We can't do this comparison 'in the flesh' just yet, but that's not going to stop our Off-road Editor from carrying it out in his head.
While multi-vehicle comparisons are a tricky affair in this current climate, one comparison that's on our mind at CarAdvice is how Land Rover's new and re-imagined Defender will take on two of its competitive and history-steeped 4x4 wagons: Jeep's Wrangler Rubicon and Toyota's LandCruiser 76 Series.
The Defender hasn't landed on Australian soil just yet, so to sate the interest in the interim (before we can do this comparison properly), we've pored over the specifications and numbers of the three iconic 4WDs to see which one wins the on-paper comparison.
Yes, Jimny-philes, I know the little Suzuki is more than able to fight in such lofty off-road company. But, it's a much smaller and lighter vehicle at a much lower pricepoint, so the comparison of numbers isn't as telling. And regardless, we'll endeavour to have one along for the ride when we properly compare the new Defender to some of its off-road contemporaries.
While there’s also a powerful inline-six petrol engine available, there’s a punchy 2.0-litre diesel in the new Defender that we like for an off-roading 4WD. We prefer the superior fuel range overall, 18-inch steel wheels and the low-down torque on offer.
It’s Land Rover’s new-generation ‘Ingenium’ diesel engine, which is found in a huge variety of Jaguar Land Rover vehicles. It’s thoroughly modern, with an integrated exhaust manifold, aluminium alloy block (with iron cylinder liners) and a design to reduce internal friction as much as possible.
The diesel engine makes 430Nm at 1400rpm, and either 147kW in base D200 spec or 177kW in the more powerful D240, both delivering peak power at the same 4000rpm.
If you want more power, however, the mild-hybrid 3.0-litre petrol engine makes a massive 294kW at 6500rpm and 550Nm at 2000–5000rpm, thanks to turbocharging and an electric supercharger that’s powered by the 48V mild hybrid system.
Both engines run through a ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox to a permanent 4WD system.
Jeep’s Wrangler Rubicon has two choices of power plant. One is a very familiar petrol V6 known as the ‘Pentastar’ that carries over from the JK Wrangler. Its 3.6 litres are naturally aspirated, making 209kW at 6400rpm and 347Nm at 4100rpm.
For the first time, the Rubicon can now be had with a diesel engine behind those iconic seven slots. It’s a Fiat ‘Multijet II’ engine, with 2.1 litres' worth of turbocharged capacity (despite being claimed as a 2.2-litre) that makes 147kW at 3500rpm and 450Nm at 2000rpm.
Both engines run through an eight-speed automatic gearbox, with a lever-operated part-time 4WD system.
Toyota’s LandCruiser has only one choice of engine and gearbox, which has been around since 2007: a mighty 4.5-litre turbocharged diesel V8, which makes a not-so-mighty 151kW at 3400rpm and 430Nm at 1200–3200rpm. The numbers are relatively humble, but that torque spread starts low, and is virtually everywhere in the rev range.
No automatic gearbox in this LandCruiser, it’s a five-speed manual running through a part-time 4WD system and auto-locking hubs, or nothing.
Gearing is an incredibly important piece of the off-road puzzle, and it’s one where the Wrangler Rubicon reigns supreme in this company. When petrol-powered, a 77:1 crawl ratio is achieved through 4.1:1 diff gears and a 4:1 transfer case. The diesel Rubicon has a 70:1 ratio, but a lower-revving engine. For rock crawling, such low gearing is invaluable.
Land Rover’s new Defender has a 51.52:1 crawl ratio when diesel-powered, or 57.20:1 with the petrol engine. It uses 2.9:1 gearing in the transfer case, and a variety of differential gear sets, depending on the powertrain.
The LandCruiser has the shallowest gearing of this trio. There’s only 2.488:1 in the transfer case and 3.909 in the differential, leaving a 44.04:1 reduction in Toyota’s venerable workhorse.
Although most serious off-roaders are eyeing off replacement rubber before they have even put their money down, weighing up the standard offering is important. Some manufacturers offer different options of all-terrain and mud-terrain rubber.
Toyota’s LandCruiser runs 225/95R16 in Workmate specification, and 265/70R16 on a GXL. And although the GXL gets wider rubber on flash alloy wheels, the tall skinny rubber (a metric take on the old 7.50 R16) offers a greater tyre diameter and improves overall ground clearance. There’s 833mm on offer, just shy of 33 inches. Or on GXL specification, there is 777mm of rolling diameter.
Regardless of the different specifications and their varying wheel packages, the new Defender has a tyre diameter that remains (almost) completely unchanged: 815mm, or 32.1 inches from the standard-fit 255/70R18 tyres. What does change is that all-important wheel-to-tyre ratio, where the smallest 18-inch is clearly the pick of the bunch and option sizes up to 22-inch dial back off-road suitability. While not as healthy as the competition, the Defender offers a decent amount of sidewall for off-roading.
Australian-delivered Jeep Wranglers get a different tyre to their American counterparts, and the bad news is our rubber is both shorter and narrower. A relatively unique 255/75R17 is used, which equates to 32.1 inches and is dimensionally the same as the Defender (although the 17-inch wheels offer more sidewall). While it’s still good, the 285/70R17 that Jeep uses for its domestic market is better (32.7 inches or 831mm rolling), it would easily have the most impressive tyre from this trio.
The other piece of that off-roading puzzle is the kind of tyre these 4WDs have fitted, and what options they have on the showroom floor. While many will be keen to swap out rubber for something of their own choosing, there are still brownie points on offer.
Land Rover has continued to offer Goodyear rubber on its Defender, with a dealer-fitted option of Wrangler Duratracs being the best choice for off-roaders. This offers a much more aggressive all-terrain pattern, but unfortunately without the option of light truck construction.
Jeep’s Wrangler Rubicon offers two light truck tyres to buyers, and both of them are excellent. Another long-standing car-and-tyre combination, the hardcore Jeep gets BFGoodrich in all-terrain or mud-terrain flavour.
Toyota doesn’t market an alternative tyre option before delivery, instead offering a decent but more pedestrian Dunlop Grandtrek AT1 in GXL specification, or SP Road Grippers in Workmate specification.
Ground clearance is very important for a 4WD, and often is the difference between getting some getting stuck, and others not. So without further ado, here is a table to compare the all-important numbers.
|Defender 110||Wrangler Rubicon||LandCruiser 76|
|Front suspension||Double-wishbone airbag, IFS||Five-link coil spring, live axle||Radius arm coil spring, live axle|
|Rear suspension||Integral link airbag, IRS||Five-link coil spring, live axle||Leaf spring, live axle|
|Ground clearance (mm)||291 (218)||252||230|
|Rampover||28 (22)||21.2||Not supplied|
|Wading depth (mm)||900||760||700|
There is a caveat here, however. These numbers aren't always apples-and-apples comparisons, and are probably more indicative than outright accurate. Measurements are taken against different definitions, and are sometimes a little fast and loose with the truth.
That being said, these do seem to indicate some clear pointers. Despite having good tyre diameter, the bulky underslung leaf springs of the LandCruiser sit low. And on the other end of the spectrum, both independent suspension (no low-hanging live axles) and adjustable air suspension yields the Defender some impressive numbers – highest numbers shown above are maximum clearances with the suspension raised, numbers in parentheses are at 'normal' height.
Weights, towing capacity and payload
The lighter a vehicle is, the better it will be off-road. However, the flip-side of that is certain components need to be heavy-duty (read: heavy) in order to be durable enough. It’s a balancing act, in other words.
When petrol-powered, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is the only vehicle of these three to sneak in under the two-tonne mark, with a kerb weight of 1992kg. Opt for a diesel engine, and that weight goes up to 2160kg. Neither sports a particularly large GVM, or corresponding payload: 2562kg and 570kg for petrol Rubicon, and 2630kg/470kg for the diesel.
The LandCruiser is the next heaviest of these three, with the cheaper Workmate being the heftiest: 2275kg, while the GXL weighs 10kg less. I’d put that down to the alloy wheels. The LandCruiser's payload is generous: 865kg.
Despite having a modern aluminium monocoque chassis and no big lumps of steel that make up live axles, the Defender is the tippiest on the scale. Kerb weight of a diesel Defender D240 is 2383kg, depending on how you have specced the interior seating capacity. Opt for mild hybrid petrol power, and that weight creeps up to 2425kg. Payload is 740kg for the P400 S, and 767kg for the D240.
Want to tow? The Wrangler is worst off, with a 2495kg braked towing capacity for both petrol and diesel power. On the other hand, both the LandCruiser and the Defender will tow the full 3500 kilograms. The Defender's 3150kg Gross Vehicle Mass and 6,650kg Gross Combination Mass means you can use all of your towing capacity and payload at the same time. The LandCruiser is in the same boat, one of the very few that has a GVM (3060kg) and towing capacity that equals the Gross Combination Mass (6560kg).
There are two distinct schools of thought in this area: new tech and old-school. First, let’s look at the Toyota LandCruiser.
With a suspension set-up that’s designed first and foremost for hard-yakka durability over slinky suspension movements, the LandCruiser’s two locking differentials go a long way to help its off-road ability. With 4x4 engaged and your locker dial twisted to ‘FR.RR’, all four wheels are locked together – no leaking of torque to spinning wheels.
When you don’t have your lockers activated, later-model 70 Series LandCruisers also benefit from Toyota’s effective off-road traction-control system, which controls wheel spin by using the ABS (Anti-lock braking system). It's also got hill-start assist, even though low gearing and a big diesel V8 make it one of the easiest manual-geared vehicles on a steep hill-start.
The Jeep has front and rear lockers, as well, running through a rocker switch that effectively locks all four wheels together; part-time 4WD means there is no centre differential that needs locking. And also like the LandCruiser, the Jeep also has an off-road traction-control system that is smartly tuned and fast to react.
Land Rover has two active differentials, which technically aren’t true locking differentials. Instead, they’re electronically controlled limited-slip units, which use electronics and a stepper motor to limit cross-axle wheel spin. The Defender has one of these in the centre and rear differentials, which are controlled by the vehicle (rather than the driver), and although they don’t truly mechanically lock the differential, it’s still a terrific addition to the Defender's off-road ability.
It works, and it works well. Part of this is because it works in unison with the off-road traction-control system called Terrain Response 2, which has selectable and customisable modes according to the terrain. No locking dial or switch to turn them on does take away from the excitement and theatre of a true mechanical lock, but Land Rover’s system is so well tuned it feels mechanical and natural.
An area where there are two, or even three, distinct approaches is suspension. Let’s start with the most time-honoured: the Toyota LandCruiser. It’s a set-up that the model has used since front coil springs were adopted in 1999. The rear leaf suspension (which could have just about been designed for Toyota by Archimedes in around 250 B.C) doesn’t get more traditional for a 4x4.
The front end uses a radius arm set-up similar to older 80 and 105 Series LandCruisers, along with early Land Rovers, Range Rovers and Nissan Patrols. It’s sturdy, simple, and designed to handle a hard life. Although, we’d love it if Toyota fixed the huge disparity in wheel track between fore and aft.
Jeep’s Wrangler uses live axles and coil springs front and rear, with both ends using a five-link set-up that is tailored for crawling, articulation and modification. It’s soft, balanced and stable – exactly the ticket when you want stability and articulation. Rubicon specification gets an electric front swaybar disconnect, which only improves that sense of sure-footedness through tough obstacles.
The new Defender uses a much more modern and complex suspension set-up. Land Rover calls the Defender’s rear suspension ‘Integral Link’, which sounds unique. Suffice to say that there are two control arms, one of which is huge and can be seen from the back of the car. The rearmost arms are long and allow for plenty of articulation (500mm, according to Land Rover), while the front end is more reminiscent of other independent front suspension set-ups. It’s a different design to most and gives some articulation off-road, but not bucketloads.
That articulation is helped by the air suspension, which along with being able to be raised up for improved ground clearance, is cross-linked to help mimic a live axle. It’s not an absolute flex monster like a Wrangler, but it’s still pretty good at the same time, feeling particularly stable off-road.
Now, we’re not daft or brave enough to draw any solid conclusions from a simple spec-sheet comparison of these three off-road 4WDs, but it's safe to say that previous experience tells us they are all very adept in tough conditions. They’re all quite different, and have particular strengths and weaknesses in comparison to each other.
To reach a true verdict, we’ll have to wait for simpler times in the future to get them head-to-head.