I just did the unthinkable. I spent a weekend reviewing a car without describing bends and corners, testing the top speed or even bothering with its 0-100 capability. Because none of these makes the Defender 90 stand out.
Instead I was imagining things inside the original Land Rover. That I was Thor Heyerdahl in his primeval raft; or Lawrence of Arabia crossing the empty-quarter! But if I were to actually be among the last original owners of the original adventurer, I had little time left – just over a hundred days. Because the assembly lines of the legendary Land Rover is destined to grind to a halt on a cold, cheerless day in December.
The Land Rover Defender 90 is a touchstone to the times when manual was largely the only option available and the only nanny-coddling you could expect in an automotive cabin involved your grandma running her weary fingers through your hair, and stabilization meant an extra turn of your wrist and strained triceps. The Defender offers a first-hand experience in how driving used to be 65 years ago when the first of these Land Rovers prowled the earth. The Defender 90 in 2015 still wakes us up to what nannying has done to the automobile industry, and how high, dry and hapless can we be without the interference of electronic muscle.
The Land Rover Defender 90 is for those who believe shifting gears manually is an art that involves a rugged grace and an impeccable sense of the rhythm of revolutions.
The Defender is being called off because the ol’ farmhand doesn’t fall in line with the European emission norms as per the emerging stickler standards. Ironically, the Land Rover Defender 90 is anyway not for our modern world and its urban roads, where speed limit signs can be blown away by the speeds that highway traffic thrives in. Fast rides are bumpy in a Defender, even on a smooth highway; the turning radius is so vast that most of the U-turns are meddlesome.
With 360 Nm of torque available from 2200 rpm, the Defender is not short of muscle to pull its 1869 kg body. But it is when I attempted a quick lane change (not that quick either!) that I came across the tendency of the high-perched cabin to sway with the movement. Every turn you make in a Defender 90 calls for at least one more corrective turn of your wheel! You can actually sense the whole trail fall in place in parts, which can leave you, ‘shaken’ at high speeds! And yet, the new Defender 90 has a ‘historic’ top speed of 145 kmph. I stopped just shy of 120 – I would rather let the vehicle do the climbing than its speedometer!
Just 5 cm short of 7 feet, with a wading depth of 500 mm, and a 0-100 figure of 15.4 seconds, this isn’t a vehicle for people with vertigo, for the faint of heart or the famously impatient.
The Defender is still the ideal vehicle for the Saharan sands, the African wilderness and closer to civilization, Kerala (the Indian state I come from) with its pot-holed roads, wet mud ruts and hill ranges speckled with tea gardens – where the state speed limit was till recently locked at 70 kmph.
A die-hard fan following…
For every curious or distinctive vehicle, I get eyeballs. This time, it involved a truck driver in a Pathan suit, who had parked his 16-tonner next to an Air & Water facility at a gas station. As I rolled down my window, he asked, “Is this the original Land Rover?” 67 years from the time the original was launched, I nodded. He beamed, “50 years ago, you could see this one all over Afghanistan along with Mann trucks.” I imagine one of the most formidable terrains on earth, and the Defender perfectly at home in it. “How much do these cost now?” The Pathan casually asks and is hit by lightning as I divulge “AED 170,000”. “A lakh and 70 thousand?” he disbelievingly asks. I stop short of telling him that it is monumental value for a legend that is due to disappear from earth as early as the end of 2015. Watching the sentimental breakdown of a very grown up man wouldn’t be very amusing!
The utility box riding on the world’s strongest chassis…
It is called a station wagon not without reason. Both the rear seats can be folded up making space for tools to mend a bulldozer or an entire football team’s gear. The macho is maintained in the door closures; you have to close it with a proper thud, far from soft-touch refinement available elsewhere.
The cabin has no storage points apart from a lunch-box at the centre of the console and a niche above the controls, that may be used to place your mobile. By the way, there is phone-link facility as well as a radio and a USB port. It’s an Alpine system but as stripped as the original SUV itself is!
The Defender 90 has the leanest and most invisible A-pillars I have ever come across! Yet the visibility isn’t all that great, especially towards the rear. The long side view mirrors will have to be manually adjusted, if you would care. With cut-windows all over, a look around will be more educating than a search on the side view mirrors and the rear view.
The Defender 90 thrives on low gear, as far as torque goes and should save a bit of fuel as well on the go. After 220 km, I still had half a tank left of the 60L capacity, which pitches the fuel efficiency around 8 km/L. Now with the lower diesel costs in the UAE, the Defender could even prove economical!
You’ll get a Land Rover loaded with memories and some rust, for much less. But if you want to freshly own one, you better overlook the price tag!
I believe the price of the Land Rover Defender 90 is not entirely what the tough chassis, the resilient metal doors or the meager additions in refinement add up to; it is the price set by a niche market, of an icon that will soon fall out of your reach. It is the price you pay to have a legend parked in your garage. Even when it is not making new stories, it is telling a thousand that went by!
Thanks for the drive, Al Tayer Motors
Pictures: Sudeep Koshy