Used 1997 Land Rover Defender Review

Edmunds expert review

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.

Vehicle overview

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.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.