Home Reviews 2021 Land Rover Defender Review: Modernity and Nostalgia Meet Capability

2021 Land Rover Defender Review: Modernity and Nostalgia Meet Capability


SwerveAutos Score: 79/100

Land Rover reviving the Defender name is big news, as it has nearly 70 years of heritage and off road prestige to live up to. This made me nervous, as usually revamps as such end in disappointment. Will it be mall or trail rated? Fortunately, the Defender is back in spectacular fashion, equipped with an arsenal of off-road tech capable of conquering some of the hardest trails this world has to offer in both style and comfort. It’s our highest scoring vehicle yet, read on to see why.

Styling 9/10

Let’s get this out of the way before anything else, the new Defender looks seriously good. Applying Land Rover’s modern design philosophy to the silhouette of the classic Defender makes for a vehicle that really looks the business, as it does a perfect job of balancing modernity and nostalgia. The latter manifesting in design cues that pay homage to its predecessors, such as the swing out rear hatch, a faux stepping area on the hood (metal on the original Defender), and the basic tail light design, which are just flipped vertically now as opposed to being horizontal.

What I like the most about the Defender looks, however, is that it appears both classy and like it belongs on the trail at the same time.  It’s a wheeling before noon and dinner at the country club afterwards sort of vehicle. Our P400 Powered SE was fitted with 19” wheels and GoodYear Duratrac MT tires that absolutely look the part as well, though there are a variety of options to choose from. 

Offered in both the ‘90’ and ‘110’ sizes, Land Rover’s nomenclature for two and four doors, respectively, there is a Defender for everyone. Ours was the 110 four door, and I can’t help but think most buyers will opt for four doors as well. Potential buyers also have the option to choose from a massive list of customizable bits when speccing their Defender as well, ranging from rugged steel wheels, to safari snorkels, to external storage and extra gas cans, the latter bits making it look seriously off-road worthy. Due to its modern and nostalgic design, and ability to blend in on either Moab’s finest trails or Rodeo Drive, it earns an extremely high score of 9 out of 10. Jeep and Toyota, take note.   

Interior 7.5/10

Pizazz with the Defender doesn’t stop at the exterior, as the interior does a perfect job of blending luxury and utility into one package, and though the minimalist design errs on the side of utility over luxury, it is certainly still keeping of the Land Rover name. Stepping inside, you’re greeted with a short dash that is dominated by an optional digital gauge cluster and a 10” touchscreen infotainment system. The minimalist design offers plenty of space and helps the Defender feel airy while offering good visibility. Heating and air con controls are neatly packaged in the center console, as is the gear selector and buttons for the 4WD system and all of its tech wizardry. Everything feels quality and unlikely to let you down in a remote location. 

Both on and off-road, the new Defender proved to be extremely capable. Starting with motor options, both the 90 and 110 are available with the ‘P300’ and ‘P400’ motor options. The former is a 2.0 liter turbocharged inline four that produces 296 horsepower and 296 pound-feet of torque, while the latter is a turbo and supercharged hybrid 3.0 liter inline 6, making 395 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque.

Both funnel power through an 8-speed automatic that is silky smooth. My SE was equipped with the P400 and I was very impressed with the instantaneous torque that doesn’t fall off until it’s time for the next gear, due in part to the 48V electric system which not only powers an electric motor, but also an electric supercharger, meaning there is no parasitic loss due to being powered by the crankshaft. The Defender’s not Cayenne Turbo quick, but it’s certainly quicker than the likes of any Jeep or Toyota competition by a substantial margin.

On road capabilities were honestly more surprising than the off-road capability which I expected to be superb, even equipped with mud tires the Defender’s chassis is incredibly poised and responsive for a vehicle that weighs nearly three tons, with little body roll and perfectly weights steering feel. Our editor Kyle actually out ran a ‘spirited’ Porsche Cayman S in the canyons while doing his video review of the Defender, if that says anything as to what it is capable of. Part of this is due to the fact that Land Rover ditched the body on frame design and live axles in favor of a unibody design with independent front and rear suspension.

But let’s talk about where the Defender really shines, off the pavement. The new Defender comes with an arsenal of 4WD tech that will likely get you through just about any trail possible, ground clearance be damned. My SE came with a few tasteful options for the off-road enthusiast, including auto locking limited slip center and rear differentials, a low and high range transfer case, terrain selection mode (including rock, dirt and rock, sand, and snow), and active ride height.

The specs are impressive as well, as breakaway angle and departure angles are both better than comparable Jeep rivals, and approach angle is only 3 degrees less, in part due to its short overhangs. Ground clearance is also better than the Jeep at 11.5” with the air ride on its highest setting, as is water fording at 35.4”. Impressive stuff.

I’m pleased to report that it all works exceptionally in practice as well. I tackled the IronClads loops in the Defender with no issues whatsoever, and was able to take it over many lines that even lightly modified 4WDs are likely to struggle with. Read my Land Cruiser vs Defender article for more photos of the Defender in action and more details on its off-road prowess.

There is no doubt that the Defender earns its 7.5 out of 10 score, as it may be the most capable stock 4WD on the market currently (later reviews will determine if the new Ford Bronco challenges that status). My only gripe is that the throttle response is a bit touchy, though our vehicle was a pre-production prototype, and they may have changed the drive by wire calibrations for production models.

Practicality 8/10

As I mentioned above the Defender is available in both two and four door configurations, though I will only be scoring the 110 as it is what I tested. The 110 comes standard with five seats, though there is an option to add a third bench seat upfront or a third row (though I can’t imagine either option other than the five seats would be comfortable, as mine was equipped). Extra seating represents a nice option for potential buyers who have children or just need the space. With the seats down, there is plenty of room out back for camping gear or other cargo, and both the glovebox and center console have plenty of space. Between the four Land Rover offered ‘packs’ you can choose from (Explorer, Adventure, Country, and Urban) there is likely to be a spec suited for most potential buyers. 

It should also be noted that the Defender can traverse conditions that most vehicles would quake at and say “Seriously? You’re going to get milk in this weather?”, which does earn it points. Lastly, the Defender when equipped with the P400 power plant can tow 7,100lbs in 90 guise, while the 110 can tow upwards of 8,000lbs. These numbers are a bit lower for the P300, though not by as much as you would think. Make sure the package you opt for however has the ability to have a tow bar, as some do not. At 8 out of 10 the Defender proves to be as practical as it is capable. 

Comfort 8/10

In addition to its on-road performance, the Defender heavily benefits in the comfort department from its aluminum body and independent suspension setup. While designed for off-road terrain, in town manners remain superb.  It doesn’t feel too soft, something dedicated 4WD vehicles typically suffer from. The chassis is so good that, even when equipped with GoodYear Duratrac knobby mud tires, you can’t tell. Frankly, it is perfect and I don’t toss that word around lightly. While ride quality helps with comfort, the textile seats do a superb job as well, as they are both comfortable and supportive with 12-way adjustment on the SE, and have heating capabilities. The Defender is as comfortable on road as it is on the trail, and given what it’s capable of, that says a lot, earning it a 8 out of 10 score.

There is plenty of tech worth talking about with the new Defender. Starting with its 4WD system, it utilizes Land Rover’s newest terrain selection system, appropriately named ‘Terrain Response 2’. This clever system allows you to choose traction control settings based on whatever terrain you need to traverse. What I found very interesting, however, and worthy of being put in the tech section, is that when left in auto mode, it will lock and unlock the center and rear differentials for you, as the system measures different parameters 500 times per second to pick what is most effective for the applicable terrain. 

Tech isn’t just limited to the 4WD system with the new Defender.  Its digital gauge cluster, which is optional, and 10” touch screen infotainment system offer plenty of modernity in a realm of vehicles that are generally analog (cough cough, the Toyota Land Cruiser). Bluetooth connectivity is standard as are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.  Although the SE does not come equipped with an HD sound system, the HSE and higher trim model provide that amenity. No worries, however, as the standard sound system will still let you jam out and will leave most buyers satisfied, earning it a 7 out of 10 score.

Connected Services 7/10

Land Rover has equipped the Defender with the capability to use its ‘Pivi Pro’ connected services system. While the name might be silly, its capabilities are real. The subscription based service, included for free for one year with new purchases, allows for over the air data and LTE services as well as subscription apps for Navigation and remote vehicle features, the latter controlled through an app called ‘InControl Remote’.

Incontrol Remote allows you to check on your vehicle, unlock it, remote start it, and things of that nature. The app however only has a score of 2.8/5 on the app store through about a hundred reviews, so its ease of use remains to be seen. Nevertheless, having LTE capabilities among other connective services is certainly worthy of receiving points.

Last, but not least, the Defender receives over the air updates for its control modules and infotainment system. This is a hugely beneficial feature for prospective buyers as it eliminates the need to go to the dealership to ensure that their Defender is running the best software and eliminates bugs without them even knowing. Due to these features, the Defender earns a connected services score of 7 out of 10. 

Active Safety 7/10

So far, Land Rover has knocked it out of the park with the new Defender, so how does it fare with active safety? Rather well actually. Included as standard are blind spot assist, a 360-degree camera, land keeping, emergency braking assistance, traffic sign recognition and adaptive speed limiting, 360-degree parking aid, and wade assist.

Yes, Land Rover has included an active safety feature for driving through water. Impressive to say the least. Adaptive cruise control is a standard on the HSE and higher trim models, but even the base is packed with plenty to keep both driver and occupants safe, earning it a score of 7 out of 10.

Value 8/10 

Typically, this an area where vehicles that excel at everything else score low, but such is not the case with the new Defender. With the 90 starting at just over $46,000 and $50,000 for the 110, it is a bit more expensive than the entry level Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and Ford Bronco, but it is still much less than the Toyota Land Cruiser or a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon. To get all of the good off-road bits and P400 powertrain it does push that number a bit higher, as my middle of the pack SE trim Defender 110 specced out to about $71,000. 

That said, it is a lot of vehicle for seventy thousand dollars, between its off-road tech, advanced motor, plush interior, and superb on and off-road manners. I would advise buyers who plan to off-road their Defender to look into this spec, as it is the perfect balance of utility and luxury. Whether or not the air ride suspension and advanced drivetrain will remain reliable are to be determined, but I am only scoring the Defender on how it leaves the show room for new buyers, and due to its capability, wide range of customization, and various trim levels, it earns a score of 8/10.  

Editors Influence 10/10 

When I found out Land Rover was revamping the Defender I was both ecstatic and nervous. Ecstatic because we were getting a new Defender.  Nervous because I worried Land Rover would make it too soft.  I feared the new model might not live up to the “Defender” name . . . a cult off-road classic. Luckily, it did not disappoint, in fact, the new Defender exceeded my expectations in every single way. Despite being a unibody with independent suspension, it can hang with the best of the best off-road. 

I would be hard-pressed to believe that the new Bronco or Wrangler Rubicon could do any better in stock form (possibly another comparison for the summer?). While its traction control system works fabulously, I really appreciate that Land Rover included a mechanical rear locker for extra tricky bits. Then there are the on-road manners, handling is more akin to a sport SUV than a true off-road vehicle, which seems bizarre at first, but once you get used to it, getting to the trail becomes almost as much fun as being on it. The interior is the perfect balance of expensive date night to being covered in mud, and safety equipment and tech wrap up the rest of the package. 

Despite being a diehard Land Cruiser enthusiast, I have always found Land Rovers to have a bit of character and charm that Cruisers lack. The new Defender showcases that perfectly. I love that you can still get it with steel off road wheels, little details like that highlight how much work Land Rover has put into making sure the Defender hasn’t forgotten its roots.

It’s fun to drive even if you’re simply going to the store to get bread, and for me that is the ultimate test of if a vehicle is truly fun.  This is the first vehicle I have scored at a 10/10 for editor’s influence … not that it needs the points, it’s just that good. If lucky enough to be behind the wheel of the Defender, you will likely have a s***-eating grin on your face (or should I say “mud-eating grin”) and to me, that’s what vehicles are all about. Hopefully, the Defender’s here to stay.

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