The 2021 Land Rover Defender Can Conquer Anything
The long-awaited rebirth of the iconic off-roader has arrived.
Decades after its popular adventurer left us wanting, Land Rover has finally brought back the Defender. As the utilitarian model in the British marque's lineup, the Defender was adored by all sorts of drivers, and the new one has a lot to live up to.
Needing to satisfy the urban jungle driver as much as the hardcore adventurer, Land Rover has updated the Defender to please anyone. Modernized inside and out, can the Defender still carry city-dwellers in comfort while tackling the most demanding conditions off-road?
All The Good Specs
The new Land Rover Defender is available in two- and four-door configurations, called the 90 and 110, respectively. With a handful of trim levels to accommodate different tastes and demands, I was given a middle-of-the-road 110 SE model to test. Pricing starts in the mid-$40,000 range for the base Defender S, and can get closer to $80,000 for HSE and Dynamic trims. In the Defender 110 SE I tested, the starting price is $62,250, and with a reasonable sampling of options--including two off-road packages--the MSRP for this Gondwana Stone-painted model was $72,780.
Base 110 models get a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 300 horsepower, and all other 2020 and 2021 models are powered by a 3.0-liter turbo inline-6 with a 48V mild-hybrid system that helps it crank out 395 horsepower and 406 lb-ft (550 Nm) of torque. All Defenders get a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive, and a twin-speed transfer box to help take things off-road. The Defender 110 P400 can run from 0-60 MPH in 5.8 seconds, but has a limited top speed of 119 MPH. Power-craving drivers will be happy to know there's a supercharged 5.0-liter V8 option coming later in 2021, with an estimated starting price in the neighborhood of $100,000.
Dimensions for the Defender 110 aren't much different than a Range Rover, with an overall length of 197 inches, width of 79 inches, height of 77 inches (in normal mode), a 67-inch track front and rear, and a 119-inch wheelbase. Land Rover offers a couple seating options, with jump seat options up front and extra spots in the back, and my tester was in the more conventional five-seat setup. In this model, curb weight is 5,035 pounds (or 2,283 kilos). EPA fuel economy estimates are 17/22/19 (city/highway/combined), and with a 23.8-gallon tank, the Defender can easily clear 400 miles in town and over 500 when you're doing more highway miles. We'll dive into the off-road specs further into this review.
The Refined Urban Cruiser
The new look of the Defender sports a distinctive silhouette that is a modern take on the classic Defender from the 1990s. Proportions look fantastic, and short overhangs with chunky wheels and tires look correct. While it seems large in pictures, the Defender is smart-sized. Up front, the fascia is distinctly Land Rover, with new LED daytime running lights that are a nice throwback to the circular headlamps of the old Defender. I love how Land Rover kept a flat rear end and door that nicely incorporates a modern spin on the classic Defender's taillight setup. Gondwana Stone paint and a black contrasting roof with black roof rails over the optional glossy black 19-inch wheels with all-terrain tires--with a full-size spare mounted on the rear--is an epic spec too.
Knowing most SUV drivers aren't actually taking their cars off-road, Land Rover set up the new Defender to be nicely compliant around town. Being utilitarian at heart, the Defender is pleasantly quiet inside, especially considering that's in a model equipped with all-terrain tires. The mild-hybrid engine setup has smooth power, which isn't terribly quick in this enthusiast's hands, but it's more than enough to buzz around. Electric-assist power steering is light yet precise, and paired with an air suspension and adaptive dynamics, maneuvering the big Defender is a breeze. I enjoyed driving the Defender around Austin's downtown area, and took it on the highway at some quicker speeds to discover it was remarkably smooth and agile in either environment.
Cabin treatments incorporate a nice blend of materials, and the space is massive. Huge windows, an optional panoramic sunroof, and what Land Rover calls Alpine Light Windows create an interior filled with light and a roomy feel. With a big 10-inch infotainment touchscreen, 12-inch driver instrumentation display, and huge dual-zone climate control knobs with integrated temperature displays, the Defender benefits from good controls and screens from the JLR parts bin.
The driver and front passenger are treated to a wide cockpit that maintains a classic Defender beam across the dash, which neatly includes plenty of storage. There's plenty of room in the back seats for adults or for your kids who are building their LEGO Technic model of the Defender. As you open the swinging rear door, you're treated to massive storage space, and the whole area is coated nicely to protect the interior. 40:20:40 rear seats can be folded away easily to create additional space, giving you over 80 cubic feat of cargo volume.
Practical Yet Rugged Inside And Out
Land Rover took plenty of good steps to ensure owners would be happy taking their Defender anywhere in comfort. At first glance, the SE trim appears neat and somewhat rugged. Rubbery surfaces are remarkably soft to the touch, and the "robust woven texture" that covers much of the cabin is as durable as it is upscale.
Designed for overloading adventures, every surface in the Defender is easy to clean. For those who want a more luxurious interior, bump up a trim level over the SE to get more leather and a less utilitarian look. Even in the Defender SE, you're treated to heated front seats with memory, and the cabin is much quieter than you'd expect for a vehicle that can crawl over any terrain.
The delicate balance of off-road ready yet refined is nicely executed inside the Defender, and I dig the look of exposed fasteners blended into the ensemble of materials and exterior paint that carries over into the cabin. Another nice touch from the classic Defender is a new take on the rubbery coverings over the top of the front fenders, that give you a workspace when you're outdoors. For more durable use, Land Rover offers an optional, factory-installed, satin film to protect your Defender's paint.
Tons Of Tech For Any Trek
Bringing along the family on an adventure is great in the Defender, with plenty of outlets for any devices. Land Rover was smart to put multiple types of charging points throughout the Defender's cabin, so no one will be fighting over a plug when you're far from home. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included in the infotainment system, and with an LTE hotspot on-board, there's data connectivity for your devices in addition to over-the-air updates for the Defender's software.
Visibility around the Defender is wonderful, thanks to a camera that turns the rear-view mirror into a display, and the 360º camera system is extra useful when you're driving off-road or navigating a complicated driveway. The Defender is also loaded with tons of safety systems including adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition with adaptive speed limiter, rear traffic monitor, and a clear exit monitor.
No Terrain It Can't Explore
As expected with any Land Rover model, the Defender is designed to tackle off-road demands with ease. Stacked with terrain response, selectable driving modes, and hill descent control, Land Rover gave it plenty of standard features for heading far from pavement. My tester was equipped with the optional all-terrain progress control, terrain response 2, an electronic active differential, and off-road tires, which only added $2000 to the sticker price. With all this kit on-board, the Defender makes wandering any terrain simple, even for the most amateur driver. I like how Land Rover incorporated the terrain mode control as a button next to the climate control knobs that makes the display for the climate knob turn into the terrain mode controller, while the infotainment screen switches over to allow even more comprehensive adjustments on the touchscreen.
To cope with the most extreme conditions, the Defender 110 has 38º approach, 28º breakover, and 40º departure angles. Overhang is 38 inches up front and 45 inches in the back. Ground clearance is 8.6 inches in the normal mode, and bumps up to 11.5 inches in the most aggressive off-road setting. Boasting a 45º maximum angles for ascent, descent, and traverse, the Defender fears no changes in elevation and articulation. If you're fording a stream, you'll be happy to know the Defender can wade through depths up to 34 inches.
Land Rover offers several different individual options and plenty of options packages to give your Defender the right kit for any adventure, which can add quite a bit to your total price if you get wild. I had an abbreviated test stint with the new Defender, cut short by a winter weather disaster that hit Texas. I called off the fun plans I had at a nearby OHV park when ice covered roads the state is not prepared to treat made conditions unsafe for everyone. Hopefully when the Defender 90 or V8 hits the press fleet, I'll have a proper go.
There's Nothing Better For Any Adventure
Land Rover took its time bringing the Defender back to the market, and in doing so, it introduced the best SUV for any terrain and demanding driver. The Defender can take on more of the planet's untapped lands than a Jeep, but with far more refinement inside without being much more expensive than a loaded Rubicon. Mercedes' G Wagen may be just as capable capable, but costs significantly more. Ford's new Bronco will give the Defender a run for its money on the trails at a lower cost, but without the nicer fit and finish Land Rover provides.
We all know more of these will end up in shopping centers than spotted along off-road trails, but whether you're a mall crawler or a rock crawler, the Defender is the best 4x4 by far. In my eyes, it's the best production off-road vehicle ever made.