Defender Engines rated

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By Dave Phillips

01 January 2018

Best Land Rover Defender Diesel engines rated 2018 : credit: © Alisdair Cusick

In production from 1983 through to 2016, Defender saw eight very different diesel engines under the bonnet. But which one is best? We put them head-to-head...

What we tested

• 1983 Ninety/One Ten 10J 2.25 Naturally Aspirated, 62 bhp/103 lb-ft
• 1984-1986 Ninety/One Ten 12J 2.5 Naturally Aspirated, 85 bhp/150 lb-ft  
• 1986-1990 Ninety/One Ten 19J Diesel Turbo, 68 bhp/113 lb-ft
• 1990-1994 Defender 200Tdi, 111 bhp/195 lb-ft
• 1994-1998 Defender 300Tdi, 111 bhp/195 lb-ft 
• 1998-2007 Defender Td5, 122bhp/221 lb-ft
• 2007-2012 Defender 2.4 TDCi, 122 bhp/221 lb-ft
• 2012-2016 Defender 2.2 TDCi, 122 bhp/265 lb-ft

Here in the UK, the vast majority of Defenders have a diesel engine under the bonnet. And with Defenders in production for so long – from 1983 to 2016 – that means there is a bewildering number of diesel options to choose from. This special feature is all about helping you choose the right diesel for your needs. We’ll make that easier by comparing them and awarding points for Performance, Reliability, Availability, Value and Iconic Status. But before you make your choice, you need to know a little bit about their history...

Today we take our diesel engines for granted. Most Land Rovers in Britain, and most of the rest of the world, are powered by oil-burners. But it wasn’t always this way.

Although the diesel engine was invented in the 1890s, development of this super-efficient source of power was slow. Thus when the first Land Rover was introduced in 1948, a diesel variant wasn’t even an option. Diesel engines were seen as big, noisy beasts suitable only for heavy commercial vehicles.

But attitudes changed in the 1950s. Farmers were still Land Rover’s biggest customers, and by now diesel had become the primary source of fuel for most farm machinery. It was cheaper than petrol, taxed less heavily, and most farmers had their own bulk storage tanks of the stuff. 

Plus, thirsty petrol-powered Land Rovers were expensive to run. Diesel engines achieved more miles per gallon. This is because diesel is 20 per cent heavier, and therefore every gallon stores 20 per cent more energy. Also, the thermal efficiency of a diesel engine is greater. In other words, more of the heat from combustion is converted into power to the crankshaft, rather than escaping through the exhaust.

In 1953 the Turner Manufacturing Company of Wolverhampton answered the demand for a diesel-engined Land Rover by introducing two small diesel engines suitable for conversions – most notably the L60, a 2.0-litre two-cylinder engine giving 40 bhp and 75 lb-ft of torque. A larger L40 3.0-litre version was also produced, but sales were disappointing.

In 1954, Solihull briefly considered installing a Ferguson diesel tractor engine under the bonnet of the Series I, but thankfully decided instead to develop its own diesel engine – a 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit that was too big to fit into the existing engine bays of the 86- and 107-inch Series Is, so both were stretched to 88- and 109-inches to accommodate it, when it was launched in 1957. This, incidentally, was Land Rover’s first overhead valve engine (the petrol option was still a sidevalve). It achieved 52 bhp and 87 lb-ft.

Development of Land Rover’s diesel engine was slow. In 1962, with the introduction of the Series IIA, the diesel engine was enlarged to 2.25-litres, which gave it a power boost – to 62 bhp / 103 lb-ft. 

Land Rover addressed the lack of power issue in 1979 by introducing the Stage One V8, with a 3.5-litre petrol engine borrowed from the Range Rover. But it did nothing about the lacklustre diesel, which apart from increasing the number of main bearings from three to five in 1981, had remained unchanged since 1962. Even when the One Ten was launched in 1983, the first models got the old 10J 2.25 diesel engine. It wasn’t replaced until 1984, when the Ninety was added to the line-up and both models were fitted with the 2.5-litre 12J engine – the same engine with a longer stroke to boost cubic capacity. It resulted in 67 bhp / 114 lb-ft.

Tony Gilroy joined Land Rover as managing director in January 1983, arriving just in time to see the prototype One Ten, prior to its launch later that year. He was particularly unimpressed by the desperately-underpowered diesel engine and his reaction was said to have been unprintable. 

Things could have been very different if Project Iceberg – an ambitious plan to create a diesel version of the legendary Rover V8 petrol engine – had come to fruition. Launched in 1981 as a joint venture with diesel engines giant Perkins, the aim was to produce a naturally-aspirated 3.5 V8 delivering 100 bhp, as well as a turbo version capable of 125 bhp. But the project was thwarted by Land Rover’s insistence on retaining too many of the features of the existing petrol engine and Perkins’ inability to keep costs down.

Our test Defenders are put through their off-road paces at the Billing Off-road Course. Photo: Alisdair Cusick

Dawn of the turbo

With Project Iceberg’s meltdown, Land Rover went back to the drawing board. In 1986 it came up with the 19J Diesel Turbo, which was essentially the naturally-aspirated 2.5 engine with a turbocharger bolted on. It produced 85 bhp / 150 lb-ft. But it was only a temporary measure.

By June 1987, with its dire diesels now an automotive laughing stock compared to what the company’s Japanese rivals could offer, Land Rover launched Project Gemini. The original plan had been to create a new generation of diesel and petrol engines, but it was soon decided to concentrate on the diesel. Just over two years later, in August 1989, 200Tdi engines were being assembled.

The original Discovery was launched late in 1989 and the Defender in 1990. Both had the new 200Tdi engine under the bonnet. With 111 bhp / 195 lb-ft, it was a revelation. So was the refined 300Tdi, which followed in 1994 with the same performance figures but delivered slightly more quietly.

Although often thought of as a BMW product, the Td5 engine, which appeared in both Defender and Discovery 2 in 1998, was solely a Solihull creation, given the code name Project Jay. Like Project Iceberg before it, it was supposed to spawn a whole new family of engines. Instead there was just one – the five-cylinder 2.5 turbodiesel that would eventually enjoy the longest stint below the bonnet of a Defender (nine years). Some 310,000 were built before it went out of production.

It was followed in 2007 by the TDCi engine, a 2.4 turbodiesel from Ford’s own range of Puma engines that fitted under the Defender’s bonnet once the latter had been redesigned to accommodate the taller lump. It enjoyed 122 bhp / 265 lb-ft. It was followed by the 2.2 TDCi in 2012, a smaller engine that met ever more stringent EU emissions regulations, yet boasted identical performance figures.

From 1957 to 1986, when the 19J turbocharged 2.5 engine appeared, Land Rover’s diesels hadn’t progressed very far in three decades. But in the 30 years since, they have come on in leaps and bounds. Every time the EU has raised the bar on emissions levels, a new generation of Defender diesel technology has risen to the challenge.

So which one is best?

Pre-1987 naturally-aspirated diesels are sluggish by modern standards, but they have character and will pull all day long. For everyday motoring, though, it makes sense to choose a turbo. The 19J Diesel Turbo has a reputation for being unreliable, but from 1990 and the introduction of the 200Tdi, there have been a succession of powerful and incredibly reliable diesel engines for Defender. 

Land Rover diesels usually outlast the vehicle they were supplied with. That’s why there are so many good Tdi and Td5 engines available from rusty Discoverys that have been scrapped. Look after your diesel engine (religiously adhering to service intervals and using top-quality lubricants and filters) and it will most probably outlast you, too.

Now read on as we look at each engine in more detail – and reveal the winner...

 

The Diesel Turbo has a reputation for being unreliable but if looked after is a good performer. Photo: Alisdair Cusick

10J 2.25  Naturally aspirated (1983) 

When the original One Ten was launched in 1983 there were only two Land Rover models: the Land Rover and the Range Rover. The model wasn’t given the Defender name until after the Discovery was launched, in 1989. But with its coil-sprung chassis, it is a Defender in all but name and therefore is very much part of this feature. But for the first year, it did retain one important item from its leaf-sprung ancestor – the 10J 2.25-litre naturally-aspirated engine.

This sluggish lump of cast iron was hopelessly outdated at the time of the One Ten’s launch. It was slow, noisy and thirsty compared to modern diesels. That’s fine if you don’t mind touring the countryside at 45 mph, but this isn’t the sort of car for motorway touring. Hang a laden trailer or caravan on the back and you’ll be overtaken by cyclists on uphill climbs.

Because of all this, very early One Tens with their original engines are very rare – and therefore of historic value. So if you do find one, for authenticity’s sake you really should keep that engine under the bonnet.

Performance: 0/2
Reliability: 2/2 stars
Availability: 0/2 stars
Value: 1/2 stars
Icon status: 2/2 stars

TOTAL: 5/10

 

Naturally-aspirated diesel engines are underpowered by modern standards 12J. Photo: Alisdair Cusick

2.5 Naturally Aspirated (1984-1986)

In 1984, the 2.5-litre version of the diesel engine, displacing 2495 cc and producing 68 bhp, was introduced in both the One Ten and the newly-arrived Ninety. This was a actually a long-stroke version of the venerable 2.25-litre unit, fitted with updated fuel injection equipment and a revised cylinder head for quieter, smoother and more efficient running. A timing belt also replaced its predecessor’s timing chain.

In production for two years, a lot of these engines were sold and, due to their longevity, many are still around. They do indeed seem to plod on forever, but they are very slow for modern traffic conditions, and some tend to overheat during driving at top speed (60mph!) under load with, say, a caravan or trailer.

Performance: 1/2
Reliability: 2/2 stars
Availability: 1/2 stars
Value: 1/2 stars
Icon status: 2/2 stars

TOTAL: 6/10

 

19J Diesel Turbo (1986-1990)

The Diesel Turbo engine was introduced in the autumn of 1986. It
was a turbocharged version of the existing 12J naturally-aspirated 2.5-litre diesel, with some modifications to cope with the extra power. These included a heavy-duty crankshaft, teflon-coated pistons and toughened steel exhaust valves to cope with the higher running temperatures. It also got an oil cooler and a more efficient belt-driven fan, with eight blades. 

But it certainly wasn’t a new engine. It shared the same block casting and several other components with the 2.5 naturally-aspirated as well as the 2.5 petrol. In fact, all three were built on the same production line at the Solihull factory.

The Diesel Turbo produced 85 bhp – a 13 per cent increase over 12J – and a 31.5 per cent increase in torque to 150 lb-ft. Externally, Diesel Turbo vehicles differed from other models by having an air intake grille in the left wing to supply cool air to the turbo. 

This was the standard diesel engine for UK and European markets, although the naturally-aspirated version remained in production for export to the Third World as well as the military.

Unfortunately, the 19J gained a reputation for poor reliability, with major failures to the bottom-end and cracked pistons. It was improved in 1988 and 1989, but was replaced by the 200Tdi just a year later.

Performance: 1/2
Reliability: 1/2 stars
Availability: 0/2 stars
Value: 1/2 stars
Icon status: 2/2 stars

TOTAL: 5/10

 

All Defender diesels take wading in their stride. Photo: Alisdair Cusick

200Tdi (1990-1994)

The 200Tdi’s arrival in 1990 transformed the Defender. The engine was loosely based on the 19J Diesel Turbo and shared its 2.5-litre displacement, but it had a modern alloy cylinder head, improved turbocharging, intercooling and direct injection. Even so, it retained quite a few parts from its predecessor, including the engine block, crankshaft, bearings and cambelt. 

It solved the 19J’s tendency to breathe its own sump oil, by fitting an oil separator filter. But, of course, its biggest strength versus the outgoing engine was the massive power increase – up nearly 25 per cent but with excellent fuel economy of just under 30 mpg. Suddenly the Defender was able to keep up with modern traffic; whether cruising at high speed on the motorway or towing heavy loads. 

This engine will provide reliable motoring for 200,000 or miles if properly serviced. Until recently, a ready supply of used engines was available from scrapped early Discoverys, but these are now getting scarcer.

Performance: 1/2
Reliability: 2/2 stars
Availability: 1/2 stars
Value: 2/2 stars
Icon status: 2/2 stars

TOTAL: 8/10 (Third Place)

 

The 300Tdi is without a doubt the overlanding diesel engine of choice. Photo: Alisdair Cusick

300Tdi (1994-1998)

The year 1994 saw another development of the Tdi engine, the 300Tdi. While the 200Tdi had been based on the old 19J Diesel Turbo, nearly every part of the 300Tdi was new. It shared the same capacity and identical performance figures to its predecessor, but it was quieter and more refined.

The 300Tdi wasn’t without its problems, though. In the early models a slight cambelt pulley misalignment caused some belts to fray and fail, causing expensive engine failure. These were all quickly rectified, though, and the 300Tdi is just as unburstable as the 200Tdi.

Just as secondhand 200TDCi engines became available thanks to the demise (through rust) of early Discovery 1s, the same now applies to the later Disco 1s and good units can be picked up relatively cheaply.

Many enthusiasts see the 200/300Tdi era as the golden age of Defender ownership. You can see why.

Performance: 1/2
Reliability: 2/2 stars
Availability: 2/2 stars
Value: 2/2 stars
Icon status: 2/2 stars

TOTAL: 9/10 (Runner-up)

 

You’ll always make a splash with a diesel Defender. Photo: Alisdair Cusick

Td5 (1998-2007)

The Tdi era was a tough act to follow, but the Td5 engine did just that when it was introduced in 1998. This was the last diesel engine ever produced by Solihull and it was some finale. This engine combined typical Land Rover toughness and durability with cutting-edge common rail injection technology. Electronic injectors fed diesel at extremely high pressure (22,000 psi) to the five combustion chambers and delivered a dramatic increase in power. It was quieter, more refined and met the tough new Euro III emissions laws.

This engine had its critics, but they were all traditionalists who didn’t like the new engine’s reliance of electronics. They predicted it would soon breakdown and wouldn’t be able to handle the extreme off-road conditions under which the Tdis thrived. It didn’t. In fact it turned out to be every bit as reliable as the Tdi engines, but with a welcome boost in performance that gave it a squirt of extra power and torque.

The Td5 was the longest-lived of all the Defender diesels, under the bonnet from 1998 through to 2007. There’s no doubt it would have remained there another decade until the end of production if it hadn’t been for yet tougher Euro emissions rules. 

Today’s traditionalists see the Td5 as the pinnacle of Solihull’s diesel development – and you can see why.

When it comes to availability of secondhand engines, it is a case of history repeating itself. Just as 200Tdi and 300Tdi engines became available when Discovery 1s rusted away, the same is now happening with Discovery 2s, which are being scrapped due to catastrophic chassis corrosion, and which usually have good Td5 engines under the bonnet.

Performance: 2/2
Reliability: 2/2 stars
Availability: 2/2 stars
Value: 2/2 stars
​​​​​​​Icon status: 2/2 stars

TOTAL: 10/10 (Winner)

 

2.4 TDCi (2007-2012)

Throughout its life, Defender sales had remained pretty consistent, with around 25,000 sold every year. That sounds a lot, but it was not nearly enough to justify the cost of creating an all-new engine to replace the veteran Td5, which in 2007 was about to fall foul of the  latest EU emissions rules. Land Rover’s owners at that time were Ford, who did the pragmatic thing and replaced the Td5 with one of its own family of DuraTorq engines.

The 2.4-litre Puma diesel, which had already proven itself under the bonnet of the Ford Transit van, was chosen. It was badged TDCi for the Defender. The engine was too tall to fit under the bonnet – a minor problem that Land Rover solved by redesigning the bonnet with a power bulge to accommodate it.

The 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine was the equal of the outgoing Td5, with an identical 122 bhp and 221 lb-ft. Land Rover’s engineers also reworked the TDCi to ensure it was capable of operating under extreme off-road conditions.

Performance: 2/2
Reliability: 2/2 stars
Availability: 2/2 stars
​​​​​​​Value: 1/2 stars
​​​​​​​Icon status: 0/2 stars

TOTAL: 7/10

​​​​​​​

Final Defender diesel is the smallest at 2.2 litres but the cleanest and most powerful. Photo: Alisdair Cusick

2.2 TDCi (2012-2016)

Diesel engine developers were really kept on their toes from the 1990s onwards. The lifespan of the original 2.4 TDCi was just five years. By 2012 it had to be either modified or replaced in order to jump through the latest Euro emissions hoop. Owners Ford chose the latter option, as the latest addition to the DuraTorque family, the 2.2-litre ZSD-422, was capable of meeting Euro V standards.

By this time, it was common knowledge that the end of production of the Defender as we knew it was in sight, so this was very much a stopgap measure. However, the 2.2-litre engine, although smaller than the existing unit, had the same level of power and slightly increased torque. It also had a diesel particulate filter – the first appearance of one on a Defender.

The last Defender, a soft-top 90 fitted with a TDCi engine, rolled off the Solihull production line on Friday January 29, 2016. It will be interesting to see what diesel engine (if any) will be under the bonnet of the new Defender, which is due to be launched in 2018-19.

Performance: 2/2
Reliability: 2/2 stars
Availability: 2/2 stars
​​​​​​​Value: 1/2 stars
​​​​​​​Icon status: 0/2 stars

TOTAL: 7/10

 

Our thanks to Bob Ayers, Alan Beaumont, Robin Reynolds, Ian Broadhurst for bringing their diesel Defenders along for this photoshoot. See 90dirtyadventures.com