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Landy 110 on test

2003-12-03 13:30

John Oxley

It's no secret that the original Land Rover was designed in 1948, or that the current Defender shape isn't far removed from the original.

It's also no secret that many of the original Land Rover models are still running, albeit with some parts having been replaced many times over - sometimes whole chassis. Such is the power of a strong spare parts network, plus the fact that Land Rover Defender bodies are made of aluminium, which doesn't rust.

However, early Land Rovers suffered from poor roadholding, a complete lack of ride comfort, and pedestrian power output that made long journeys tedious and time wasting.

Yet still passion for the product remains, fuelled by the company's self-congratulatory advertising and the oft-quoted - but never proven - phrase "Best 4x4 by Far".

The original Series I Land Rover rode on a short wheelbase that owed much of its antecedence to the original WW2 Jeep.

It's well known that the original car shown at the 1947 British Motor Show had a Jeep chassis with a Rover body and engine, Rover designing its own chassis only for series production.


Later, as demand for the tough little vehicle increased, as with so many car designs it grew and grew, through incarnations Series II, then IIa, and III.

However, there was never a Series IV. Instead the 110 was launched. This represented a quantum leap in the Land Rover philosophy.

The vehicle got longer, wider - especially the track - and it now sat on coil springs instead of double sets of leaf springs. The result was much better roadholding, and a much better ride, especially off-road.

Engines were also improved - most significant being the availability of a 3.8-litre Buick-designed all-alloy V8 - and the 110, for a time, ruled the roost as far as 4x4s went.

However, there was another significant happening. Japan entered the 4x4 market, and suddenly "The best 4x4 by Far" started to come under pressure, especially from Toyota and Nissan.

It's 20 or so years since the 110 arrived, and it's still with us, albeit with some minor modifications to the interior - and modern engines - that Land Rover obviously believes is going to get customers flooding into its dealerships.

The latest Land Rover Defenders now sport a redesigned fascia and centre console, housing a new audio system and controls.

This means that much of the painted metal seen on previous models is now absent, replaced by a padded leather-look black plastic.

Ancient controls

However, many of the controls are still derived from the Austin Marina sedan of old, and are still not properly grouped together - although they are better than they used to be.

Take the aircon, for instance. At first sight you battle to decide which of the TWO individual switches controls it.

Adding in a neatly integrated front-loading CD player and radio to the dash layout goes some way to negating the intrusion of the 90 kW 2.5-litre Td5 five-cylinder engine.

But little seems to have been done to the Defender engine compartment or the cab interior to deaden engine or road noise, while the sound of wind hitting the almost upright screen after bouncing past the boxy wings and along the sides is a constant roar at speed.

Another sop to modern motoring requirements is that the Defender 110 Double Cab has central door locking, operated either by using a remote control or the driver's door lock.

And the car looks a bit more modern thanks to the addition of tough side running boards, and front and rear mud flaps.

However, the spare wheel is mounted behind the cab, where it takes up a lot of load space in the relatively short "bak", and since it doesn't have locking bolts, is a constant worry from a theft viewpoint.

Climb aboard

One doesn't merely "get into" the Defender, one has to climb in, using the running boards and the built-in handle on the windscreen pillar.

And once into the driving seat you find yourself in a not particularly comfortable driving position, in a not particularly comfortable seat, with not much adjustment to cater for different body shapes.

Inside there are two individual seats in front and a bench in the back, and access is via wide-opening doors.

The instrument cluster comprises speedo, revcounter, and temperature and fuel gauge right in front of the driver.

Ventilation ranges from straight-into-the-atmosphere via the ancient Land Rover push vents, to full (standard) air conditioning, and as mentioned takes some getting used to.

Once worked out - and it's best to read the handbook - a reasonably cool interior can be achieved, albeit with lots of accompanying noise from the fan.

I've mentioned front seat comfort, and those in the back fare even worse - they might be forgiven for thinking that Land Rover has been a bit parsimonious with the knee space.

Build quality

Build quality on our red test vehicle was not particularly good, with lots of rattles and squeaks lending their loud voices to the many complaints we continue to receive about Land Rover products.

The engine is an easy starter, as expected in a modern vehicle, and quickly settles down to a merry clatter that one DOESN'T expect to hear today.

That said, the 2.5-litre 90 kW Td5 intercooled direct injection turbo diesel delivers its power well, and with lots of rowing from the gearbox you can keep up with the traffic.

The steering is not particularly light, but it's fine for everyday use, and the high driving position and boxy shape - you can see all four corners from the driver's seat - make it easy to place in traffic.

However, the very large turning circle and the length make it difficult to park, especially in a parking garage.

The gear change is chunky and imprecise, and does nothing to endear one to the vehicle. Women may find the car a bit too demanding in terms of their arm and leg muscles...

Off-road the car displays the typical Land Rover attributes of toughness, high and low ratios, and a fair ground clearance, plus a wide (1.5m) track that sits it solidly on the ground and gives a healthy ramp breakover angle.

Permanent four-wheel-drive makes off-road gear selection easy, and the engine delivers a lusty 300 Nm of torque at a relatively low 1 950 r/min to give lugging power extraordinaire.


In this day and age one has to question the raison d'etre for producing a still-basic vehicle, especially since its pricing is definitely NOT at the bottom of the 4x4 market.

Adding in a CD player doesn't compensate for a sore bum - and we wonder how long the CD is going to last in off-road conditions.

And the heavy penalty you pay in cruising speed because of the poor aerodynamics makes the thought of long journeys scary.

But the saddest part of all is that although the Land Rover 110 still has good off-road ability, Land Rover's reputation for reliability has gone out of the window.

With a steady flood of complaints received in my Inbox, together with serious "letters to the editor" in most major newspapers, and "bottom of the list" returns in global consumer surveys, it is apparent Land Rover has to go a long way before it becomes the icon of the off-road industry again.

At the same time there seems to be a lack of either ability or willingness on the part of local Land Rover management to fix the flood of faults - and this is perhaps the biggest problem of all.

Add to that rough and ready fit and finish, and a shortage of comfort levels expected from a car of the 21st Century, and it seems Land Rover has lost the plot.

Certainly, on the evidence before me, I'd rather take any of a number of Japanese 4x4s into the bush before I entrust my family to the dubious reliability of a Land Rover.

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