Perhaps as curiously British as tea and scones or cricket, the Land Rover Defender is something of an institution in certain parts of the world. Largely unknown in the US, its ancient roots can be traced back to 1948, making it automotive aristocracy, although genuine aristocracy is more likely to be driving the Range Rover than the old Defender these days.

That’s hardly surprising given how the Defender drives. It’s gotten away with a jarring ride, impossible turning circle, hopeless brakes and asthmatic performance for far too long. It’s seemingly as ineffectual on the road as it is adept off it, allowing the Defender to be reprieved from criticism like an elderly relative thanks to its charm and honesty. However, the rugged crudity is now harder to forgive when off-road utility can be had cheaper and with a modicum of comfort thrown in.

Yet despite its flaws, the Defender remains very cool. Achingly so, thanks to its single-minded utilitarian functionality and legendary status. Somehow, it’s even cooler in its commercial specification, like this Prindiville Defender.

Something of a departure for the company, Prindiville usually specialize in exotic sports cars from Lamborghini, Ferrari and Porsche. However, Alex Prindiville’s love for the Defender was cemented when he met Gary Wood from Land Rover specialist, Alive Tuning.

Despite the Prindiville badges, it was Gary’s company that created this murder-spec black-on-black Defender 90 hardtop. His aim was simply to create a workhorse for those seeking the Defender’s utility but with a degree more comfort.

With more than 100 hours invested, almost every part was either refined, replaced or damped; to a point where you can now hold a conversation with anybody sharing the cabin with you. There are more layers of acoustic damping than any Defender has ever experienced, resulting in a muted rumble from the 2.4-liter turbo-diesel under the hood.

Visually, the Prindiville 90 has departed little from the original shape. However, the front grille is from the SVX model, painted, like the rest of the car, in Sumatra Black. It undoubtedly gives the bluff, angular body panels the appearance they were drawn by a designer’s hand, rather than a draughtsman’s ruler.

Either side of the signature grille, the headlamps have LED technology, which is also transferred to the front bumper. Those bumpers, however, remain heavy metal: this is a Defender, after all…

The rather wobbly stance was improved by Alive tuning’s fast road suspension kit, which drops it a full 4". The changes are extensive, with SuperPro polyurethane bushing introducing castor correction, while custom springs, sway bars and Bilstein B6 dampers provide control.

The result is a Defender that happily goes around bends, allowing you to finally approach a corner with some pace. This is particularly entertaining when Defender owners occupy the passenger seat and scream bloody murder as you defy conventional wisdom.

Turn the small Momo steering wheel and you have room to maneuver without needing to open the window to save your elbow. There’s now some steering response: admittedly not scalpel sharp; but more axe than the hammer of the original.

So it turns without too much roll and leather-trimmed Recaro seats support you as the forces grow; forces you’d never experience in a regular Defender. Unless you were about to take part in an accident!

Larger 18" wheels and road-biased Michelin tires contribute to the feel-good factor, as would the option of bigger brakes. They can haul the Defender down with more assurance than the press-n-hope affair that’s usually experienced.

Naturally, Alive also looked into the 2.4L turbo-diesel. In fact, they fitted a larger turbo and intercooler, a sports exhaust and remapped the ECU. This combination boosts output from 122hp to 190hp, swelling the torque to 460 lb-ft.

It’s the torque that inevitably transforms the Defender on the road, making it easier to keep the Defender moving, requiring less stirring of the clunky manual transmission.

If he wanted more, Alive Tuning could have easily replaced Alex’s four-pot with a 3.2L TDCi five-cylinder unit from the Ford Transit van, or even squeezed the TDV6 engine from the Discovery and Range Rover Sport. Gasoline options are offered too, with Jaguar/Land Rover’s supercharged V8 a tantalizing possibility.

There are limits though, and the 190hp of the 2.4L feels brisk enough, shoving the 90 to 62mph in around 10sec without asking too many questions of the enhanced suspension.

More enjoyable to drive and hugely desirable to own, it’s not an inexpensive conversion but one Land Rover really should be doing as stock. Not that you can have one in the USA, the Defender’s lack of airbags means it can’t be officially imported. Which is a shame, because this might be the best Defender diesel Land Rover never built.

By Max Earey
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