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New Land Rover Defender resurrects a classic name, with impressive results Featured

Posted On Friday, 01 January 2021 23:43 Written by
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The Land Rover Defender made a triumphant return to the United States with its new 2020 model, after not being sold in the U.S. since the late 1990s. The Land Rover Defender made a triumphant return to the United States with its new 2020 model, after not being sold in the U.S. since the late 1990s. Photo courtesy of Land Rover

Defender is a classic British automotive nameplate from Land Rover with as much history as nearly any vehicle in existence. Stretching back all the way to 1948, when it was first introduced as the “Series 1” as a Jeep-inspired vehicle, this tough customer has seen a seven-decade run and gone through a handful of redesigns (with the Defender name coming into play starting in 1990). More than 2 million of these vehicles have been sold worldwide between all of its renditions over those seven decades.

For the 2020 model year, after a few years dormant (and not being sold in the U.S. since the 1990s), a newly remodeled version of the Defender returned to the world automotive stage to much fanfare, and that excitement continues into 2021. I recently tested the latest incarnation of the Defender and I’m back with a full report of how this classic vehicle contends in today’s automotive landscape.


First let me just say that for a rugged and off-road capable vehicle, the Land Rover Defender is a beautiful vehicle that will catch your eye and looks like nothing else on the road.

The exterior design is squared off and tall (with up to 11.5 inches of ground clearance). The Defender shares limited similarity to a Jeep design, with the added bonus of being much more attractive. Two-door and four-door versions of the Defender are offered.

Moving inside, you’ll find a nonflashy but still high-end look in Land Rover’s signature minimalist style. Seating is made of quality materials, and the driver and passenger will both feel comfortable up front with plenty of leg room and headroom. The back seat is spacious too, which you don't normally find in the segment. So 5 people can be seated comfortably in the Defender. Some versions of the Defender also offer seating for 2 more people in a third row, for a total of 7. Other versions allow for a jump seat to be inserted in the front row to bring capacity to 6 people.

The Defender offers an average amount of cargo space: 34 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats and 78.8 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.

One thing worth pointing out is the Defender’s unique storage setup in the front seats, which is quite brilliant. First, you get a long shelf in front of the passenger to place items, which includes a USB port. Second, the shifter is conveniently located up towards the center screen, along with all controls, so that the space below Is wide open for storage of keys, phones and any other items you may want to place. For the segment, this has overall the best storage setup inside by far.

The steering wheel has a rugged but attractive look to it, with unique colors and style. This is symbolic of how the vehicle is both classy and truly off-road capable.

Other features on the Defender include LED headlights, front fog lights, rain-sensing front wipers plus rear wiper, auto-dimming power-folding heated door mirrors with memory.

It features a power adjustable leather steering wheel, power adjustable leather or textile front seats with lumbar and memory, 40-20-40 split fold rear seats, two-zone climate control, cabin lighting, black roof rails, 20-inch wheels, and a spare tire stored on the rear of the vehicle, Jeep-style.

Also, just for kicks, it flashes the Defender symbol onto the ground when you turn on the car, like a bat signal. 

A beautiful sliding panoramic roof is offered as a $1,750 option, which I would highly recommend. Nothing like letting the sun shine in, especially when driving a quality vehicle like this.


In my general experience, when driving a vehicle that’s meant for successful off-road excursions, the on-road experience is often very iffy and sometimes downright uncomfortable.

So I was pleasantly surprised by the Defender, which not only handles very well in a wide variety of road types and weather conditions, but also maintains an extra smooth performance on the regular roads despite being capable of doing much more. It’s simply a pleasure to drive, no matter what type of road you are on.

Acceleration is plentiful (with 0-to-60 mph times under 6 seconds), and the Defender never feels overly heavy. It handles well, is responsive to driver input, brakes well and keeps out most noise.

The Defender I tested was powered by a turbocharged 3.0-liter, 6-cylinder mild hybrid engine, with 395 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque. Some trim levels of the Defender feature a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine offering 296 hp and 295 pound-feet.

Past Defender models had a body-on-frame setup, but the new version moves to a unibody construction to better fit in today’s vehicle landscape. The new version also replaces the solid axles of past versions with a fully independent suspension. Coil springs are featured, but can be upgraded to an air suspension with adjustable ride height.

The new Defender features an 8-speed automatic transmission, two-speed transfer case, all-wheel drive, electric power-assisted steering, terrain response with selectable driving and off-road modes, hill descent control, air suspension and adaptive dynamics. An optional upgrade includes active differential and off-road tires. To sum it up, Land Rover has pulled out the stops to compete well with the top rugged competition, including Jeep’s Wrangler and the Mercedes G-Class.

Its extremely high 11.5-inch ground clearance beats the competition and allows for improved off-road performance. Impressively, it can wade its way through 35.4 inches of water.

The Defender pulls off the rare trick of being a strong daily driver that is also capable in all weather and on roads less traveled.


The brand new Pivi Pro infotainment system in the Land Rover Defender is very well-designed and clean looking. Controls are easy to use and unobtrusive.

The system includes a modern-looking three-tiled split screen, and you can even arrange up to 9 tiles over 3 screens. Each area is focused on one feature — such as navigation, phone and media. On the musical side of things, it's extremely easy to connect your phone and stream music and phone calls to the vehicle. Once connected, it's also easy to choose between music sources, whether that be your phone, satellite radio or AM/FM. All you do is scroll through an easily accessible menu and choose the source.

Voice commands work well generally in the Defender (And FYI: The system even has a British woman's accent when it talks to you). But I got frustrated at times, because sometimes verbal commands were not understood by the system as well as they should have been. I occasionally had to repeat myself to complete commands for navigation, music and phone.

The sound system in the Defender was tremendous, sounding sharp for all types of music, both on the bass and the high end.

The Defender features keyless entry and push-button start, remote emergency collision notification, stolen vehicle locator, remote start, HD radio, Bluetooth and USB ports, and both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility for phone mirroring. Oddly the SiriusXM satellite radio feature cost $300 as an option, and is not standard like you’ll find on most other vehicles.

On the safety front, the Defender features a tire pressure monitoring system, rear child seat system, electronic traction control, dynamic stability control, roll stability control, emergency braking, anti-lock braking system, emergency brake assist. cruise control and speed limiter.

The 3-D surround camera and 360-degree parking aid provided a full top-down vehicle and was very helpful, easily one of the best in the business. Other safety features include blind spot assist (alerts you to vehicles in your blind spots), lane keep assist (to keep the vehicle centered in your lane), driver condition monitor (in case you’re getting sleepy), traffic sign recognition, forward collision mitigation (can apply the brakes to avoid an accident), rear traffic monitor and clear exit monitor. An optional adaptive cruise control including stop-and-go is also available.


Official fuel mileage numbers on the Defender are 17 city/22 highway/19 combined, and I found these numbers to be accurate during my time in the vehicle, and they hold up well in the rugged/off-road vehicle segment.


The Defender I tested was priced just over $72,000, and the base price starts under $50K. This is not inexpensive, but you’re getting a truly capable and versatile vehicle, and it’s a steal compared to the full-sized Range Rover, which starts at $92,000.

There have been some reliability issues in the past with Land Rover vehicles, which may give some people pause. But the reality is that many people have been waiting for the Defender to return to U.S. shores for many years, and won’t let that dissuade them from purchasing a Defender.


With its beautiful design, ability to drive smoothly on regular roads while still being very off-road friendly, and its strong tech and safety features, the newest iteration of the Land Rover Defender is a home run of a return for this legendary brand and should prove popular.


AutoTechReviews.com can be found on Twitter @AutoTechReview, or stay updated at the AutoTechReviews Facebook page

Matt Myftiu can be found on Twitter @MattMyftiu.

Additional Info

  • Vehicle: 2020 Land Rover Defender  
  • Price as tested: $72,180   
  • Best feature: Looks, performance, off-road capability   
  • Rating: 4.5 out of five stars   
  • Who will want this vehicle?: Luxury SUV buyers who want off-road capability, and a beautifully designed vehicle that also drives smoothly on the regular roads
Matt M. Myftiu

Matt Myftiu has been a journalist for two decades with a focus on technology, NASCAR and autos.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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