Vans don't come any tougher than the Land Rover Defender Utility Wagon. Steve Walker reports.
Ten Second Review
Worried that a 4x4 van might not be up to the demands of your working day? The Land Rover Utility Wagon will almost certainly do the job within the confines of its 1,000kg payload but the question is, are you tough enough? Land Rover's stalwart is one tough customer but the lack of creature comforts and refinement on the road may grate over time. Off road it's an outstanding piece of equipment.
The mighty Land Rover Defender has many of the qualities that operators look for in a commercial vehicle. It's just about as tough as they come, built to withstand the kind of abuse that would reduce lesser 4x4s to battered shells. It's simple to use, reliable and, considering what it can do off-road, it's reasonably priced. It also benefits from low running costs which are even lower if you specify the Utility Pack that gains the Defender classification as a commercial vehicle from the tax man. As nearly everyone knows, the Defender was originally developed as an agricultural vehicle out of post-war necessity. Rover engineering boss Maurice Wilks wanted a 4x4 for his farm. So he built one, using aluminium rather than steel (rationed at the time). In this way, the `Landy` legend was born. More than 1.5 million Land Rover vehicles have been produced since the original was launched in 1948 but all stem from that genesis. Unlike most other vehicles with a bloodline even half as long as the Defender's, the links between the first massed produced versions and the products in showrooms today are clear to see.
The latest Defender engine is a 2.4-litre diesel tuned to pump out the kind of low-down muscle that owners who routinely find themselves up to their axles in mud tend to like. The 122bhp power output doesn't sound like much in a vehicle that can take a 1,000kg payload on board but torque of 359Nm is created between 1,500 and 2,700rpm giving the Defender the strength it needs. Even in its latest form, the vehicle is compromised on the road. It's noisier and feels less stable in corners than other 4x4 vans. The flipside of this, and the reason why so many operators who need to travel off-road wouldn't countenance anything else, is the vehicle's legendary ability in the rough. With its robust 4x4 system, low range gearbox and lockable differentials, the Defender is one of the best off-road tools in the business. Big ground clearance and comprehensive protection for the underside, for occasions when the available space underneath isn't enough, makes getting stuck less likely than in almost anything else.
Design and Build
It's the Utility Pack, a no cost option on the 110 version of the Defender, that turns it into a Utility Wagon commercial vehicle. The rear side windows are replaced by panelled sides but the rear seats remain making this a van with five-seat capacity and potential for use outside of working hours. The latest Defender is less creeky in the cabin than the previous model but it's still hardly the last word in refinement and few concessions are made to aesthetics. What it is, is tough, the sort of vehicle that operators can dole out the harshest treatment to only to have it keep coming back for more. Two options are offered for the console between the seats: a practical open tray design that keeps contents handy or a lidded design that offers 14-litres of storage out of harm's way. Improved front seats and ventilation are fitted to today's cars, as well as upgraded audio systems. The facia now houses a beefed up heating and ventilation system that warms the cabin 40 per cent quicker than before and can achieve cabin temperatures a full 12??C higher. The air-conditioning system can cool the cabin in half the time of the old unit, and achieve cabin temperatures 7??C lower too. The addition of side window demist vents helps maintain visibility whatever the weather.
Market and Model
The Utility Pack can only be ordered in the Defender's 110 wheelbase but there's a choice of all three trim levels for operators to get their teeth into. Standard, Country and XS models are available and due to the vehicle's classification as a commercial vehicle, buyers can reclaim the VAT on the purchase price. There are further advantages where the company car tax system is concerned with users paying less for this five-seat vehicle than they would for a car of similar capacity.
Practicalities and Costs
The Defender should prove affordable to run. Even if economy will be quite a shock at just 25mpg, the proven mechanicals should be nothing if not reliable. Repair costs are reasonable and long service intervals will also be popular with operators who need their vehicles on the road as much as possible.
Land Rover's Defender has become something of an institution with owners who like to give their vehicles a very hard time and the Utility Wagon version brings its inherent durability and off-road prowess to commercial vehicle customers. A payload of over 1,000kg qualifies the Utility wagon for commercial vehicle status with the tax man, making it an even more cost effective option for businesses. The Defender remains a little rough around the edges but you can't put a price on its ability when it comes to not letting you down. You've really got to spend a significant amount of time driving off-road to justify a Defender Utility Wagon. There are other 4x4 van options at this price point that are far more comfortable and refined on the road. Few come close to the Defender when the going gets tough however and in really testing off-road scenarios, there's nothing better.