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Expert Reviews 1 of 2
By Richard Truett
June 16, 1994
Is a vehicle that is tough enough for the British army tough enough for you? Land Rover of North America, importer of the Range Rover luxury sport-utility vehicle, has introduced two new vehicles for the 1994 model year. One is the four-door
Land Rover Discovery, the world's first sport-utility vehicle with standard dual air bags and four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes. The other is this week's test vehicle, the Defender 90, a stripped-down, two-seat convertible with four-wheel drive, a V-8
engine, a stick shift and a reputation for durability and ruggedness that not even Jeep can beat. The Defender 90 is a direct descendent of the classic Land Rovers that tamed the world's worst terrain. In such areas as the savannas of Africa, the
jungles of Tasmania and the deserts of the Middle East, Land Rovers are one of the few means of dependable transport. Land Rovers are also the vehicle of choice for the British army, as well as military and police forces the world over. I could
write an entire review about how crude the Defender 90's accouterments are. The interior - sans carpeting, roll-up windows, a padded dash and a civilized air-conditioning system - is about as sparse as they come. But to dwell on such things completely
misses the point of this vehicle. If you want plushness in an off-roader, you can get the Discovery for about the same price. The Defender 90 has one purpose: To take you, a companion and a load of outdoor equipment (tents, fishing and hunting
gear, for example) anywhere you want to go. The Defender 90 is one vehicle that you must get in the proper frame of mind to appreciate. If you wear a shirt and tie and drive it to work, you'll probably hate it. But don a pair of boots, jeans and a
khaki shirt and climb into the Defender, and suddenly your sense of adventure comes alive. With the Defender, you must think of the road as an inconvenient but necessary intrusion between off-road areas. The folks at Land Rover aren't trying to
pitch the Defender 90 as anything more than it is: a specialized vehicle for serious off-road buffs. They expect that the Defender will be a second or third vehicle and not one that will likely see everyday use. PERFORMANCE The Defender 90 comes
with Rover's 3.9-liter aluminum V-8 engine, a smooth, lightweight and powerful motor and a five-speed manual transmission. No automatic is available. As with the Range Rover and the Discovery, the Defender 90 also comes outfitted with a permanent
four-wheel-drive system that features a manually locking center differential, which distributes power to the wheels. The fuel-injected engine is rated at 182 horsepower, and it delivers terrific low-speed power. The Defender is one of the few
vehicles I have had a better time driving slow than I did driving fast. Over bad terrain the vehicle seems to love to churn along slowly while it devours bumps, hills and t
hick sand. On the road, shifting can be a little tiresome. The clutch is heavy, and the gears are not always easy to engage while shifting. If you are interested in the Defender 90, look for one that was built after the first of the year. In
January Rover changed the gearbox from one it had been using for about 20 years to an all-new five-speed that makes shifting easier. Land Rover spokesman Bill Baker said the clutch used with the new gearbox doesn't require as much effort. Fuel mileage
came in at 14 mpg in the city and 16 on the highway. HANDLING For the most part, the Defender's ride is punishing. Because the Defender has a short92.9-inch wheelbase and sits high off the ground, the ride is very choppy on the road. That's
why driving this vehicle on a daily basis might lead you to dislike it in a hurry. Except for four-wheel disc brakes, it seems as if Land Rover engineers made little effort to configure the Defender 90's suspension u
derpinnings for commuters. Doing so, one suspects, might have compromised some of the Defender's off-road capabilities. Yet steer the Rover off the road and you appreciate its superstiff suspension system. The system gives you the control you need to
take this vehicle over terrain that would stop other off-road vehicles. The Rover is best when the differential is locked in low gear, and the transmission is in first or second. Moving slow through thick sand and over steep inclines is a blast. I
can't think of a vehicle that can handle this kind of terrain better. In fact, the Defender 90 won Four Wheeler Magazine's 1994 Vehicle of the Year Award. The steering and brakes are heavy and offer a trucklike sturdiness. FIT AND FINISH
Our test vehicle was assembled well, but don't take that to mean that it is a user-friendly vehicle. Because Defender's makers focused on durability, there is very little use of plastic. Such things as the exterior door handles are made of thick
aluminum, and they require much effort to use. There's no carpet. The seats are covered with a waterproof material. The optional ($1,895) canvas top does a barely adequate job of protecting you from the elements. Drive the Rover at highway speeds and
you'll hear plenty of wind noise as the snap-on top flaps in the breeze. The removable door windows don't roll down. Instead, they slide forward on a track. The rear area behind the seats has a thick rubber mat that covers the floor. There's
plenty of room for cargo back there. I was able to transport a bicycle without laying it down. There aren't many luxuries. An AM/FM cassette radio is standard. It isn't mounted on the dash; it is located between the bucket seats in the locking center
console. Our test Rover came with an optional ($1,650) dealer-installed air-conditioning system. The unit did a fair job of cooling the interior. I found the seats to be comfortable on along road trip and in an off-road test. Visibility with the
top up is good. The overall quality of the Defender 90 reflects Land Rover's sterling reputation. Specifications: 1994 Land Rover Defender 90 VEHICLE LENGTH Overall 160.5 Wheelbase 92.9
WIDTH Track-front 58.5 Overall 70.5 HEIGHT Overall 80.2 FRONT COMPARTMENT Head room 39.0 Leg room 46.0 REAR COMPARTMENT Head room n/a
Leg room n/a WARRANTY Three-year, 42,000-mile limited; six-year, unlimited mileage rust protection; 24-hour roadside assistance. MECHANICAL Drivetrain layout: Front-mounted engine and
transmission, permanent four-wheel drive. Suspension: Front, dual rate coil springs, radius arms
and panhard rod; anti-sway bar; rear, single rate coil springs, lower links, A-frame location arms and anti-sway bar. Brakes: Power-assisted four-wheel disc. Engine: 182-horsepower General Motors-designed 3.9-liter (241 cubic
inch) aluminum V-8 with electronic fuel injection. Safety features: Three-point seat belts; built-in roll cage. Fuel tank: 15.6 gallons Weight: 3,560 pounds. Steering: Power-assisted worm-and-roller. Transmission: Five-speed
manual. Wheels: Alloy. Truett's tip: The Land Rover Defender 90 is tough, rugged and powerful, but it's a bit crude on the inside. Although the Land Rover is somewhat pricey, few other vehicles can travel
through rough terrain as easily.