Owen Evans, 35
The Land Rover Defender has a small but fervent group of supporters. And they won't be disappointed by its face-lift, says Andrew Dewson


Model: Land Rover Defender 90
Price: £26,235
Engine: 2.4-litre diesel
Performance: 0-60 in 14.7secs; 28.3mpg
C02: 266g/km
Worth considering: Jeep Wrangler, Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen, Santana PS10

I've always wanted to join a secret society. But the Skull and Bones didn't have a chapter at my university and my trouser legs are short enough as it is without rolling one up. However, a secret society is within reach of anyone who chooses to buy this particular car – because every other Defender driver that passed me by waved enthusiastically, confirming that there's a brotherhood out there based on a car that most people assume is aimed at farmers, soldiers and eccentrics.

The Secret Society of Land Rover drivers only applies to the Defender. A poncy Discovery or Freelander won't get you in. This is not a car for suburban housewives to drop the children off at school in, and this is definitely not an SUV. It is a utility vehicle: unglamorous, uncomfortable, slow and basic. But hard as nails: a sort of motoring equivalent of Jack Charlton.

By way of celebrating 60 years of production, Land Rover has given its oldest and most trusted product something of a face-lift. The front lines are a little smoother, and, as far as looks go, it stands up well against the current generation of Chelsea tractors. But enthusiasts can breathe easy; this is still undoubtedly a Land Rover. The rivets are still visible on the bodywork, and despite minor tampering there's no mistaking what kind of car it is. That's why it's so easy to spot other Defenders and give them "the wave".

The biggest single factor affecting Land Rovers over the last few years has been reliability. The cars have a poor record of engine problems and technical faults. That isn't a problem for enthusiasts – most know the owner's manual back to front and like nothing better than spending a weekend under the bonnet.

But for ordinary people, it's a big issue, so Land Rover's owner, Ford, has bitten the bullet and decided to put in one of its own engines. The result is a decent ride, although traditional Land Rover drivers may be disappointed to find that teeth aren't rattling as soon as soon as the speedo hits 40mph.

Inside, there is even a proper dashboard, and air conditioning, too. In older, tougher, days, air conditioning used to be supplied by a flap at the front. Our school cadet force had one and you had to be careful not to let your hands freeze on to the steering wheel on winter days.

On the whole, though, the improvements make for a much better car. Fair enough, but numbers in the Secret Society of Land Rover Drivers are unlikely to swell significantly on the back of the latest edition. Probably just how they would want it.

David Dewson, 38, dentist, Reigate, Surrey
Usual car: Subaru Outback 3.0 TD

I thought the green/grey colour was wonderful, the ripple of rivets down the rear sides reinforcing an impression of utility rather than luxury. The exterior door handles were flimsy, the switch gear a strange hybrid of parts from an Austin Maestro and Ford Focus, and I could see daylight when I looked down at the join between door and footwell. The windscreen wipers were so poor it would be advisable just to stop. But I loved it. Then I got back into my Subaru Legacy Outback and understood very clearly why I haven't yet purchased a Defender. If you need a rugged work-horse, go Land Rover; for everyday driving, I'm keeping my Subaru.

Owen Evans, 35, business owner, South Godstone, Surrey
Usual car: Range Rover 3.0 TD6 HSE

Well, to start with I am a bit of a country boy, so I have driven various 4x4s for years now. The trouble with this one is that the "new" Landy is, in fact, very, very old and it feels it. It has air conditioning, leather seats, six speeds and all the goodies you would expect on a plush SUV but it really cannot hide its age. The driving position is very cramped and the road manners are slightly grumpy. I can only compare it to a granny with a boob job, in suspenders, high heels and a leather miniskirt. Regardless of how hard the old girl tries she just ain't very attractive compared to some of the younger models out there. My advice? Look elsewhere.

Mick Heaver, 35, customer experience manager, London
Usual car: Saab 9-3 1.8T Convertible

My father owned a Land Rover when we lived in Norway in the Eighties, so I was interested to see what has changed. And, I'm pleased to say, not much has. Let's be honest, you don't find yourself inside a Land Rover by mistake. This is a work-horse, a utility vehicle, and thankfully it doesn't try to hide the fact. However, I'm 6ft 5in and Land Rover seems to have forgotten that there may be farmers and the like built like me; for us, the driving position is restrictive. Anyone needing a reliable vehicle that has worked for them over the years should treat themselves to an updated model; they won't be disappointed – as long as they're less than 6ft tall.

The Verdict

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