The 2009 Land Rover Defender 110 and 2008 Jeep Unlimited: Two of the most capable and rugged 4x4s you can find.
When something is described as ‘an acquired taste’, it's usually a way of saying you probably won't like it.
A case in point was Jeep's previous-generation Wrangler: It definitely was an acquired taste.
Despite being too rough and ready for some, it flew the firm's off-roading flag good and high. Didn't fancy a Defender? In reality, the Wrangler was your only sensible alternative in the off-road utility sector.
Now, the Wrangler is more sensible. This new model addresses many of the old car's issues: Space, refinement, quality and safety.
Cabin space is much improved, but unfortunately the quality isn’t. You're not going to nit-pick about the cabin quality of a serious off-roader, are you? Of course you are — we're a demanding lot these days and Land Rover's Defender might be able to get away with hard plastics because they’re still of high-quality, with everything screwed together properly to last for decades. The Wrangler Unlimited feels like it’s designed for a life-span of a disposable razor.
The materials feel like they’ve come out of a Christmas cracker. Rough edges, hard plastics and cheap switchgear are inexcusable in any car, let alone one hovering over the Dh130K mark.
The Unlimited’s cabin, in that sense is disappointing. Everything feels a bit dodgy although the MyGig multimedia system is fantastic. Buyers benefit in terms of practicality if they go for the Wrangler Unlimited, which puts the car on the shopping lists of go-anywhere active families.
While the Unlimited is fine for those adventurous types, living with a Wrangler, day in, day out, could be a chore. But at least the wind noise is pleasingly low and there are no suspension rattles or clunks, thanks, in part, to the hugely-stiff chassis. And it tracks straight and true on the highway, making long distance trips straightforward.
Twin front and side airbags are a welcome sight, as are ESP and ABS brakes. There's also some clever anti-roll electronics, and you can't forget the Wrangler's core attribute: Shift on the fly, switchable four-wheel drive complete with low-range ’box. Powering the car is a 3.8-litre cast-iron V6, developing a measly 202bhp, but at least the Unlimited has 321Nm of torque. Town driving involves nothing more than trickling around in a high gear, while maintaining a steady highway pace isn’t too much of an arduous task. The four-speed auto, though a tad dated, is reasonably smooth.
The Wrangler will appeal to anyone seeking a compact, recreational, go (almost) anywhere 4x4, and there's no doubt it's a quantum leap in the right direction over the two-door version.
The Unlimited variant adds a new dimension, because, for the first time, a family will be able to enjoy the Wrangler experience. And, like the two-door car, it feels almost invincible off road, and comes with a removable rear hard canopy and roof panels. For sure the Wrangler won't appeal to everyone, as it's still a little too extreme for someone raised on a diet of Japanese sports utility vehicles — or soft-roaders if you’re feeling less generous.
The only compromises customers face are the cabin and performance.
Land Rover Defender 110
It’s fair to say Land Rover’s Defender is something you can rely on when the going gets tough. No sandy slope is too steep or slippery, and no wadi is too rocky. It’s also pretty good when it comes to towing stuff, be it trailers, camel boxes or lesser 4x4s that got stuck.
Many people buy the Defender to fulfil a particular role: It could be towing or to gain access to tricky locations off the beaten track. But what about the times when you need to go to the malls or whiz up the E11?
In the past, even the most tolerant driver would wince at the prospect of racking up on-road miles in a Defender. This was understandable when you consider the 4x4 was never designed to mix it with regular cars. Refinement was never the idea.
Times change and new competitors seek to steal the Defender’s crown as the off-road king. Some bring greater refinement and comparable levels of go-anywhere ability, but never together. It is this which has allowed Landy to extend the vehicle’s life. Now, it’s never been in better shape thanks to a raft of improvements. Good news for the UAE driver, as the car’s recently gone on sale here.
With the 2.4-litre diesel engine under the bonnet delivering more power and torque but less noise and nasty emissions, taking a Defender to the shops no longer involves your fillings shaking loose.
The other surprise is the quality of the gearshift, which is refined, while the sixth gear has made highway cruising easy. So much so, it’s all too easy to overtake regular cars. There’s also a more solid feel in the cabin. Granted, the basic layout is the same, but the vehicle’s fascia adds a welcome car-like dimension along with car-like ergonomics.
In practice, it confirms the work of the Land Rover engineers. For the ultimate in versatility, you can’t go wrong with the 110 Station Wagon, which really is a go-anywhere people carrier. The two optional rear seats can be swung from the side to increase the total count to seven, making this Defender more versatile.
You don’t get fancy storage options of a conventional people carrier. But with those extra seats out of the way, there’s room in the rear for all manner of objects, from luggage to diving gear for a weekend of adventure sports up in Khasab.
Best of all, Land Rover’s practicality translates into rubber matting everywhere, allowing you to clean the various areas without having to taint precious trims. The best bit about this Defender is the fact that it’s such a user-friendly drive. Yes, the steering still requires a fair few turns and focuses the mind when negotiating city traffic, and the ride can be harsh on rough roads, but the engine does wonders for on-road refinement.
Physically, the Defender towers over the Jeep Unlimited. As it does, too, as a full-size 4x4. The Def is rock-solid, on and off road and is built to last — and feels it. There truly is no more capable car off-road. Yes, it’s agricultural, but it does the job. It costs more than the Jeep but you get what you pay for.