The Defender combines current Land Rover SUV attributes such as tremendous power and comprehensive off-road technology with a unique design that pays homage to the past.
The Defender’s stated off-road capabilities, which include a 35.4-inch wading depth, are impressive for a mid-size luxury SUV. Though its design stresses toughness above typical luxury signals, it’s still shockingly agile and elegant on the street.
Defender is a renowned Land Rover moniker that has represented capability in the same way that Jeep’s “Wrangler” has. It was last offered in the United States for the 1997 model year. The Defender stands alongside the Discovery in Land Rover’s portfolio, costing more than the brand’s entry-luxury small SUVs but less than the brand’s family of Range Rover vehicles.
The Defender is a large, hefty four-door vehicle that is as tall and broad as some full-size SUVs. The 6 cylinder’s 395 horsepower is impressive, but it seems like there’s even more power beneath the hood of the Defender; the engine provides smooth acceleration that defies the SUV’s size. It has an electrically powered supercharger that boosts boost pressure at low engine speed, producing 406 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 rpm. While it lacks the powerful high-speed passing power of the Range Rover’s optional supercharged V-8, it is nonetheless quick.
Both the mild-hybrid inline-six and the regular turbo four-cylinder engines are paired with an eight-speed automatic gearbox and permanent all-wheel drive. The automatic transmission makes the most of the inline-impressive six’s power, and it never seemed out of gear. The transmission is extremely responsive; when driving on the interstate, press the gas foot halfway down for additional power, and it instantly kicks down. Full-throttle kickdowns, on the other hand, take a little longer.
The mild-hybrid drivetrain produces roughly 100 horsepower more than the standard four-cylinder and provides somewhat higher projected gas mileage: 17/22/19 mpg city/highway/combined against 17/20/18 mpg for the base engine. Both engines are expected to deliver higher fuel efficiency than the Lexus GX 460, an off-road-capable luxury SUV with a 301-hp V-8 engine rated at 15/19/16 mpg.
The Defender, despite its size, does not drive like a large SUV; it is easy to handle and park wherever you choose. It steers with a light touch and has a straight and accurate steering reaction. The SUV feels poised on suburban streets or on the highway, thanks to the lofty driving position that provides commanding forward views.
The Defender 110 features standard air suspension, much like the top-of-the-line Range Rover, but the ride quality is harsher and less forgiving. Even with the optional 20-inch tires set to their low load pressures of 34 psi in front and 36 psi in back, rather than their regular load levels of 47 psi in front and 50 psi in back, I felt cracks and bumps in the tarmac. (Ride quality degrades with higher tire pressures.)
Less luxury, more practicality
The Defender and its predecessors were tough, military-inspired cars with few frills. The inside of the new Defender features some luxury elements, although it isn’t as luxurious as other Land Rovers.
That isn’t to say that its distinct design elements aren’t appealing. They really exist, and some of them are even usable. Exposed Torx-style screws on the doors and center console add an industrial touch, while the recessed dashboard face forms a nearly vehicle-wide shelf for miscellaneous items. It’s one of the Defender’s several storage spaces, which also include big door pockets and an open storage area where the center console meets the dash.
The front bucket seats of the Defender are plush, and the cushioned center console lid doubles as an armrest. Leather center portions with woven fabric trim were used in our SE trim, but full-leather seating is also available.
Even with the optional panoramic sunroof, taller passengers may ride comfortably in the second row of the four-door variant, which offers plenty of headroom. In two-row variants, the seat cushion and backrest aren’t movable, although legroom is sufficient. A third row with two seats is optional.
The Defender’s single 10-inch dashboard touchscreen and physical air conditioning controls are surprisingly easy to use when compared to the dual-screen control systems seen in certain other Land Rovers. Land Rover’s new Pivi Pro entertainment system, which has easy-to-navigate on-screen menus, sharp visuals, and an intuitive navigation system, is installed on the display.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone communication is also available via wire. When I plugged my phone into the USB connector, CarPlay launched right away, taking advantage of the widescreen display by utilizing the entire width of the screen.
With USB-A and USB-C connections in the front and four USB ports in the second row, Defender 110 has enough of ports for devices. To charge tablets installed on the optional Click and Go holders, two ports are available in the backs of the front seats.
Features for Driver Assistance and Safety
As of publication, neither the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety nor the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had crash-tested the Defender.
Forward collision warning with automated emergency braking and pedestrian recognition are standard active-safety features, as are blind spot intervention, lane-keeping assist, a driver-attention monitor, and a 360-degree video system. Optional adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality is available.