You’d expect anything wearing a Land Rover badge to be capable off-road, and the 2021 Land Rover Defender has well and truly proved it’s got that ability when the going gets tough. Speak to anyone at Land Rover though, whether they be a designer or engineer, and they are adamant that a Land Rover must also be comfortable and premium on road.
On the back of our off-road review then, let’s take a closer look at how the Defender behaves around town – an environment plenty of them will find themselves in regardless of how good they are off-road.
Read our full pricing and specification guide.
Our tester is the Land Rover 110 P400 S variant, and it’s fitted with some serious off-road gear – Terrain Response 2, all-terrain rubber, and the optional rear e-diff. Pricing for this one starts from $95,335 before on-road costs, and with the options our tester has, the price rises to $123,616 before on-road costs.
|2020 Land Rover Defender 110 P400 S|
|Engine (capacity, cylinders, type)||3.0-litre turbocharged inline six-cylinder, 48V mild hybrid|
|Power and torque (with RPM)||294kW @ 6500rpm, 550Nm @ 2000–5000rpm|
|Transmission||8-speed torque-converter automatic|
|Drive type (FWD, etc)||Full-time 4x4, locking centre and rear differential, low-range|
|Kerb weight||From 2361kg|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||9.9L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||11.8L/100km|
|Boot volume (5-seater – Min, Max)||1075L, 2380L|
|ANCAP safety rating (year tested)||Untested|
|Warranty (years / km)||3 years / 100,000km|
|Main competitors||Nissan Patrol, Toyota LandCruiser, Jeep Wrangler|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$123,616|
One criticism of the Defender since launch has revolved around pricing. Fans of the brand believe there should be more affordable models available, and that this new variant is out of reach for some of them. That may be true, but when you factor in the pricing of the competition, the durability of the platform, and the quality of the execution, it’s difficult to argue the price point.
We make the note every time we test a Jaguar/Land Rover product – options pricing can get stratospheric if you tick every box, but the other side of that equation is the fact that buyers at this end of the market generally like to customise their order. Regardless, you can buy the Defender without getting too deep into the options pool, if you choose to.
Despite the rantings of some of the faithful – and they’re entitled to their opinion of course – this new Defender is in fact the most capable Defender that’s ever been made available. The ease with which it can negotiate the toughest off-road terrain is comical. Whether you’d want to punish your 100k outlay in that manner is another discussion entirely…
We’re focusing our test on-road here of course, and as such, you’d almost certainly opt for more road-focused tyres, as well as side stepping any off-road specific options like the e-diff, if you felt you weren’t going to use it. Confining a Defender to around town duties is nothing new, and the face value level of build quality and design indicates that there’s plenty of street cred in owning one as a city dweller that never sees dirt.
The 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder is, as we’re seeing more and more, inline rather than a V configuration, and generates 294kW at 6500rpm and 550Nm between 2000rpm and 5000rpm. It’s also working with a 48V mild hybrid system. The engine is mated to an eight-speed torque converter automatic and full-time 4WD, as is de rigueur for Land Rover vehicles.
The other thing that’s de rigueur for 4WDs these days is heft, and the Defender is no lightweight. It’s around the 2300kg mark, depending on options and accessories, and the ADR combined fuel claim is 9.9L/100km. Around town specifically, we used an indicated 11.8L/100km – not too bad at all for a petrol engine pushing a big heavy wagon in traffic.
Land Rover designers and engineers talk a lot about what they call the ‘command driving position'. It’s that upright, high seating position that delivers expansive and commanding views of the road ahead – and behind for that matter. The Defender has it, which adds to its bag of tricks around town.
While the Defender is a big unit, the broad visibility makes parking a breeze, and ensures that you always feel like you have the best possible view around town. The 360-degree camera enhances the parking experience, but the tall seating position, and wide glasshouse, means you never have difficulty positioning the Defender.
The luxury of the cabin is what most impresses. Especially given the brief of the old Defender and what we knew this Defender needed to be capable of. Land Rover was adamant from the outset of the prototype engineering plan some years ago that the new Defender would need to deliver luxury well beyond a typical rugged off roader.
And that’s exactly what they’ve done. The Defender is a lot more like a Discovery than it is a bush-bashing 4WD. It’s quiet, comfortable, roomy and airy, and well specified. The driver display, 10-inch infotainment screen (which has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto) and switchgear are all neatly laid out and user friendly. The audio system is excellent, there’s plenty of useful storage and there’s comfort in the second row for adults.
The floor covering and mats are tough and durable, there’s a clever non-slip floor in the boot, but the side hinged tailgate might not be to every buyer’s taste. Just remember that reversing into some shopping centre spots won’t work for you. There is wireless charging, plenty of options for USB cable charging, and cup holders that don’t get in the way. The doors get proper bottle holders as well.
The engine and gearbox are a properly enjoyable and useful combination. The inline six is smooth and responsive, and the Defender gets up and moving without any unnecessary lag. As you’ve seen here many times, the quality of the conventional automatic, leaves us wondering why so many manufacturers persist with DCTs and CVTs in platforms that don’t suit either, and the eight-speed torque converter here is a poignant reminder of how good a modern automatic can be.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re giving the Defender a boot full to get off the mark, rolling on to overtake, or just cruising up to highway speed out of an on-ramp, the gearbox is smooth, fast, and precise. Importantly for mine, it’s not ever caught hunting through gears needlessly. To a degree, I was converted after my time with the petrol engine. From the outset, I was adamant that you’d be mad to buy a petrol Defender, but now I’m not so sure.
We’ve said for some time, that in terms of breadth of capability, no one executes adjustable air suspension like Land Rover. Even go back to the first generation of the last Discovery – you know the boxy one that everyone laments the replacement of to this day? Superb air suspension that struck a beautiful balance between on-road balance and comfort, and off-road capability and bump absorption. Land Rover suspension usually responds well to the loads associated with towing too, it’s as if nothing can fluster it.
Such is the case with the new Defender – now monocoque rather than ladder-frame of course. On road, even with aggressive off-road rubber, it’s sublime. The ride comfort is befitting that of a luxury SUV, there’s little to no road noise, and the cabin is quiet and calm. The way the Defender reacts to a nasty bump, and settles back to cruising, is first class.
The steering and brakes, and the general feedback and feel of both, are also excellent. You are aware that the Defender is a big heavy box, especially around town, but beyond the initial realisation, you quickly feel at ease behind the wheel. Crucially, it never feels unwieldy. Rather, it feels nicely tied down and solid when you’re driving. The mark of a good large car or SUV is that it feels like a much smaller car when you’re driving, and the steering precision especially in the Defender delivers that sensation. It’s much punchier and more direct than you might have expected going in.
There’s no doubt that the new Defender has serious street presence, whether it’s parked or driving. Everywhere you take it, people will be looking at it, or wanting to ask a few questions about it. The appeal though, runs deeper than it simple being the new shiny thing.
It’s the latest in a long line of exceptional 4WDs from a brand that knows more about building them than most. It’s also way more luxurious than the old Defender ever could be, while outperforming it off-road. In short, it’s an excellent, comfortable, and high-quality daily driver around town.
The biggest loser as a result of the 2021 Land Rover Defender being so broadly capable might come from within the Land Rover stable. Who’s going to a buy a Discovery when the Defender is as appealing as it is?