Land Rover Defender Puma 90 SW

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Keywords: Land Rover Defender Puma 90 SW

Description: LAND ROVER: the mere mention of the name conjures up images of macho men covered in leeches, up to their knees in mud, deep in the Peruvian jungle. The Land Rover nameplate reflects a brand that has

LAND ROVER: the mere mention of the name conjures up images of macho men covered in leeches, up to their knees in mud, deep in the Peruvian jungle. The Land Rover nameplate reflects a brand that has a global go anywhere, do anything reputation, hence the company’s by-line “The best 4x4xfar”. Having just turned 60, the entire Land Rover empire has this iconic shape to thank for its success. The silhouette remains largely unaltered from post WWII to now, and practically utilises the same materials as the very first models to roll of the Solihull production line, including those famous aluminium body panels…

Late in 2007, the new Defender made its local début. The distinctive shape continues with its familiar heavy-set “jaw”, circular headlamps, tiny taillamps, exposed door hinges, externally mounted spare wheel, and pop-riveted body panels. There is a sense of logic about the squared-off corners and slab sides. In the bush, one always knows where each corner of the vehicle is, especially the front extremities, which are visible from the driver’s seat. Practically speaking, it works. In general, we all found in favour of its looks; it gives the impression of being a no-nonsense machine and, of course, there is the small matter of longevity. The Defender profile has endured, and we suspect that the die-hards would have it no other way.

Once you’ve done perusing the exterior, and wondered how you’re going to manoeuvre the almost five metres long behemoth into your garage, you get to use the remote central-locking. Yes, it has central-locking. The remote, however, does require one to be a matter of centimetres away from the vehicle to de/activate the locks.

If you aren’t a Victor Matfield clone, then you are going to have to climb up into the cabin, as there isn’t a grab handle for the driver, the closest thing to hand being the steering wheel. As expected, one sits really high up. The view is fantastic, but a vehicle this tall does have its drawbacks. Slam the door shut, as you have to do to overcome the enlarged door seals – part of the NVH upgrade – and you realise the first problem, space. Once the driver’s door is shut, all the room on your right side disappears. In fact, even the smallest member of our team felt slightly cramped. One has to lean inwards, ideally with your left hand on the central bin, to allow your right arm any freedom of movement. This tilted stance is the same one you adopt while driving if you don’t want to chafe your elbow. The seat feels too narrow, with inadequate fore/aft adjustment.

Glance around, and the scene is somewhat utilitarian, agricultural even. The facia is large and square, as are all the buttons. Circles are only used for the ventilation and CD player controls and air-vents. Speaking of air-vents, the fresh air intakes below the front windscreen that were a hallmark of Landys of old, are no longer part of the ventilation system, which is a new, more efficient version. The controls are pretty easy to operate, if sometimes oddly positioned. The switches that operate the front window lifts are found on the facia, and not on the doors. The handbrake lever is in the traditional position of low-down and alongside the driver’s left calf, and some of our testers made repeated painful contact with this poorly placed item. Facing the driver is a neat, large, uncluttered instrument binnacle. Dials are well marked and easy enough to read, except when you experience a reflection, making them illegible.

For the 110, part of an enhancement package is the adoption of three-point safety belts for all seven passengers. The middle row of seats is comfortable enough, and the seat splits and tumbles out of the way to increase loading space. At the rear are a pair of individual chairs that can also be stowed. This rearmost pair are placed so that the occupants sit higher than those in front. From a viewing perspective it works, but these passengers had better not be too tall lest they make contact with the roof… Luggage area is not secure or partitioned in any way, which leaves all your belongings on display.

Perceived quality is definitely lacking in the interior, and the inside door handles look as though they’ve been sourced from Builder’s Warehouse.

One of the rubber seals on the rear doors detached itself from the frame, and the trim surrounding the driver’s side cabin mirror also started to peel away. There isn’t a hint of soft-touch plastic anywhere in the interior. This is all wash-and-wear. One of the the Defender’s biggest revisions makes itself apparent when you fire it up. Sourced from elsewhere in the Ford stable, the 2,4-litre in-line turbodiesel four is a unit that offers 90 kW and 360 N.m of grunt. Trying to set off, highlights two traits. One, all the controls are heavy: the throttle has a very strong return spring, the clutch is stiff, and the gearlever has a long throw, so this is not a car for sissies. And two, the steering system is an antiquated worm-and-roller set-up. Even with a large diameter steering wheel, the Defender still requires over three turns from lock-to-lock. If you’re not expecting it, trying to leave the office car park becomes a flurry of arm-twirling.

There is a new six-speed transmission, coupled with the customary permanent four-wheel drive, that has been tailored for off-road driving. First gear is short, and one has to affect a gearchange pretty soon after taking off. When trying to exploit the new engine’s increased power, you are made aware of the turbo’s lag low down. Hard on the gas, the engine runs out of steam pretty quickly, too. And all the while the diesel mill is very vocal about its presence, which adds to the character, if not refinement.

Thanks to widely spaced ratios, sixth is very long, and constant rowing of the ’box is required to stay in the power band to maintain cruising momentum. The gearshift procedure may have a long-throw action, but isn’t vague in gear placement.

Performance is pedestrian, with a 0-100 km/h time of almost 20 seconds. Top speed is a leisurely 131 km/h, making this to be one of the slowest vehicles we’ve tested in years. Not that either of these figures will matter to the majority of prospective buyers.

From a ride and handling point of view the Defender is biased towards off-road use. At both ends, a solid axle is suspended by coil springs, which makes for a wooden ride. One tester was sure he’d ridden a rodeo horse that moved with more grace than a Defender. If there is any grip to be had from the large tyres, none of us was confident enough to exploit it.

However, we did venture into the bundu with the test car, hoping to place it in its natural environment, and in this setting the Defender shone. The strong chassis makes sense, as do the pronounced corners, which make placement very easy. Even the short gearing that made every journey a see-saw affair made more sense once dealing with obstacles, koppies and water splashes.

Utilising the low range on the transfer case and standard centre diff lock, the Defender feels unstoppable, like you could drive straight across Africa, without using any roads. But there are very few people who will ever actually do so.

Where does all this leave our protagonist? It costs a fortune, for what you get. The ride, handling and power are woeful, and it is quite unwieldy in urban trafic. It is, however, highly adept when driven off the tarmac. The Defender fulfils just one role, that of a macho, go anywhere off-roader, and if you can live with its poor on-road comfort long enough to enjoy your weekend off-road jaunts, this is the vehicle for you. If, however, you need more from your car, it’s best to look elsewhere.

The 90 is arguably a more accurate facsimile of the original Land Rover model, and is 745 mm shorter than the 110.

From the driver’s seat, there is little to differentiate the pair until you turn your head and glance into the rear of the cabin. Back there you will find two individual seats, and very little else. The seats are mounted in a stadium arrangement, which allows the rear occupants to peer over the heads of those in front. Unfortunately, this does reduce headroom to some extent. If you’re over 1,8 metres tall, expect no daylight between your head and the roof lining. Another annoying aspect is that the wheelarches impinge on legroom, which essentially means one has to sit skew to avoid them. There is very little in terms of luggage space behind the rear seats. And while the rear chairs do fold away when not needed, they still take up a fair amount of room.

Due to its smaller size, the 90 SW tips the scales at a couple of hundred kilograms less than the 110 model. This mass reduction helps towards achieving a sprint time of 17,61 seconds from 0-100 km/h. Top speed is identical to the 110 model at 131 km/h. In-gear too, the 90 is a bit quicker, but not so much that one would notice the difference.

The most marked difference between the models, interior space and seating aside, is the 90’s reaction to steering input. And as the name indicates, the wheelbase is significantly shorter, by some 20 inches, and this helps in the manoeuvrability stakes. Other than that, it is as archaic in terms of ride quality, NVH, and comfort levels as its bigger brother.

In all, if you really have to have a Defender but don’t necessarily need the extra seating, or indeed have the space to park the 110, this is the better option. In our eyes it looks cooler – or less utilitarian at any rate. It is also cheaper, for the same spec-level. And its smaller dimensions make it more wieldy which should make living with it on a daily basis an easier experience – but only just.

Photogallery Land Rover Defender Puma 90 SW: