It’s a shame that the Defender Autobiography was not included in Australia’s allotment of Limited Edition models. As well as a raft of luxury appointments, including full leather interior treatment, the AB also scores an engine power upgrade that results in claimed outputs of 150PS and 400Nm.
Other distinguishing features of this model include two-tone body colours, special logos and badges, and other luxury appointments.
’d heard similar comments all week: “Nice Landie. How old is it?”
“It’s brand new,” I’d respond, usually met with raised eyebrows.
Externally, the Defender Heritage is true to the model’s … err … heritage.
Other than a revised grille and colourcoded steel wheels, there’s little to distinguish the Limited Edition model from any other Defender of the past 30 years or so. But that deep Grasmere Green metallic paint with contrasting Alaska White roof is enough to make this example stand out from the crowd, giving it an authentic look that’s more reminiscent of the original 1948 Land Rover than later-model coil-spring variants, of which this is one of the last of the line. After all, that green hue is purposefully reminiscent of the post-WWII surplus-RAF paint that was used on the original Land Rovers that came out of the company’s Solihull factory.
Land Rover Australia has only brought 69 examples of the Heritage to our shores: 54 Defender 90s and 15 Defender 110s. It’s the short wheelbase Defender 90 version that best captures the spirit of the original Land Rover, and although it has a recommended retail price of just $54,900, some optimistic vendors have already advertised them online for anywhere up to $95K! There’s little doubt that the Heritage, in both D90 and D110 formats, will eventually become one of the most collectible Defenders of all time.
Other than the aforementioned special paint job and colour-coded wheels, the Heritage scores a few special styling features unique to this
limited-edition model. The Heritage grille and headlight surrounds are colour-coded, the front indicator lenses are clear and there are special aluminium Heritage badges on the front and rear, plus silver door hinges and Heritage logos on the mud flaps. The final exterior flourish is a ‘HUE 166’ decal on the nearside front wing, which depicts the first ever Land Rover’s licence plate number.
There are a number of special features adorning the interior, as well, including Almond cloth seats with Heritage logo stitching, ‘HUE’ seat tags, aluminium finish on the air-vent bezels, clock surround and door handles, and Heritage logos on the
rubber floor mats. Otherwise, the interior is suitably spartan; there’s no carpet, no lining in the cargo area and a distinct lack of sound-deadening material; the latter making it somewhat difficult to clearly hear the excellent Alpine sound system at highway speeds, unless you crank the volume up to rock-concert levels. Do that and you’re rewarded with deep bass from the centrally located subwoofer and clear midrange and treble tones from the high-quality speakers, with barely a hint of distortion, even when it’s wound up loud.
Mechanically, the Heritage is the same as any other Defender, which means you get a 2.2-litre four-cylinder common-rail turbo-diesel engine that makes a modest 90kW at 3500rpm yet a very flexible 360Nm at 2000rpm.
The engine is mated to a sixspeed manual transmission backed by a two-speed transfer case and a full-time four-wheeldrive system with lockable centre differential.
In a concession to modern safety standards, the Defender is equipped with safety features such as anti-lock brakes, electronic traction control and dynamic stability control, but you can forget about life-saving technology such as SRS airbags or air curtains – the lack of which is part of the reason, in fact, that Defender production has now come to an end.
The driving position in the Defender is compromised by the vehicle’s narrow body; there simply isn’t a hell of a lot of shoulder room and bigger blokes and blokettes will find that the only way they can fit comfortably behind the wheel is to wind down the window and place their elbow on the sill. Oh, and there’s not a lot of fore/aft seat adjustment either.
Having said that, those who are height-challenged (like me) won’t have a problem and will feel quite at home thanks to the commanding driving position that offers excellent visibility over the Defender’s short and stubby bonnet. The driver’s seat is quite small, but it offers reasonable support and the centre console allows you to rest your left arm in the perfect spot to effortlessly grab the gear lever.
While the Heritage interior looks fantastic, there are compromises with this authentically old-school design: there are a lot of sharp edges that are great at snagging loose clothing; the air conditioning works well but the fan is noisy; many of the controls
are illogically positioned and poorly labelled, making them hard to operate until you’ve become familiar with them; the head-height front seatbelt anchorages are hazardous; rear-seat passengers don’t get much headroom, despite the high roofline; the panel gaps are uneven; and rusty studs are used to retain the spare wheel on the tailgate. Oh, and although your young kids will probably love the classic Defender shape as though it is a character in one of their favourite cartoon shows, there are no child-seat anchorage points for them.
On the plus side, rear-seat access via the tailgate is easy thanks to a fold-down step and good space between the seats, there’s loads of luggage space when the rear seats aren’t being used, there are four decent luggage tie-down points, and the absence of carpet makes it easy to clean up after an off-road trip.
The Defender 90 Heritage experience will not appeal to many 21st century drivers.
First, the high seating position accentuates the body roll; the short wheelbase and longtravel coil spring suspension combine to make the Defender pitch fore and aft under acceleration, while braking and over uneven surfaces; the wind and road noise levels border on the ridiculous; the 13.4m turning circle is excessive, considering the vehicle’s compact footprint; and the roof height of 2.1m excludes it from accessing some underground carparks. But for those willing to accept these on-road downsides, there are plenty of off-road rewards.
The Defender 90 is simply one of the most capable off-theshelf off-roaders on the market: ground clearance, approach, departure and ramp-over angles are unequalled in this day and age; low-rpm torque
combined with exceptional low-range reduction make crawling over big obstacles a doddle; the live-axle, longtravel suspension endows the Defender with constant ground clearance and loads of traction; the electronic traction control is effective at arresting wheel spin; centre of gravity is low so you can drive on extreme angles, despite the vehicle’s tall stance; the compact dimensions allow the Defender to get into and out of tight spots; and the high-profile 235/85R16 tyres are ideally suited to off-road conditions.
Other Defender 90 positives include a 935kg payload, 150kg roof load, 3500kg towing capacity and impressive 10.5L/100km fuel consumption (as tested), giving a touring range of around 550km from the small 60L fuel tank.
The Defender 90 Heritage might be ultra-capable offroad but its status as a limited edition collector’s item will likely exclude it from seeing much off-road action. Other than this press vehicle, which we were instructed not to damage, chances are the entire allocation of 69 Heritage examples will only be brought out for celebratory occasions such as Land Rover shows and anniversary events. That’s a pity, because there’s no question this vehicle looks its best and performs at its peak in off-road driving.
If I could pick up a Defender 90 Heritage at the $55K RRP, I’d be tempted. But I wouldn’t want to fit a bullbar or other accessories, so it wouldn’t be suitable as a tourer.
No, like other enthusiasts, I think I’d hide it away in a shed and just keep it as an investment. Perhaps a better option would be to buy a standard Defender 90 before Land Rover Australia runs out of stock. I’ll just have to convince my wife. And the bank manager.