What's New for 1997
After a one-year hiatus, Defender returns in convertible and hardtop body styles. A 4.0-liter V8 engine is standard, mated to a ZF four-speed automatic transmission. A redesigned center console includes cupholders, and hardtops have new interior trim. Convertibles get improved top sealing, while all Defender 90s are treated to fresh paint colors.
When launched as a 1994 model, the Defender was the only convertible-topped sport-utility vehicle with a V8 engine. Macho, go-anywhere looks aren't an illusion, as the off-road talents of this high-priced fantasy machine, operating with permanent four-wheel drive, rank among the finest. Occupants are surrounded by a "Safari" roll cage setup, over a spartan and uncomfortable interior. Don't try to roll down the soft-top's windows, which slide open for ventilation and can be removed if desired.
In late 1995, a limited production run of hardtop Defenders debuted, able to seat six passengers in slightly more sophisticated interior fittings. No 1996 models were produced, thanks to emissions regulations and the limited production nature of the Defender. With the transplantation of the powertrain from the Discovery, the Defender returns for an encore performance for 1997, in both convertible and hardtop body styles.
Long-travel coil springs front and rear help produce an acceptable ride over a variety of terrain. A removable fastback soft top is standard on the convertible. Optional configurations include a Bimini half-top and surrey-style roof -- or no top at all. Hardtops feature an aluminum roof and four center-facing rear jump seats. Convertibles come with a rear bench seat. A swing-away spare tire adds to interior space, and passengers ride on weather-resistant twill-effect upholstery.
Propulsion comes from a 4.0-liter aluminum V8 that yields 182 horsepower, driving a ZF four-speed automatic transmission. Riding a compact 92.9-inch wheelbase, the Defender wears aluminum body panels with minimal front and rear overhangs. Neither airbags nor antilock brakes are available, and the brief option list only includes a CD changer and special Beluga Black paint.
Land Rovers aren't known for silence or for sedate behavior, on or off the road. Gears are noisy, and road sounds are likely to assault passenger ears. Standing more than six-and-a-half feet tall, the sharply profiled body can't help but lean over when undertaking sharp curves and corners.
High price means the Defender cannot qualify as a value leader among sport-utilities, but you do get the heritage that comes from the company that built the first jungle-trotting Land Rovers, nearly half a century ago.