2015 Land Rover Defender 90 Heritage review
Isaac Bober’s 2015 Land Rover Defender 90 Heritage review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and rating.
In a nutshell: To celebrate the end of the current Defender, Land Rover has released a series of limited edition variants, but it’s this Land Rover Defender 90 Heritage that’s the coolest.
2015 Land Rover Defender 90 Heritage
Price $54,900 (+ORC) Warranty three years, 100,000km Safety No ANCAP rating Engine 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel Power/Torque 90kW/360Nm Transmission six-speed manual Body 4040mm (L); 1790mm (W – mirrors folded); 2000-2082mm (H – depending on tyres and suspension package) Weight 1815kg Thirst 10L/100km
IN JANUARY 2016, an impressive 67 years of Land Rover Defender production will come to an end… and, before members of the Royal Society of Land Roverists take up pen and parchment to correct me, yes, I do know the Defender hasn’t been in production for 67 years – it only adopted that name in 1990; I’m using it as a collective term for the Series I, II and III Land Rovers. And, my apologies but I missed the fact the 110 and Country Wagon names were also used between Series III and Defender – the Society is strong, eh, Dion. Now, on with the show…
Never have I bumped, knocked and bruised myself in a week with a test car so many times as I did with the Defender 90 Heritage. After my week behind the wheel I was literally black and blue, but I was also left with a split melon grin and an immediate desire to buy a Defender. Even as I write this I’ve got a browser window open with a list of Defenders available at Army auctions.
When you’re driving a Defender you become part of a club. A friendly club where everyone waves to one another when they pass by on the road. Stops you in the street as you’re climbing up into the thing, or just about falls over to get a second look at the thing as you drive by. Such is the draw of the Defender. Or, rather, such is the draw of this Land Rover Defender 90 Heritage.
One of three limited-edition Defenders (only two of which are available in Australia: Heritage and Adventure) that will draw 67 years of production to a close next year, the Defender 90 Heritage has been styled to tug out the heart strings. Taking inspiration from the pre-production 1947 Series I Land Rover, the Defender 90 heritage even bears that car’s registration plate HUE 166 on its front fender and on little tags on the seats.
The Heritage models are painted in beautiful Grassmere Green metallic paint with contrasting Alaska White roof, door and tail-gate hinges are painted in Indus Silver giving them a polished cast iron look. There’s a heritage style front grille and head-light surrounds and body coloured steel wheels. The front and rear mudflaps carry the heritage Land Rover logo, there’s aluminium heritage badging at the front and rear, which I watched one Defender fan stroking as I approached the thing in a carpark. Hilarious.
On the inside, the heritage touches extend to a body-coloured faux metal dashboard and a 4×4 off-road instruction plaque as well as Almond Cloth seats, which as one Defenderist said to me, are “almost identical to the seats in my Series III… there was one time I was driving home late from…” Lovely bloke but his story went on, and on, and on and ended with him telling me how we nearly rolled his Land Rover, “they’ll forgive most things,” he said, “but not ham fists…” True that. But I digress.
Let’s just mention the elephant in the room before we go too much further, and that’s the price. At $54,900 (+ORC) the Defender 90 Heritage isn’t cheap, but it is the cheapest of the special editions and with just a handful available in Australia we’d suggest every single one of them will find a home.
Under that beautiful bonnet is a Ford Transit van derived 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder which makes an apt 90kW at 3500rpm and 360Nm at 2000rpm. This is mated to a six-speed manual transmission and drinks down a combined 10L/100km, but in our time with the Defender and across almost 800km we managed a little better than that at 9.5L/100km. To be fair, though, most of my time behind the wheel was on long, constant speed drives with only a few short haul trips taking the kids to school and back.
In case anyone reading this is expecting some blood-and-guts off-roading then, I’m sorry, but you’ll be disappointed. When booking the car, I was told, via an email, that the Defender 90 Heritage wasn’t to set a single tyre off the bitumen. See, it’s likely our test car will end up in a collector’s garage.
Anyone who’s ever sat behind the wheel of a Defender or peered through the window of one will know just how tricky it is for taller drivers to climb up and then fold their frames in behind the steering wheel. Once in, though, the seat is comfy and while some will no doubt complain the driving position feels cramped, my six-foot body had plenty of room.
The steering wheel is comically large in the Defender and seems a throwback to a time before power steering when cars required large steering wheels to offer additional leverage when turning. And while we’re talking about turning, the Defender 90 might look compact enough to fit in your back pocket the steering is very slow meaning tight turns are absolutely out of the question. In general driving, though, the steering, despite some slackness in the straight ahead position, offers decent feel and weight off centre.
While the above might be a negative if we were reviewing a modern car, it’s all part of the Defender experience. The same goes for the ride and handling which is agricultural at best. See, the Defender’s chassis hasn’t changed much since 1984 when the thing switched from leaf springs to coils and the wheelbase stretched from 88 inches to 90. The chassis is still a steel ladder frame with an aluminium body literally bolted onto it. There are live axles at either end, and while this Defender rides and handles better than any that’s gone before it that’s really not saying much.
In my week with the car both my kids and I grinned like idiots as the thing bounced and bucked its way across rough patches in the road, or lent over mid-corner to the point where there were times we thought the wing mirror would scrape the road (tip, some slight exaggeration there… ). The Defender is a vehicle you pootle about in, rather than tear-arse around in. Indeed, get too heavy handed with it and you’re likely to end up picking bits of the windscreen out of your face, because the understeer flops from mild to wild depending on how quickly you’ve tried to pour it into a corner.
While we weren’t allowed to take the Defender 90 Heritage off-road, past experience tells us that the Defender is exceptional when the going gets rough. But, lacking the fancy driver and traction aids of a modern off-roader, particularly its fancier siblings like Discovery and Range Rover, the Defender requires skill and real off-road driving knowledge; it’s not an entry-level fourby for a novice off-roader.
For those interested, the key off-road figures are, 323mm of underbody clearance (250mm ground clearance to the axle), 47-degrees approach angle, 147-degree rampover angle and 47.1-degrees departure. Wading depth is 500mm.
The Defender 90 Heritage might offer a delicious Alpine sound system offering real depth of sound and clarity you do have to crank the stereo to hear it above the wind and road noise. While I’ve seen some Defender owners getting about with ear defenders on, I think that’s a bit extreme although loose gravel pinging up under the body does sound like someone sat in the back seats firing a machine gun.
Speaking of the back seats, access to them is via the rear swing door which has a stay but it’s not capable of holding back the weight of the door, which holds a spare wheel, if you’re on anything other than a dead-flat surface. There’s a small swing down step to make climbing up and climbing back down a little easier. The back seats, via a few levers, fold up agains the side of the car leaving a decent amount of storage room.
The back seats were roomy enough for the kids and I was comfortable in them too, and the tall glass house means the back feels light and roomy. With the seats folded down there’s not a huge amount of bootspace, but there are plenty of places extra stuff can be stashed, and if you needed to transport four people regularly then you’d plump for the Defender 110.
Our Dr Pepper used to own a Defender and he’s planning a nice big long send-off of the thing, so keep an eye out for that article. In the meantime, we come to the crux of the issue, would I spend $54,900 (+ORC) on the Defender 90 Heritage, or would I suggest you do so, well, yes I would. On both counts. Yep, if I had the money burning a hole in my pocket I’d buy one of these things in a heartbeat.
See, not only will the Land Rover Defender be transformed totally when the new model is revealed towards the end of next year or early in 2017, but this Heritage model is likely to become a collectors item. So, think of it as an investment. And as a joining fee to the world’s friendliest group of car owners.
Long live Huey.