Every now and then you find your buttocks in a machine which really connects with you. Suddenly, your long-lost inner schoolboy is running the show and you forget all the quantifiable, serious stuff – the where and when of power and torque delivery, etc – and instead, you just drive, smile and lose all sense of time.
To be blunt, I can’t exactly remember how many Land Rovers I’ve driven over the years, but I can tell you that I’ve never turned down an opportunity to take one for a spin. The minute I do, is the minute I’ll pack this game up, trade my soul in and get a grown-up job involving ‘synergy’.
Spotted languishing in the corner of a car park at the recent SMMT Southern Test Day was this, a new Xtech special edition of the last all-British vehicle in series production, a Land Rover Defender. Looking moody in its Orkney Grey paint and black wheels, I knew I had to have a go. Not merely to quell the schoolboy glee but to satisfy my curiousity about the Ford 2.2-litre diesel which replaced the Td5 some years ago – and which I had yet to experience.
Priced at £27,895 and trimmed with leather, the Xtech edition is a little bit too Made In Chelsea for me. Fancy wheels, hide and metallic paint are just wrong on a Land Rover, because this vehicle is a design classic exactly because it has never been ‘styled’ or ‘designed’ in the modern idiom. Sources tell me that even today, the Defender is still the chosen one amongst urbane urbanites over in ‘that there London’ – but this is the Xtech’s problem. It is too West End and not enough West Country for my liking…
Yet these are mere superficialities, for I had a hoot and much to everyone’s despair – surprise, surprise, he’s gone for a 64-year old British classic – it was my vehicle of the day.
Those with pampered buttocks dismiss the Defender as an agricultural throwback with all the ride quality and finesse of a Tudor cart, but they are wrong. If you have earnt your stripes in cars which know what to do with corners, then you’ll find the Defender’s ride fine. It’s even great fun to drive, presenting a challenge through country lanes and providing the inner Charlesworth driving demon with a bloody good fix at legal speeds. Find something tight and twisty, tackle it at 50mph and boy, you’ll grin so much the top of your head will fall off.
As anyone who’s watched an Exmoor farmer – the fighter aces of Laaanrova pilots – hustle one over the moors, a lack of initial turn-in is its main dynamic flaw. If you’ve driven a classic with a rigid front axle or anything 4WD, you’ll understand this – so combine 4WD and a pair of live axles, and things will get most eye-widening. Insurmountable? No. The answer is to carefully drift understeer through to the apex, for there is poke a plenty – 120bhp @ 3500rpm with 266lb.ft @ 2000rpm – and then everything will be fine as friction conjures traction.
Yes the assisted steering box is a bit vague, but it will only wonder around fractions of an inch rather than entire inches – and yes, steering lock is still limited, but these are the only moans I have.
The steering is light and generally positive in operation (vastly better than the last 110 Td5 I drove), the pedals are nicely spaced and weighted (lighter than the Td5 but still feel connected to something meaningful), the six-speed gearbox is lighter, swifter and more precise (than the… oh, you get the picture), and the brakes are so effective that they can stretch your optic nerves when stamped upon.
The more I drove, the more I realised that this could be the answer to my daily prayers – a very old skool three-door to replace the rare three-door. Admittedly a claimed combined fuel figure of 27.7mpg and that price tag hardly epitomise self-restraint, but here is a vehicle – in lesser spec – that would allow me to go anywhere anytime.
No more getting stranded in traffic, wishing for ground clearance to tackle that imprisoning central reservation, execute a U-turn and make haste on the gloriously empty tarmac of the opposing lane. No more worrying about parking dents (in fact, they should be actively encouraged for a Laaanrova looks best with dings, dents and flaking oxidised paint). No more dealing with sneering Audis playing ‘giveway chicken’ (go on then, I dares ’ee – I’ve got man’s bumpers). I’d be free.
Its driving position is comfy – providing one doesn’t mind inviting rheumatism in your right elbow by dangling it out of the open window to gain a few extra inches of width. Plus its overall dimensions, its footprint, are positively compact by 2012 standards. Especially with those sheer flanks which make placing the Defender on the road, or in a tight country lane, so damn easy-peasy. It’s also eminently fixable, as illustrated by the high percentage of Laaanrova production which still survives.
Hell! I can even forgive it its interior with its new-fangled ‘designed’ dash, because it’s littered with the faded glory of BL’s parts catalogue – from interior door releases to column switchgear and even pedal rubbers. Stuff that will make a Leylomaniac’s heart flutter with warm nostalgia.
So as I handed the keys back – hoping that I’ll look this respectable at its age and nursing a bad dose of Defender urging – I knew that this time I had it especially badly because I was starting to mentally spec one up.
Colour? Not sure, but it’s got to be a solid colour. Wheels? That’s easy, heavy-duty steels… Wheelbase? 90 inch I should think. Body style? Ooh, um, er…