Review: Land Rover Defender (1984 – 2016)
The ultimate 4x4. Simply unstoppable off-road. Body panels easy to replace. Latest 2.2-litre diesel offers strong pulling power. Retains its resale value like no other utility vehicle.
Crude and noisy compared to a modern 4x4. Cramped driving position. Not suited to motorway or town driving.
Land Rover Defender (1984 – 2016): At A Glance
The Defender has been around for so long now that it’s something of an icon and its reputation as the ultimate offroader is richly deserved. The ladder chassis, mechanical all-wheel drive system and simple, strong panel design mean it can really cope well with the roughest terrain.
The Defender series Land Rover has been going since 1984, and it’s undergone constant upgrades and improvements over its lifetime, including improvements to drivetrain and equipment.
Unfortunately, despite the continual upgrades it does feel like an old design today – the dashboard and centre stack are flat, the windscreen and seats are upright and the driving position is cramped.
It’s also a fairly expensive vehicle to buy new and it isn’t the most efficient, with official fuel economy figures of below 30mpg across the board.
Nontheless, it feels solid and has a certain character and charm. It’s also a true workhorse, something any countryside dweller will attest to, given the sheer number of them seen ferrying farm equipment around rural areas.
What does a Land Rover Defender (1984 – 2016) cost?
Land Rover Defender (1984 – 2016): What's It Like Inside?
- Boot space is 1510–2170 litres
Inside is where the age of the Defender’s design is betrayed by a cramped driving position, an upright windscreen and a shallow dashboard. Land Rover has done a good job of modernising the dashboard layout, though, and new Defenders are kitted out with enough mod-cons to make life bearable.
Air con, electric windows, audio connectivity, leather and even sat nav are available depending on the model you pick, and the aftermarket community offers scores of upgrades for every area of the vehicle. There’s space in the back for plenty of gear, too – whether that be a dog, a few bails of hay or, on some models, extra passengers.
But up front it doesn’t take long to get uncomfortable. There’s nowhere to put your right arm when driving unless you open the window and stick your elbow through the opening, for one. It’s a moot point, though. The Defender is enduringly popular because of its reputation as a competent and capable workhorse – a reputation it richly deserves.
Child seats that fit a Land Rover Defender (1984 – 2016)Our unique Car Seat Chooser shows you which child car seats will fit this car and which seat positions that they will fit, so that you don't have to check every car seat manufacturer's website for compatibility.
What's the Land Rover Defender (1984 – 2016) like to drive?
It’s fair to say the Defender is a little bit old fashioned in the way it tackles tarmac. Everything feels a little slow and lethargic, regardless of the model. The steering is low geared to give finer control off road, but on road it means you have to be conscious of your steering inputs when driving out of junctions and into roundabouts.
There’s also a fair bit of body roll, although it’s never enough to really cause any concern. Refinement is far from class-leading, with audible clunks from the gearbox and a loud diesel engine, which provides a decent shove in gear, but unremarkable fuel economy - no model in the range betters 30mpg.
On the plus side, there’s a commanding driving position that’s very high up, giving a good view over walls, hedges and parked cars. You can also see the extremities of the car very easily, making it easier to thread through tighter gaps.
But it’s not really at home in town, where the fairly awkward controls, cramped driving position and unwieldy size are problematic. Similarly it’s not refined, comfortable or efficient enough for regular long distance motorway drives.
That said, you can forgive any shortcomings when the weather gets treacherous or you need to cross tough terrain, because the Defender is a magnificent off-roader. Deep water, ruts, steep inclines, loose surfaces and wet grass are all easily taken care of, which is why those who rely on a strong, reliable and capable vehicle often pick the Defender.
|110 SW||26–26 mpg||15.8 s||291–295 g/km|
|110 Td5 SW||27 mpg||-||299 g/km|
|90 SW||28–29 mpg||15.8 s||266 g/km|
|90 Td5 SW||28 mpg||-||282 g/km|
Real MPG average for a Land Rover Defender (1984 – 2016)
Real MPG was created following thousands of readers telling us that their cars could not match the official figures.
Real MPG gives real world data from drivers like you to show how much fuel a vehicle really uses.
Diesel or petrol? If you're unsure whether to go for a petrol or diesel (or even an electric model if it's available), then you need our Petrol or Diesel? calculator. It does the maths on petrols, diesels and electric cars to show which is best suited to you.
What have we been asked about the Land Rover Defender (1984 – 2016)?
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Is it still worth buying a Land Rover Defender?
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What do owners think?
Our view gives your our opinion, based on driving hundreds of cars every year, but you can't beat the views of someone who lives with a car day-in, day out.
- 5 star 67%
- 4 star
- 3 star 17%
- 2 star
- 1 star 17%