Defender Buying Guide: Budget and Engine Types

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A good Defender or a cheap Defender? It's difficult to find both : credit: © LRM Archive
In part two of our guide, we talk budget and how to choose the best engine to suit your intended use

Set your budget

You can have a good Defender or a cheap Defender, but it’s incredibly rare to find a good, cheap Defender. That can be fine, if you’re after a project to get stuck into, but if you just want to jump in and drive, expect to pay for the privilege. The good news is that the over-inflated prices Defenders fetched during the pandemic are settling down to more sensible levels, and they hold their true value like no other. Eyewatering depreciation is not something the Defender suffers with – buy at the right price and look after the Land Rover, and you’ll see most, if not all of that money back if you ever sell.

 

£0-3000

This is real project territory. Unless you’re buying from a friend or relative that’s sorting you out with a blinder of a deal, it’s almost certain you’ll be busting out the spanners (and probably the welder) and tackling a good chunk of work if you score a Defender at this price point. Even pre-1990 One Tens and Ninetys will be in need of some serious love – but if you’re handy with the tools and want a total rebuild with fresh chassis and bulkhead that will last you forever, then this is more of an opportunity than a problem.

 

£3000-5000

You should be able to buy a Defender with at least some MoT left for £3000-5000, but it will no doubt need some work in the near future, if it doesn’t already. High-mileage and hard-worked trucks fit into this category, in all wheelbases. If you want a rough-and-ready off-roader or something you can use while you save for a bit of an overhaul, you might get lucky and score a gem; but realistically, expect to have to invest some time and cash to bring it up to standard for reliable daily use. On the upside, the age of Defenders that fit into this category have the luxury of very affordable and plentiful parts supply, and their simplicity makes them ideally suited to DIY spannering.

 

£5000-8500

This is where your options start to open up a bit more. Leggy Td5 hard tops and truck cabs that need some mechanical love and some cosmetic tidying are within reach, and you should be able to comfortably purchase a Tdi of your choosing if you want to stick to fully-mechanical simplicity. They won’t be absolute minters, but the chassis and bulkhead should be sound and the Defender should drive smoothly and have no major issues.

 

£8500-12,000

At this price point, you can take your pick from some tidy unrestored earlier models, very respectable Td5 commercials and there’ll even be some 2.4 TDCi Puma Defenders creeping into your price range. This is where buying on condition and history will come into play, rather than age. Yes, you could have a ropey ex-farm 2007-2011 pick-up, but do you really want one when you could have a well looked after Tdi station wagon?

 

£12,000-18,000

We’re into cared for Td5 station wagons now, in both 90 and 110 flavours. Tdi-powered models in this range should be relatively low-mileage, unabused examples with either light overhauls completed or nice, original bodywork and clean interiors. You might find a TDCi station wagon for this money, but it probably will have lived a life. You’ll be taking your pick from tidy, coveted Td5 commercials of all shapes and sizes with this amount of cash in your pocket, and keep an eye out for Land Rovers that have had a galvanised chassis fitted – this is a real bonus and a great futureproofing asset.

 

£18,000-25,000

If you’re looking at buying a Defender with this sort of wallet candy, congratulations, you can take your pick from pretty much anything bar the very last run-out models and meticulously restored and rebuilt vehicles. Beware of overpriced nonsense with freshly machine-polished paint and chintzy alloys fitted, but with flaky history and no underbody rust prevention or mechanical care to speak of. Instead, focus on finding a genuinely loved example with an honest trade or private seller who doesn’t mind you going over the Land Rover and its service history with a fine-toothed comb. Whether you’re after something completely unmolested or tastefully modified, view plenty and don’t settle for anything sub-standard.

 

£25,000+

New Defender holds its money better than most rivals

The crème de la crème of Defenders awaits you. Obviously £25k is a starting point for the very most desirable models – the three limited edition run-out specials (Heritage, Adventure and Autobiography) are just the start. More on those later.

You can choose from myriad specialists that can build you a Defender to the exact spec you want, with galvanised everything, and whatever engine you please. Or, take a trip to Land Rover Classic’s Ryton showroom and peruse the stock; from subtly tweaked ex-factory cars to the sumptuous and muscular 70th Anniversary 5.0-litre V8, there’s always an amazing selection to pick from.

Of course, this budget also opens up the possibility of new Defender – ultra-refined, incredible off-road and with an aftermarket that’s growing by the day. It’s not just a Defender by name; sure, it might lack some of the original’s charm, but as a daily user an L663 is not to be sniffed at, and more and more are starting to appear on the used market. Tempted? It’s hard not to be...

 

Let’s talk engines

What you plan to do with your Land Rover will play a big part in what you choose to power it.

The first One Tens, launched in 1983, came with engines that were lifted straight out of the outgoing leaf-sprung Series III. With consumers demanding more power and torque, Land Rover soon offered larger capacity units, and then turbocharged them to make the most of the new coil-sprung truck’s better suspension and brakes.

There’s been a whole host of engines used over the years, some petrol, some diesel. If you plan to cover a lot of miles in your new purchase and want to be able to keep up with modern traffic, you really want at least a Tdi – the revolutionary powerplant that was introduced with the Defender name in 1990. Older units will do the job, but the newer the engine, the smoother and more refined they become – at the expense of simplicity.

 

2.25 Petrol

2286cc four-cylinder petrol, 1983-1985; Power: 74bhp at 4200rpm; Torque: 120lb-ft at 2000rpm

Now a rare sight under the bonnet of the One Tens they were fitted to at Solihull back in 1983, the two-and-a-quarter petrol was lifted straight out of the outgoing Series III and plonked between the chassis rails of the then-new One Ten. Many have since been removed and replaced with a Tdi from a Discovery, to improve fuel efficiency and useability on modern roads.

The 2.25 petrol only had a short stint in a coil-sprung chassis, as the vehicles were capable of handling so much more grunt, and their new owners knew it; pressure was quickly put on Land Rover to introduce something with more guts. Nowadays, if you find a One Ten still with its 2.25 petrol fitted and you don’t mind more sedate motoring, snap it up.

 

3.5 V8

3528cc V8 petrol, 1983-1994; Power: 113bhp at 4000rpm; Torque: 185lb-ft at 2500rpm

Offering a decent hike in power and torque over its contemporary four-cylinder stablemates, the Buick-derived Rover V8 offers buttery-smooth power delivery and a beautiful exhaust note to go with it. Stringent servicing is key with all Rover V8s, as the camshaft and lifters suffer badly if oil changes are neglected; a stretched timing chain and worn sprockets can also give lacklustre acceleration.

Even a brand-new carburettor fed 3.5-litre won’t set the world on fire with its performance, but considering the negligible difference in fuel consumption between it and the four-bangers, it’s a great choice if you’re looking for a petrol-powered Land Rover. A V8 guarantees a smile every time you strike it up and go for a drive.

 

2.5 N/A Diesel

2495cc four-cylinder diesel, 1984-1990; Power: 66bhp at 4000rpm; Torque: 113lb-ft at 1800rpm

If you prefer diesel power and aren’t in a hurry, a naturally aspirated (non-turbo) 2.5-litre is a solid choice. After all, thousands of military 90s and 110s used this hardy lump, and a great many of them are still on their original engine.

You’ll find yourself driving with your foot flat on the floor most of the time, but the relatively unstressed indirect injection diesel can take it if serviced properly, and it’ll idle for days without a problem.

Being derived from the 2.25 diesel used in Series IIA and III (and some very early One Tens) there are plenty of N/As kicking about and parts are reasonably priced.

 

2.5 Petrol

2495cc four-cylinder petrol, 1985-1994;  Power: 83bhp at 4200rpm; Torque: 133lb-ft at 2000rpm

Due to customer demand and lack of funding at the time to develop a whole new powerplant, Land Rover decided to take the venerable two-and-a-quarter and stroke it to 2.5-litre capacity, dubbed Project Harrier. The base engine was fundamentally the same as the old one, sharing the same chain drive and bore size but using a revised cylinder head capable of burning unleaded petrol, along with different inlet manifold and carburation.As with the 2.25, many have been removed from their original homes, so original motors can make great buys if you can find one and can stomach the fuel consumption. It’s a sweet, quiet and smooth engine.

 

2.5 Turbodiesel

2495cc four-cylinder turbodiesel, 1986-1990; Power: 85bhp at 4000rpm; Torque: 150lb-ft at 1800rpm

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With requests for more power still coming in and competition from Japanese rivals, the time had come for Land Rover to try to keep up, which it did by turbocharging the old 2.5 diesel. Despite some revisions to the engine beforehand, the 2.5 turbodiesel had its fair share of issues including cracked pistons and blocks, worn bores and a penchant for overheating. Check for heavy breathing by watching for oil mist puffing out of the filler, and keep an eye out for a pushed-out dipstick – sure signs of a tired turbodiesel.

They’re an okay engine for pottering about, but their weaknesses will soon become apparent if regularly pushed hard.

 

200Tdi

2495cc four-cylinder turbodiesel, 1990-1994; Power: 111bhp at 4000rpm; Torque: 195lb-ft at 1800rpm

Introduced with the Defender name in 1990, Land Rover really got it right with the 200Tdi. It offered a useful jump in power and torque over the wheezy 2.5td, and backed it up with legendary durability. Yes, it sounds a bit agricultural nowadays, but a 200Tdi will cover serious mileage and expect very little in return if serviced properly and looked after.

The Tdi uses a timing belt rather than a chain, which should be replaced every 60,000 miles or five years, whichever comes first, and keep on top of oil and filter changes. Do this, and a 200Tdi will reward you with smooth performance, around 30mpg, and enough grunt for towing.

 

300Tdi

2495cc four-cylinder turbodiesel, 1994-2006; Power: 111bhp at 4000rpm; Torque: 195lb-ft at 1800rpm

Offering the same power and torque figures as its predecessor, the 300Tdi is actually a completely new engine rather than just an updated 200 as many believe. It is quieter, more refined and will still push a Defender along fast enough to meet national speed limits, but it lacks some of the small things that make the 200 as bulletproof as it is – the water pump is mounted right at the top, for example, so the engine will overheat more quickly in the unfortunate event of a major coolant leak. For general use, though, it remains one of Land Rover’s great successes, and its mechanical injection makes it popular for those afraid of wires.

 

4.0 V8

3946cc V8 petrol, 1997-1998; Power: 190bhp at 4750rpm; Torque: 236lb-ft at 3000rpm

Okay, you won’t see all that many Defenders for sale with a factory-fitted 4.0 V8, but the ones you do see are likely to make you want to part with money. The 4.0-litre, which is actually the same capacity as the 3.9 that came in the Discovery and Range Rover Classic, albeit but with a cross-bolted block and other revisions, was fitted to the UK market 50th Anniversary 90 and North American Specification (NAS) Defender – both incredibly desirable models. Fuel-injected eight-cylinder power in a short wheelbase makes for a smile-inducing drive, at the cost of circa-15mpg fuel consumption.

 

BMW M52

2793cc six-cylinder petrol, 1997-2001; Power: 192bhp at 5300rpm; Torque: 208lb-ft at 3950rpm

Another rare beast, but one to consider if you can actually find an example for sale, the 2.8-litre straight-six BMW M52 is more commonly found under the bonnet of the German car maker’s saloon cars, but makes for a real talking point in a Defender. Just over 1000 Defenders left the factory with the smooth and muscular 2.8 under the bonnet, all destined for the South African market. With V8-like power figures and a heady 6250rpm rev limit, it makes for an entirely different driving experience. Expect fuel consumption to hover around the 20mpg mark.

 

Td5

2495cc five-cylinder turbodiesel, 1998-2006; Power: 122bhp at 4200rpm; Torque: 221lb-ft at 1950rpm

Boasting an impressive production run of eight years and still getting the job done under the bonnet of thousands of Defenders and Discoverys today, the Td5 came along in 1998 with more sophisticated fuel injection and an extra cylinder. Despite criticism at the time for being electronically-controlled, the Td5 is one of the best units ever to be fitted to Defender, and is a tough, simple unit to work on. As with all turbodiesels, regular servicing with quality parts will help it last, and the aftermarket is bursting with tuning options to squeeze impressive power and torque figures from the venerable five-pot.

 

2.4 TDCi

2401cc four-cylinder turbodiesel, 2007-2012; Power: 122bhp at 3500rpm; Torque: 265lb-ft at 2000rpm

The first of the Ford-derived four-cylinder turbodiesels introduced to keep Defender alive, the 2.4 TDCi offered the same power as the outgoing Td5, albeit with a helpful glob more torque and cleaner emissions. A six-speed gearbox was another first for the 2007 model year, giving a useful extra ratio and slightly more refined cruising thanks to a geared-up transfer ’box.

Fuel metering problems and exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) valves can give problems, but generally aren’t too hideous to sort. Injectors and their clamps, on the other hand, are a bigger issue on high-mileage units. Injectors cost around £230 each, and need to be coded to the engine.

 

2.2 TDCi

2198cc four-cylinder turbodiesel, 2012-2016; Power: 122bhp at 3500rpm; Torque: 265lb-ft at 2000rpm

The second revision of Ford power and final engine to be fitted to the original Defender, the 2.2TDCi has the same amount of power and torque as the older 2.4, but adds a diesel particulate filter (DPF) and other revisions to further improve emissions.

For those who only use their Defender for short, lower-speed journeys, the DPF can cause problems as it never gets hot enough to burn off the soot it catches and blocks up. This is worth bearing in mind if you are looking at a post-2011 Defender – be aware of how the system works and what you need to do to keep it happy, or you could find yourself constantly battling with a DPF warning light.

 

5.0 Works V8

4999cc V8 petrol, 2018; Power: 399bhp at 6000rpm; Torque: 380lb-ft at 5000rpm

Talk about going out with a bang – back in 2018, to mark 70 years of Land Rover, JLR shoehorned a 5.0-litre Jaguar V8 and eight-speed autobox into late-model Defender 90s and 110s, and the 70th Anniversary Works V8 was born. With only 150 built and a starting price of £150k, you needed deep pockets to buy one new, and will still need them now.

The same engine and gearbox combo has since been used in the yellow Trophy and snow camo Trophy II Defenders, and more recently, the Islay Edition 90.

With a zero to 60mph figure of just 5.6sec, you’ll be pleased to hear massive brakes come as standard, but MPG is poor.

 

Defender L663 engines

Six-cylinder Ingeniums are better suited to towing and more refined when pushed hard

Much like the originals, current Defenders come in both petrol and diesel versions. But unlike their namesake, you get hybrid options too. Most are still dealer-serviced and covered under their original warranty so you shouldn’t have to worry too much whichever you choose.

The very earliest diesels were badged D200 and D240, which were both four-cylinder Ingeniums kicking out 197bhp and 236bhp respectively. These were dropped early on in the L663’s life, and replaced with six-cylinder Ingeniums – D220, D250 and D300, all of which are equipped with mild-hybrid tech. While there’s nothing strictly wrong with the early four-pots, they aren’t as well-suited to heavy towing as the sixes, and are thrashier and less refined when pushed hard up to speed.

If petrol is more your thing, you have P300 (2.0-litre four-cylinder), P400 (3.0-litre six-cylinder) and P525 (5.0 supercharged V8) models to choose from. They’re all wonderfully linear in power delivery, and the extra hybrid kick that the plug-in P400e offers means it’s snapping at the heels of the big V8; just 0.3 seconds slower to 60mph. The V8 does it in 5.1sec, which is very impressive for a vehicle of its size – it’ll see off most cars.

 

In part three, we start the search, show you what to look out for, and share some tips for the test drive...

 

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