Land Rover Defender review – 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

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

Despite it only being on sale for less than a year, Land Rover has gone about completely changing the Defender’s engine range, ditching all four-cylinder diesels for a set of replacement sixes, and introducing the plug-in hybrid powertrain from the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport. These join the existing four- and six-cylinder petrol engines, and all are now mild-hybrid except for that base four-cylinder petrol.

The bulk of UK sales are expected to be made up by the six-pot diesels, which are available in D200, D250 and D300 variants. Peak power in each is relevant to the model name, and torque is rated at 369, 420 and 480lb ft available as low as 1250rpm. As well as the obvious power and torque benefits of the larger engines, they’re also smoother, more refined and marginally more fuel efficient.

The P300 four-cylinder petrol is the least suited to the Defender, as it can struggle to move the considerable mass without feeling overwhelmed, and the 297bhp turbo unit suffers from the same issues as seen in other applications, namely its poor calibration to the transmission and general lack of refinement.

The P400 mild-hybrid is a better trade-off if you’re just not interested in a diesel option, with the 3-litre unit featuring both a conventional twin-scroll turbocharger and a 48V electric supercharger. Combined, these two elements produce 394bhp and 406lb ft of torque, making this the most powerful series-production Defender in its history. There’s also a belt-integrated starter motor in lieu of an alternator, with a 48V lithium-ion battery that stores recuperated energy as the car slows. 

Finally, later this year Land Rover will begin production of the P400e plug-in hybrid, and although we’re yet to try the system in the new Defender, it's impressively refined and just about powerful enough to overcome the extra weight gain in its other JLR applications. Drive in all models is via an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox, with twin-speed transmissions providing both high and low ratios, the latter for towing and off-road fun.

These different powertrain options are then connected to the most technologically advanced Defender yet. Built on an all-new aluminium monocoque chassis Land Rover calls internally D7x, the new Defender is available as a three-door 90 or five-door 110, as well as a commercial vehicle. The 110 is available with three seating configurations: five, six, or a five + two, with the 90 limited to a maximum of half a dozen seats. Beneath Gerry McGovern’s design is the full complement of technical kit to take the Defender anywhere it cares to go. There’s a two-speed transfer ’box within the eight-speed auto, centre- and rear-locking differentials and, of course, permanent four-wheel drive.

Independent multi-link double wishbone suspension is fitted at the front, with an integral link axle at the rear, while air suspension is standard across the 110 range, with the X model also featuring as standard an electronic differential, Terrain Response 2, configurable terrain response – think driver modes for sports cars but for a car designed for bog snorkelling rather than lap times – and all-terrain progress control (an off-road cruise control system).

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