Off-road enthusiasts should wake up a little happier knowing that the list of capable options is growing, and rapidly. Tried and true staples such as the Toyota 4Runner and Jeep Wrangler Rubicon remain, and the Ford Bronco is on its way. But the 2020 Land Rover Defender is on sale now, and after a week behind the wheel, we’re certain that there’s a fourth compelling option in the off-road ranks.
We’ve been 2020 Land Rover Defender Debuts With New Tech, Old Charm to make its way west, and it appears our patience was worth it. While we have a few reservations about the Defender’s long-term reliability, our first week spent with the SUV has us nodding in approval. The Land Rover Defender lives up to the hype.
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Who in their right mind could not like this thing? We sure do, and it scores a perfect 10. The Defender’s design is a fun intersection between Bond villain chase car (literally) and safari exploration vehicle. You can attack the toughest trails during the day and pull up to the restaurant valet later that night (albeit with a carwash in between). It’s one of the rare circumstances where even a true base model, steel wheels and all, will look just as good as one like our tester, with lots of options.
The top-trim X model featured here wears a color-contrasting black hood and roof, which looks menacing against the Eiger Grey paint job. It also wears optional 20-inch satin gray five-spoke wheels in place of the X’s standard 19s, with red brake calipers tucked in behind them. Land Rover also swapped out the standard all-seasons for $350 off-road tires.
We adore the Defender’s upright, boxy proportions, which provide some visual separation from its Range Rover and Discovery cousins. It’s distinctively a Land Rover. Other favorite details include the double-stacked square taillights, swinging cargo door, and rear-mounted spare wheel, in addition to the rear window body panel inlay.
Inside, Land Rover’s toughest offering strikes a wonderful middle ground between Wrangler and Range Rover. The gorgeous tan and ebony leather feels durable but still luxurious. Look closer and you’ll find exceptional details like the center console wood trim, with fat screws drilled right into the panel. But don’t worry: nothing about the Defender’s interior feels spartan or sacrificial in the way of capability. The whole thing makes you want to go drive somewhere off the grid and feel super tough.
That feeling of acting super tough ends quickly once you dive into the Defender’s impressive selection of comfort features. This SUV includes add-ons like a heated steering wheel, three-zone climate control, and 18-way power heated and cooled front seats. All of this is to ensure that you’ll stay toasty in the cold and refreshed in the heat. Sure, that’s a little silly in a rugged SUV that’s all about off-roading, but we don’t yell at the Mercedes-Benz G-Class for being too fancy, do we?
While the Defender can handle just about anything you throw at it off-road, it’s the on-road comfort that we’re raving over. In most cases, the Defender will spend the majority of its life cruising paved surfaces, and that’s where it excels. Our tester forgoes the biggest 22-inch wheel option, which we think is the right move. The standard air suspension provides exceptional ride quality over bumps, with very few disruptions coming through. At highway speeds, the big Land Rover’s boxy shape and off-road tires cause some wind and road noise, but it’s still world’s better than a Wrangler.
There’s a lot to love about this cabin, from the extra-spacious 40 inches of headroom to the adequate legroom. Front passengers get 39.1 inches to stretch out, while those in the rear get 36.6 inches. That’s slightly worse than the Wrangler’s 41.2 inches and 38.1 inches, respectively.
Technology & Connectivity
In this category, there is good news to share in that the Defender uses Jaguar Land Rover’s latest infotainment software, called Pivi Pro. This is also the first Land Rover product to receive over the air updates, thanks to two LTE modems embedded in the car. Over time, JLR can push things like infotainment tweaks and driver assistance improvements to the car, all while you drive along without interruption.
This represents an exciting advancement, but unfortunately the car suffers from many of the issues we’ve found in other JLR products. The 10.0-inch touchscreen is a perfect size and displays beautiful, crisp graphics. However, we fought with it over and over again to respond to inputs consistently. Apple CarPlay worked about half the time (if we’re being generous), and the native navigation didn’t always play nice or find a route right away.
The Defender X trim comes with a digital gauge cluster and head-up display, which work to divert attention away from the touchscreen. But the steering wheel controls are somewhat confusing when configuring the cluster. The same goes for the climate controls, which twist left and right to select temperature and fan speed; you then have to push down to adjust the heated and ventilated seats, and the Defender doesn’t always register those inputs. However, there is a fantastic sounding optional 10-speaker Meridian sound system to win some points back.
Performance & Handling
Aside from the number of doors you want, selecting an engine in the Defender is the next biggest choice to make. The Defender 110 comes standard with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 296 horsepower and 295 pound-feet. Our test car includes the more powerful mild-hybrid (distinct from Europe’s PHEV model), turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder. Power goes way up to 395 horsepower and 406 pound-feet, but the extra grunt comes with a $12,350 price hike. While we haven’t tested the four-cylinder just yet, we have nothing but good things to report about the bigger mill.
Outright power from the six-cylinder feels strong, considering the 5,035-pound vehicle that it’s pushing along. Peak torque is available from 2,000 rpm, so low-end shove is never hiding. A ZF eight-speed automatic comes standard and works diligently, seldom mistiming a shift or hanging onto gears. Our first drives covered more extensive off-road work, but a week spent around town with this powertrain confirms that we’re all about it.
If you take a corner with a little excess speed, the Defender lets you know almost immediately with prominent body roll. In this case, the off-road tires join in and let out a big squeal of protest. The Defender’s height precludes it from any serious cornering ability, but we can forgive that quickly thanks to the wonderful ride quality. It’s worth noting that the Land Rover is still more nimble than any of its closest rivals, and it’s the only SUV in the class to come with standard air suspension.
Land Rover rates both engines equally when it comes to towing: 8,201 pounds. That’s far and away better than the Wrangler’s 3,500 pounds and the 4Runner TRD Pro’s 5,000-pound limit.
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One of the best cases for buying a lower-spec Defender is the wide array of standard safety equipment. Every Defender comes out of the box with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, and a surround-view camera monitor.
Our top-tier test vehicle adds desired items like the rearview mirror camera along with adaptive cruise control with stop and go. Although a camera feed in place of a mirror sounds unnecessary, it actually works wonders to overcome the massive blind spot caused by the rear-mounted tire. That said, visibility from the rest of the vehicle is excellent.
JLR products typically do a good job not being too overbearing with their safety systems, and the Defender continues that trend. Lane-keeping assist gently steps in when the big SUV crosses over a line, while the adaptive cruise control applies the brakes gently and predictably when bringing the car to a stop. If any of the systems get on your nerves, there is a menu on the screen to turn off each one individually. And with the aforementioned OTA-update capabilities, the Defender will likely get safety equipment improvements over time, too.
Listed in our common off-roaders category, the Defender’s efficiency score goes up against SUVs like the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro. With the upgraded six-cylinder engine, the Land Rover is good for 17 miles per gallon city, 22 highway, and 19 combined.
That fares slightly worse to the six-cylinder Wrangler Rubicon, which achieves 19 city, 24 highway, and 21 combined. However, the Defender bests the TRD Pro’s 16 city, 19 highway, 17 combined rating. Opting for the six-cylinder requires a diet of premium fuel only.
This is obviously not a great score, but that’s because theDefender 110 starts at a rather reasonable $50,925, equipped with the four-cylinder, four-wheel drive, and a few standard safety features like autonomous braking. Leveling up to the Defender X brings the starting price to $83,000, which is quite the increase.
The extra money brings important add-ons like the six-cylinder engine and configurable terrain response control. Our test car tacks on a few cabin niceties such as the $700 cold weather package, $1,075 three-zone climate control , and $100 cabin air ionization. All in, we’re at $85,750 including the destination charge. That’s more than $35,000 (or nearly one Discovery Sport) over the base price.
We think it’s best to split the difference and go for the X-Dynamic trim, which starts at $65,500. This trim also comes with the six-cylinder engine and omits some of the features that not everyone needs, like the panoramic roof and two-tone paint.