It won’t suit everyone of course: if it did, Land Rover would have no need to offer Freelanders, Discoverys or Range Rovers. What more do you want from a vehicle that will tackle at 45-degree slope going forward or backwards? A car that will wade through water half a metre deep without modification and traverse a 35-degree hill? Use the low range transmission you’ll need in really rough terrain and you’ll find that first gear is ultra-short, leaving you in a sort of ‘crawler’ mode where the car moves slower than an ambling pedestrian. With this engaged, thanks to the clever anti-stall system, you can just take you feet off the pedals and do little more than keep the steering pointing in the right direction as your Defender clambers easily over obstacles you couldn’t even walk across.

And that 2.2-litre diesel engine, installed as a supposedly cleaner replacement for the old Transit-derived 2.4-litre unit? Well, the improvements here were pretty much all in terms of the environmental hoops Land Rover had to jump through to provide a Euro 5-compatible powerplant. The power and torque on offer were exactly the same as before – 122bhp and 360Nm – so there was no loss or gain in performance. What’s important though is that like its predecessor, this more modern unit lent itself well to off road adventures, with a healthy dose of pulling power that gets you smartly off the line, is crucially accessible low down in the rev range and ticks over happily whether climbing steep, slippery hills or fulfilling the Defender’s enormous 3,500kg potential towing capability.

* Overall

Despite the Defender’s 2012 model year refurb, it remained as solid and uncompromising as it had always been, with off road ability to worry a Challenger tank. Equipped with its Euro 5-compatible 2.2-litre diesel engine, this is the go-to choice if you’re looking for a used 4x4 from the 2012-2016 period ready for really hard off road work that will keep going when other SUVs have ground to a sorry halt. Arguably, it’s still the toughest thing out there.