In-depth reviews

Land Rover Defender review – an icon reborn

The new Defender isn’t a typical evo car, but it's something we’d gladly have sat in the garage next to one

Evo rating
  • Versatility; intelligent design; impressive new in-line six powertrains; character
  • Heavy; expensive; petrols are thirsty

It’s not the car that will appear on many, if any, evo reader’s list of dream cars for a dream drive, but we’ve always said that the thrill of driving comes in all shapes and sizes, on and off road. There is also the chance that many of you have, or do own, a Defender, or one of its older relations, so we think you’ll be interested in how this all-new one fares.

Now, the new Defender might share a name and lineage with Land Rover’s iconic workhorse, but its technical make-up is very different this time around, ditching the old-school ladder-frame chassis for a thoroughly modern aluminium-heavy monocoque. 

It’s available as both a five-door 110 and three-door 90, and has already undergone a big update for the 2021 model year by ditching all but one four-cylinder powertrain – a 296bhp petrol – and replacing them with a new range of mild-hybrid six-cylinder petrols and diesels, plus a new plug-in hybrid.

And the result is that, in short, it’s really rather good. A perfect example of what’s achievable when you set out to design and build a car fit for the purpose it’s meant for, rather than crudely adapting what you have in the parts store and pretending it’s something that it clearly isn’t. Rivals could learn a great deal from this approach.

Land Rover Defender: in detail

  • Engine, gearbox and technical highlights > The Defender’s diesel engine range has already been entirely replaced with impressive new i6 units. Petrols and a plug-in make up the rest
  • Performance and 0-60 time > Performance is typically blunted by mass, but all engines have enough shove. At its quickest, it’ll take 5.6sec to reach 62mph
  • Ride and handling > Its brilliance lies in off-road capability and on-road comfort, but it’s come at a cost of dynamism
  • MPG and running costs > Diesels all sit between 28 and 30mpg, petrols are more like 20-24mpg. Plug-in models will do 100mpg, sometimes
  • Interior and tech > Rugged, capacious, versatile and stylish all at once
  • Design > A clever interpretation of a classic Land Rover design

Prices, specs and rivals

Having had time to bed into the market, a year or so after its launch the Land Rover Defender range is now as diverse as the terrain it’s able to tackle. There are no less than six different engine options, in seven different trim levels, and those two aforementioned body shapes. Keeping things as simple as possible, there are three forms of Defender – the ‘base’ car, the X-dynamic, and finally the X. The Defender X is the fully loaded range-topping version, powered by either the top-specification petrol, diesel or plug-in hybrid powertrain. Its more sumptuous finishes inside and out include high-quality leathers, different trim for the exterior skid plates and bumper ends, darkened wheels and almost all of the option boxes ticked.

Beneath this point, both the standard Defender and X-dynamic models are then available with the full range of engines in S, SE and HSE trims, each with varying levels of equipment. There are certain engines that are and are not available with certain trim levels, but if you can’t find a match between powertrain and specification that you like, you’re probably being fussy.

Because of the wide choice of engine, trim and body options, pricing between the different specifications covers a vast range. A basic Defender 90 D200 S with steel wheels and a hose-down floor is priced from £43,625, and expands all the way up to £82,870 for a Defender X 110 P400e plug-in hybrid. There’s also an extensive options list that can see your Defender crack six figures on top-spec models, and also a commercial version in both body options.

With so many models available, natural rivals could be anything from a mid-spec Toyota Hilux right through to the £96,180 Mercedes G-class, not to mention more traditional family SUVs such as Land Rover’s own Discovery 5 or even an Audi Q7. When considered against the G, the Defender feels light years ahead, despite the transformational driving characteristics Mercedes instilled in it following its comprehensive overhaul in 2018. So too Stuttgart’s other offerings, such as the new GLS, which starts at £72,965 for a 400D. While its focus on luxury will outscore the Defender, it’s unlikely to beat it off-road or in the charm stakes.

Audi, BMW, Bentley, Porsche, VW... none has dared to go diff lock to diff lock with the Defender in the past. Their problem now is that the Defender is able to match them on the road as well as beating them off it. And for those who dismissed Land Rover’s utilitarian model previously, they now have a strong reason to consider one.

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