The 2020 Land Rover Defender is designed to dominate the small but suddenly competitive market niche of retro-styled sport utility vehicles with serious off-road capabilities. It is even one of the most off-road capable SUVs in any class.
The Jeep Wrangler has been the only reasonable choice in the category since 2018, when Toyota discontinued its Land Cruiser FJ Cruiser. Available in both short- and long-wheelbase versions, the Wrangler was not just retro-styled but genuinely retro — the direct descendent of the Jeep that was created to help fight WWII.
Although Mercedes-Benz also sells a former military vehicle as a civilian SUV — the G-Class — it is priced well out of the reach of most consumers.
But now they have two more choices.
Ford is now getting a lot of press for introduced a new Bronco styled after the original 1960's model but even more heavy-duty. It is also available in short- and long-wheelbase versions.
And Motor Trend recently announced that the new Land Rover Defender is the winner of its 2021 "Golden Calipers" SUV of the Year. Styled after the legendary go-anywhere Defender last sold here in limited numbers in the 1970s, the new model is also available in short- and long-wheelbase versions. The four-door 110 (for inch) model is available now. The two-door Defender 90 is coming soon.
Motor Trend tested 28 new and refreshed SUVs before making its decision. In the announcement, Senior Features Editor Jonny Lieberman said, "One SUV stood roof rack and rearviews above the rest. There are certain vehicles you can feel are special after only 50 feet of driving. The Defender bowled us over with the wonderful synchronization of its stout engine and yeoman transmission; the exceptional ride quality; its ambient nature; the baked-in, go-anywhere capability; and its amazing value."
After a week of test driving, I agree. Everything about the new Defender 110 is special. For starters, it's a big vehicle, capable of carrying up to seven people (with the optional third row of seats) in comfort. The boxy styling and huge knobby tires immediately evoke the classic Defenders, including the spare tire mounted on the outside of rear door, where it is easy to reach. The interior is suitable utilitarian, with most surfaces covered in durable fabric. And the floor is lined with thick plastic mats, which are much easier to keep clean than carpeting.
But the 2020 Defender is not out of date. It has replaced the decades-old steel frame and live axles of the previous generation in favor of an advanced aluminum unibody and fully independent suspension. It is also available with practically every advanced automotive technology on the planet, including both active and passive safety features. Also standard is a new 'PIVIPro' infotainment system featuring an intuitive 10" touchscreen interface, while software-over-the-air updates allows customers to access to the latest software updates remotely.
And it is built to go anywhere. Four-wheel-drive is standard on all trim levels, and so is a new configurable Terrain Response system, a twin-speed transfer box, a locking center differential, and an active rear and locking differential that allows drivers to their vehicles for various driving conditions. With 11.5 inches of ground clearance, the new Defender is ready to go anywhere out of the box.
But is also unexpectedly smooth on the road, especially considering its rugged looks and huge 20-inch wheels. The suspension soaks up all road imperfections, making it ride much more like a modern crossover than a truck-based SUV from the past. Our test model was also equipped with the optional turbocharged and electric supercharged 3.0-liter straight six that also featured a hybrid boost, producing a whopping 395 horsepower and 408 foot pounds of torque, which is more than to move its 5,000-plus pounds smartly down the road.
Perhaps most amazing of all, the base Defender 110 with the standard turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four starts at less than $50,000, a price that must be keeping the powers that be at Ford and Jeep up at night. Our mid-range SE model with multiple option package was priced at $71,025, which is still very reasonable, considering its sophistication and capabilities.
After introducing two modern and sleek urban-oriented vehicles in recent years — the Range Rover Evoque and Range Rover Velar — Land Rover may have surprised even its most loyal followers by reimagining the iconic Defender for the 21st Century. But it was a smart move and anyone considering a serious off-road vehicle should check it out.
2020 Land Rover Defender 100 SE
Base price: $62,250
Price as tested: $71,025
Type: Fullsize SUV
Engine: Turbocharged with electric boost 3.0-liter inline 6 (395 hp, 408 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
EPA estimated mileage: 17/22
Overall length: 197.6 inches (with spare tier)
Curb weight: 5035 pounds
Final assembly: Nitra, SVK
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