It's not every day that you find an automobile with the design characteristics of a bridge.The 1997 Land Rover Defender 90 Station Wagon is such that its strength offers as much versatility in the wilds of Indiana as it does in the bush of Africa.The Land Rover, which several years ago set the tone for the current generation of sport/utility vehicles, is recognized by 40 percent of the world's population as the first, and often the only, motor vehicle they have seen.Billed by Land Rover as the world's toughest 4x4 (four-wheel drive), the '97 Defender 90 is just as strong as its Series I and Series II predecessors but is far more civilized.It also is priced competitively and offers new technology in the engine, transmission and interior design.The station wagon will be available as a hardtop by the end of this month for $34,000. It will be offered as a convertible for $32,000 in the spring of 1997."It's somewhat of a specialty market," said Steve Kern, general manager of Tom Wood Land Rover. "It's a limited-production vehicle, so sales are limited by availability. But there is a great deal of interest developing due to all the new features."Recognizing that serious American off- roaders want power, the 90 is serving up a larger 4.0-liter (241-cubic-inch) V-8.Designed around a parameter that is almost as old as the automobile itself -- overhead valves -- the fuel-injected V-8 puts out 182- horsepower and 233 foot-pounds of torque.The engine is of an advanced design, with aluminum alloy heads and block, distributorless ignition, and a large sump (oil pan) to assure longevity under the worst conditions.The V-8 gives the wagon the ability to go straight up the side of the mountain or tow up to 5,000 pounds over paved roads or dirt trailways.Land Rover also recognized that not every driver is enthralled with shifting his or her gears. As a consequence, the '97 Defender 90 is being offered for the first time with a standard ZF four-speed automatic transmission. No manual gearbox is available.The automatic is the ZF 4HP22 four-speed that produces quick response and firm shifts. It works in conjunction with an upgraded transfer case that uses new gears and a stronger housing that reduces noise.Land Rover says the transfer case's low gear range of 3.3-to-1 is superior to any new off-road vehicle except the Land Rover Discovery model. That combination of long throttle travel and smooth automatic transmission makes the 90 easy to drive on the trail.The 90 is a compact set of wheels with a 92.9-inch wheelbase and overall length of 157.1 inches. To make full use of its interior, the Defender is more than half as tall as it is long - 80.2 inches of overall height.Despite its short length, the wagon offers six-passenger seating. The transmission shift levers are mounted in a center console, which generally would indicate five passengers. The vehicle utilizes a clever arrangement of four center-facing, stowable rear se ats that expand the passenger capacity to six.When the convertible 90 gets here, it will feature a removable rear bench seat that will accommodate four.Both the hardtop and convertible are built on a full boxed frame and feature aluminum body work and a Safari cage. The cage, which amounts to a rollover cage, is made of cold-drawn seamless tubing and is secured directly to the frame to provide maximum security if the vehicle should go off its wheels.To enhance vehicle strength and ruggedness, Land Rover does not follow the current independent front-suspension system adopted by many sport/utility vehicle manufacturers.Instead, the front axle as well as the rear are live (solid housing), with the front suspension featuring progressive rate coil springs and shock absorbers allowing over eight inches of travel.The full floating rear axle uses trailing links and linear rate coi ls for nearly a foot of travel.
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||July 4, 1997|
|George Moore||IndyStar.com||November 10, 1996|
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