Land Rover Defender SUV review
"The Land Rover Defender has returned with an incredible repertoire of talents, including a strong range of plug-in hybrid, petrol and diesel engines"
This is the all-new Land Rover Defender, the long-awaited, much-hyped replacement for Britain's most famous SUV. It returns some four years after production of its predecessor stopped, and manages to be both similar and yet significantly different.
Its design clearly pays tribute to the original ‘Landie’, albeit in original new ways, and Land Rover still claims it's the best off-roader you can walk into a showroom and buy. However, its advanced technology, improved performance, luxury and safety kit mean the Defender has been parachuted into the 21st Century.
We'll let you decide whether its design is a success, but it certainly looks appropriately chunky, and details like its front and rear lights are impressively intricate. There are plenty of personalisation options too. It may be that you love the basic Defender with steel wheels, but hate the range-topper with gargantuan alloys, or vice versa. Similarly you may prefer the looks of the three-door Defender 90 or longer five-door 110, and there’s an even lengthier 130 also in the pipeline.
Inside, the Defender has a rugged, industrial aesthetic, characterised by exposed bolt heads, metal surfaces and an exposed magnesium crossmember that forms part of the car’s structure. It's also unique thanks to an optional jump seat between the front occupants that can make the 90 or 110 a six-seater. A third row of seats is also available for the 110.
Passengers are treated to the latest in-car entertainment and connectivity, with Land Rover's Pivi Pro system using two modems to ensure it can be wirelessly updated, even while being used for media, navigation or traffic updates.
At launch, a pair of four-cylinder 2.0-litre diesel engines with 197 or 237bhp were available, badged D200 and D240 respectively. These have now been replaced by a pair of 3.0-litre six-cylinder engines with mild-hybrid electrical assistance. In base D200 trim, this engine produces 197bhp, which increases to 247bhp in mid-range D250 spec and 296bhp in the range-topping D300 version.
The entry-level P300 petrol is unchanged with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine producing 296bhp. For those wanting more power, a 394bhp 3.0-litre straight-six petrol P400 mild hybrid is also available in the top X trim, but a starting price of £81,000 means it probably won't be a common sight on UK roads.
A P400e plug-in hybrid was introduced as part of the 2021 revisions and is the first PHEV powertrain in the history of the Defender. This model combines a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, an electric motor and a battery pack, and is the most powerful Defender available, producing 398bhp.
The PHEV version is the fastest Defender until Jaguar’s Special Vehicle Operations division creates a high-performance V8 model, which is expected later this year. The entry-level diesel costs from £45,000 and every version has an eight-speed automatic gearbox, low-range gears and four-wheel drive.
The D240 diesel is capable of getting the Defender from 0-60mph in a respectable 8.6 seconds, but it's the way the Land Rover feels to drive that's most surprising. The steering is direct and responsive, tucking the nose into corners with little hesitation and while there's some body roll, this suits the Defender's character. This is a Defender that's sporty and enjoyable to drive along a twisty road, thanks to the chameleon-like nature of its adaptive air suspension.
Off road, the same setup can extend, providing enough articulation to see the Defender crawl over almost any obstacle and wade through almost a metre of water. It's almost unstoppable off-road, and surprisingly comfortable while tackling the very roughest terrain. It can also tow up to 3,500kg and carry an unbelievable 300kg on its roof.
The Defender has always been innovative, and the latest version is one of the most intelligent cars we've ever tested. It may be rather uneconomical - at least until the plug-in arrives - but it makes up for this with impressive on and off-road manners, and an incredibly well considered design for demanding buyers, their passengers and all their gear.
Land Rover Defender SUV - MPG, running costs & CO2
Defender buyers will be able to choose between diesel, petrol and mild-hybrid power, depending on what suits their needs and driving habits the best. Sadly, none provide especially low running costs.
Land Rover clearly prioritised performance, versatility and rugged looks over fuel-efficiency - just as they did with the original. Even the most economical version of the new Defender just manages to tip over 30mpg, while (WLTP) CO2 figures north of 230g/km mean company-car drivers will face a hefty Benefit-in-Kind bill.
Unlike the original Landie, which had the same commercial status as a van or pickup, the new standard versions of the Defender 90 and 110 are classed as private vehicles, with the van-like 90 and 110 Hard Top the only versions to be classed as commercial vehicles. A plug-in hybrid is now available, and we expect a range-topping V8 model to arrive in due course - details of the latter have yet to be confirmed.
The Defender was launched with two diesel 'Ingenium' 2.0-litre turbo engines badged D200 and D240, returning up to 32.2mpg in the 90 and 31.7mpg in the Defender 110. CO2 emissions span from 230-253g/km (WLTP).
These have been replaced for 2021, with a new 3.0-litre straight-six diesel engine boasting mild-hybrid tech. The D200 version of this engine can manage around 32mpg, a figure which is closely matched by the more powerful D250 and D300 models. All three engines emit 231-233g/km of CO2.
The 2.0-litre turbo petrol P300 can manage around 24mpg with emissions of over 260g/km, the same ballpark figures as the 3.0-litre P400 mild hybrid. Thanks to its 19.2kWh battery pack, the P400e plug-in hybrid can manage up to 27 miles on electricity alone, giving it official figures of 85.3mpg and CO2 emissions of 74g/km. This should make it the cheapest Defender to run by some margin and the only one that should be on company-car shopping lists. It also just qualifies for free entry into the London Congestion Charge zone, sneaking under the current threshold by 1g/km.
The battery can be charged at home using a 7.2kW wallbox, taking it from 0-80% in two hours. It will also be possible to use a 50kW rapid-charger (using the supplied cable), for an 80% charge in 30 minutes.
Insurance groups for pricey, complex SUVs tend to be a bit higher than for normal cars. That's certainly the case here, because even the entry-level D200 sits in group 31 out of 50, while the D240 First Edition sits in group 38. That's the same rating as the P300 petrol receives in SE trim, while the P400 X is in group 44.
Land Rover provides a three-year/unlimited-mileage warranty with its new models, which matches BMW and Mercedes. It's not as generous as some brands, though; the Kia Sorento comes with a seven-year warranty as standard.
Land Rover offers servicing plans that can help spread the cost of maintenance, so they're worth exploring with the dealership. It's also worth noting that diesel engines require AdBlue top-ups every so often.
Land Rover Defender SUV - Engines, drive & performance
The Land Rover Defender has a wider range of talents than almost any other vehicle on sale
It might be one of the most loved models of all time, but one thing the Defender was never famous for was its everyday performance. Enough low-down grunt to get up steep bank and tow a trailer, yes, but not straight-line speed away from the lights.
With a more advanced powertrain, the new Defender has a far broader set of talents. Its advanced adaptive four-wheel drive and air suspension (on top trims) ensures it's still capable of traversing the world's most inhospitable terrain, but it can also tear from 0-62mph in as little as six seconds.
Just as impressive as its on-paper statistics, there's the fact it's simply fun to drive as well. Many have questioned whether the new Defender would tread on the toes of the Discovery, but from behind the wheel it instantly has a character of its own. Its steering is more alert and faster to react, while the Defender's air suspension is firmer and there's more feedback flowing back through your fingertips and the seat as you drive.
Attack a British road, and the Defender is instantly enjoyable and feels surprisingly sporty, digging its front tyres into the road. It's remarkably composed too; the fact the body leans slightly through faster corners and the nose lifts under acceleration only seems to add to its character.
Yet, the same suspension can transform to scale ruts, wade through deep water and absorb torturous bumps. Every Defender is fitted with an eight-speed automatic gearbox that also has low-range ratios designed for off-road driving and towing. At Eastnor Castle's off-road experience centre, sections have been opened up for the first time in a decade to test the Defender's extreme capabilities. A set of tortuous undulating water-filled pits is a particular challenge, and just when you think the Defender is about to get stuck, its Terrain Response 2 software modulates power to the wheels to find just enough traction to drag it out the other side.
Designed around Land Rover's new D7x platform that's incredibly stiff - and has been subjected to years of rigorous testing during its development - the Defender has approach and departure angles of 38 and 40 degrees respectively, along with a 900mm wading depth. It can tackle 45-degree side slopes and inclines, and its Terrain Response 2 system can be used to adjust the chassis and differentials manually or simply be left in Auto, where it recognises the surface you're driving on.
The Defender launched with two versions of the 2.0-litre 'Ingenium' diesel engine, badged D200 and D240, with the same 430Nm of torque but 197 and 237bhp respectively. Both get an automatic gearbox and permanent four-wheel drive as standard, and cover the 0-60mph dash in 9.9 seconds and 8.7 seconds.
Early impressions are that it's the best use of the engine yet, and we especially like how Land Rover has altered its sound. This has been done by augmenting engine noise using the car's audio system, with the resulting background noise more like a rumble than a high-pitched diesel growl. A sensitive throttle pedal means the D240 engine also feels impressively responsive.
Land Rover is already replacing them with larger 3.0-litre straight-six diesel engines equipped with mild-hybrid hardware. These are badged D200 (with 197bhp), D250 serving up 247bhp and D300 with 296bhp. Acceleration from 0-62mph takes 10.2, 8.3 and 6.7 seconds respectively.
Unlike the previous iteration of Defender, buyers can choose between two petrol engines, badged P300 and P400. The smaller 2.0-litre turbo gets 296bhp, propelling the car from 0-60mph in 7.6 seconds, while the 3.0-litre straight-six P400 has 395bhp and gets to 60mph in six seconds.
The P400 is also fitted with 48-volt mild-hybrid electrical assistance, designed to harvest the energy normally wasted under deceleration and store it in a small lithium-ion battery. This can be used to bolster the engine's torque under acceleration and provide stop and start more of the time when waiting in traffic.
It's the most fun version to drive, for now, with a tuneful sound from its six-cylinder petrol and impressive acceleration. Interestingly, there are no steering wheel-mounted paddles for the automatic gearbox, as engineers don't feel they fit the Defender ethos, but you can nudge the gearstick to shift manually. The engine and steeringing again feel surprisingly willing for a big, heavy SUV.
Plug-in hybrid engines
The Defender P400e plug-in hybrid uses a 2.0-litre petrol engine, electric motor and a 19.2kWh lithium-ion battery. With a combined 398bhp, it's the fastest Defender available until an anticipated performance model arrives with a V8 engine, getting from 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds. Unfortunately, the P400e is limited to the Defender 110 model. Air suspension and 20-inch alloy wheels come as standard.
Land Rover Defender SUV - Interior & comfort
Former Defender owners won't recognise the level of luxury and comfort on offer
The Defender's interior is like nothing else on the market today, combining retro nods to the original like exposed screw heads and bare metallic surfaces, along with the debut of new technology for the entire Land Rover brand.
As you'd hope, there are also innovations, such as a system that uses real-time camera feeds to offer a view of the obstacles immediately ahead without the nose of the car getting in the way. ClearSight can also be used to provide an uninterrupted rear-view mirror, even if the Defender is loaded with passengers and luggage or the rear window is caked in mud.
Fans of industrial design will adore touches like the powder-coated aluminium surfaces and magnesium bulkhead, the latter being a functional part of the Defender's body structure. It's undeniably tough-looking, and its extreme off-road capabilities are reinforced by the quantity and sturdiness of grab handles for passengers to cling onto. The flat, horizontal shapes are clearly a nod to its predecessors, as is the jutting centre console with a stubby gearlever and oversized switchgear.
But it's not completely retro; there's a modern aesthetic not unlike the design of the latest Apple Mac Pro. The 10-inch Pivo Pro infotainment system is all new, using dual-eSIM modems that can receive over-the-air software updates and provide media and navigation without interruptions. An auxiliary battery also means it can work in the background even when the Defender is parked up, and resume more quickly. It also supports a mobile app that can be used to interact with the Defender and set the climate control remotely.
Land Rover certainly hasn't held back when it comes to offering a wealth of trim levels and customisation options to customers. Even the trim levels are somewhat overwhelming, with Defender, S, SE, HSE, First Edition and X all offered, along with a myriad of options that even extend to what sort of roof you'd prefer.
The standard 110 model comes fitted with rather appealing 18-inch gloss white steel wheels, LED headlights, heated front seats, the 10-inch Pivi Pro system, surround cameras, cruise control and air suspension. S adds 19-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery and digital instruments, while SE upgrades the headlights with a 'signature' look for the daytime running lights, along with keyless entry, 20-inch wheels and ISOFIX for the front passenger seat. It also adds some key features like a 10-speaker stereo, electric steering column and ClearSight rear-view mirror.
HSE increases the luxury further with a folding fabric roof (Defender 90 only, with a sliding panoramic roof for the 110), Matrix LED headlights, extended leather interior and a heated steering wheel. The range-topping X gets a black roof and bonnet, black exterior trim, orange brake calipers, front skid plate and tinted rear lights. It also has more off-road hardware, but you wouldn't know it inside thanks to Walnut veneer, heated rear seats and a 14-speaker stereo. It's also only available with the most powerful D300 and P400 engines.
It's hard to know where to start with the Defender's options, but rest assured its packs and accessories cover every eventuality, from a tow bar to a ramp that makes it easier for your dog to clamber into the boot.
A good kicking off point is the curated equipment packs called Explorer, Adventure, Country and Urban. Explorer adds the famous snorkel air intake, a roof rack, waterproof side-mounted gear carriers, a matte black front badge and items like mud flaps and a cover for the spare wheel.
The Adventure pack includes an on-board pressure washer (with a 6.5-litre tank) designed for rinsing off boots and outdoor sports gear, scuff plates, mud flaps, and an integrated air compressor. There’s a similar roster of add-ons in the Country pack. In contrast, the Urban pack adds metal pedals to the interior, while rear bumper scuff plates, a spare wheel cover and front skid plate protect the exterior.
Land Rover Defender SUV - Practicality & boot space
Configured wisely, the Land Rover Defender offers serious load-lugging abilities
Like the rest of the Defender's attributes, the practicality on offer is also highly flexible and customisable. The biggest decision facing buyers will be whether to go for the five-door 110 model, or the three-door 90. An even larger Defender 130 with eight seats is also expected to arrive later on.
Land Rover Defender interior space & storage
Choose the three-door 90 and the Defender can still carry up to six people. That's thanks to a unique jump seat between the front seats, made possible by the dashboard-mounted gearlever. It's big enough for kids, and when the optional middle seat isn't in use, folding it forwards transforms it into a large central armrest and cubby. The biggest sticking point is the lack of rear doors because anyone getting in the back has to climb rather high to negotiate the front seats.
The 110 is also offered in a 5+2 layout, which is Land Rover speak for adding two smaller seats in the boot. These are best suited to kids but adults may also be able to travel for shorter hops in a pinch.
There are also handy features like USB or 12-volt power sockets for charging portable devices, a backpack that secures to the rear seat and 'click and go' system for middle-row passengers to attach tablets, bags, laptops and jackets. Then there are innovations like the side mounted 'Gear Carriers' that are 24-litre lockable and waterproof containers that mount on the Defender's rear window pillars in a similar fashion to motorcycle saddle bags.
The five-seat Defender 110 has 1,075 litres of cargo space behind the seats, expanding to a massive 2,300 litres when the seats are folded down. A rubberised floor is designed to shrug off spills and be brushed or wiped clean. The Defender 90 is notably less spacious, with a shallow 397-litre boot that's smaller than a Honda Civic's.
It's worth noting that the Defender has a traditional side-hinged tailgate, not a hatchback like most of the SUVs currently on sale. This can be fairly heavy (it also carries a full-size spare wheel) and will require some room behind the vehicle to open fully. However, it does open on the correct side for UK roads, with the opening towards the kerb, and is a characterful nod towards its predecessor.
Defenders have long been used for towing, and the latest version is seriously capable. It can pull a 3,500kg braked trailer, and the Defender itself has a maximum payload of 900kg. It can also accept a static load on its roof of up to 300kg.