Video: Land Rover Defender goes off the beaten track
“ROADS? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!” I’m doing my best impression of wild-haired visionary Dr Emmett Brown, as he prepared to blast a De Lorean back to the future using only a flux capacitor and 1.21 gigawatts of electricity from a nicely-timed bolt of lightning.
Alas, the reference is lost on my kids as we bounce across a shingle beach towards the deep blue sea in a spanking new Land Rover Defender. They’re much too young to remember the original films and the DVD box set we bought them a few Christmases ago remains unopened for want of a working DVD player. Nevertheless, my point stands. In the Defender – THE Land Rover – roads are an optional extra, and I have chosen to not to tick that box today.
“Are we… actually going in to the sea?” inquires my daughter as I speed towards the shoreline, but I can tell by the tone of her voice that she already knows the answer.
We are on Islay, a favourite holiday spot for generations of Hunters since the 70s and, as it happens, the place where a clutch of prototype Land Rovers were put through their paces way back in the early days of the brand. They scaled sand dunes, crossed peat bogs and probably careered haphazardly from one distillery tour to the next, but I have other plans.
At the head of Loch Indaal, an inlet of the Atlantic that almost splices the island in two, a narrow shingle spit reaches into the water. On a calm day, you can drive 100 yards from the shore and the sea will only be halfway up the wheels, giving the impression to passers-by that Land Rovers can walk on water. But today is not a calm day. A strong southerly is blowing up the loch, whipping white-topped waves over the bonnet. A mere 50 yards into this caper, the tension in the cabin can be cut with a knife. Water laps under the floor of the car – a most unnerving sensation – and I wimp out of going any deeper. Passengers suitably terrified, I perform a five-point turn, starboard side to leeward, trying not to steer off the spit and into deeper water, and head back to dry land.
Next stop: a road that’s been closed to traffic since I was a tot. On closer inspection, it might have been out of action since the Vikings dragged their boats ashore near here a millennium ago. A lochan of stagnant water, 100 yards long and stained inky black by the peat that leaches into it, stands between me and where the track re-emerges on its far bank. I can’t see the bottom. Proper Land Rover procedure calls for welly boots and a metre stick to gauge the depth, but I’ve left mine at home. I invest all my faith in the Defender’s ability to drag me through the mire, and it doesn’t let me down.
Ah, Defenders. I like them so much, I bought one. From a friend on Islay, coincidentally. It arrived just in time to smash the deep snow of 2009 into submission and I’ll never part with it. It tows horseboxes, broken down cars and broken down trucks. Years of living by the sea have played havoc with its chassis, but a man is going to weld it better and, one day, I’ll save up and treat it to a galvanised steel skeleton from one of the myriad Land Rover accessory shops around the UK. Mark my words, it’ll still be running long after I’m pushing up daisies.
Going places in a Land Rover Defender is a little bit like flying economy class in an Airbus. You sit miles above the ground, it can be bumpy, there’s never as much legroom as you’d expect from something so enormous and, no matter how many times you’ve done it before, you always mutter a prayer of thanks when it gets you to your destination in one piece.
It would be easy to dismiss the Defender as a relic of the past – it can trace its DNA back more than 60 years and, outwardly at least, the current version hasn’t changed much in quarter of a century. This means that some of the traits that have plagued Land Rovers for decades remain: the interior door handles jab you in the thighs, the handbrake lever embeds itself in the driver’s left calf and the turning circle in the long-wheelbase 110 version is a joke. Although this crewcab pick-up version is billed as a five-seater, space in the rear row is tight, to say the least. Think of it more as a “2+3”
But there is good news: A bang-up-to-date 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine gives the Land Rover a top whack of 90mph, a full two miles per hour faster than Marty McFly needed to reach in the De Lorean to go back in time. The 0-60 time is an irrelevant 15 seconds, but the engine (sourced from a Ford Transit) is tuned to deliver a wide band of torque right from the bottom of the rev range, so the big Landie never feels short of breath. Whap it into sixth at anything above 45mph and it’ll cruise all day, happily going with the motorway flow. Steering and ride quality are no better, no worse, than many of the Far Eastern pick-up rivals who have stolen the Land Rover’s thunder in recent years.
The dashboard at last has some degree of ergonomic appeal, and creature comforts come in the shape of air-conditioning, electric front windows and heated seats that toast your bottom and lower back. There’s no sat-nav and, although the stereo has an accessory port, it doesn’t have a USB slot and won’t do any of that Bluetooth interaction stuff with your mobile phone. A trip to Halfords will cure those shortcomings.
We are fortunate to drive some very cool cars at Scotsman Motoring. In my humble opinion, the Defender is the coolest of the lot. Yes, I’m biased – I own one, I sport a beard and I like wearing checked shirts – but I’m not the only one who thinks the Defender rocks. Aside from its Hebridean jaunt, it prompted cries of “Whoa, badass!” from an American tourist lady and triggered the camera shutters of a hundred tourists as it raced the tide across the causeway at Lindisfarne.
The Defender’s final act before Land Rover HQ claimed it back was to carry four of us, plus gear, to the foot of Ben Nevis for a day’s hillwalking. Yes, you could do the same thing in a family hatchback, but only a Land Rover allows you to sit in the visitor centre car park, gaze up at the mountain and ask your passengers: “Will we just drive there?”
CAR Land Rover Defender 110 Crew Cab Pick Up
PRICE £29,500 (£29,885 as tested)
PERFORMANCE Max speed 90mph, 0-60mph 14.7secs
MPG combined 25.5
CO2 EMISSIONS 295g/km
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Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 19 June 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 19 C
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Wind direction: West
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