2021 Land Rover Defender

By January 27, 2021

The 2021 Land Rover Defender is an SUV with lots of off-road capability and a lower price than the Range Rover family of vehicles. The name returned to the U.S. after more than two decades in 2020; for 2021, the Defender adds a short-wheelbase two-door, along with a new model called X-Dynamic.

The Defender offers a choice between two engines, a 296-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4 or a 395-hp 3.0-liter turbo inline-6 with a 48-volt mild-hybrid system. Because the Defender weighs nearly 5,000 pounds, acceleration with the turbo-4 is just adequate, while the turbo-6 is strong and torquey.

The Defender’s unibody structure rides on an independent suspension. Standard drive modes change its drivetrain behavior for better traction control in sand, snow, mud, or rock-climbing. There is also low-range gearing, knobby tires, and large approach, breakover, and departure angles to help the Defender cross any type of terrain.

There are also available adaptive dampers and an air suspension that give the Defender the smooth ride and control of a crossover, while increasing the off-road capability with more ground clearance,

Inside, the Defender can fit five, six or seven people, depending on the available seat configurations. Sturdy cabin materials match the Defender’s mission and create a high-quality but not high-luxury environment. Two standard screens, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a 10.0-inch center touchscreen, add a tech flavor that provides infotainment and enhanced off-roading information.

The turbo-4 in the two-door Defender 90 is EPA-rated at 18/21/19 mpg; in the four-door Defender 110 it gets 17 mpg city, 20 highway, 18 combined. The turbo-6 gets the same mileage in either model, 17/22/19 mpg.

The Defender hasn’t been crash-tested yet. It comes standard with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, active lane control, and a surround-view camera system. Buyers can also get adaptive cruise control and a rear camera mirror.

Model Lineup

The 2021 Defender comes in two body styles, the two-door Defender 90 and four-door Defender 110. There are four models: base, X-Dynamic, First Edition (90 only), and X.

Base models start at $47,450 for the 90 and $51,850 for the 110. They come standard with cloth upholstery, rubber flooring, eight-way power-adjustable front seats, wireless smartphone charging, a 10.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, satellite radio, a terrain response system, LED headlights, rear fog lights, and 18-inch steel wheels.

The X-Dynamic Defender 90 starts at $59,150 and comes with the turbo-6 engine. It adds 12-way power-adjustable front seats, leather and cloth upholstery, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, automatic high beams, rear tow hooks, and 19-inch alloy wheels.

The X-Dynamic Defender 110 costs $66,850 and has more equipment than the 90, as well as two more doors.

Adding the Off-Road Pack, Advanced Off-Road Pack and the air suspension to the 90 brings the total close to $64,000. The third row for the 110 costs $1,200, and is too small to be useful for large passengers.

The top X model costs $81,850 for a 90 and $84,350 for a 110. It adds an electronic active differential, automatic and custom settings for the terrain response system, a low-speed off-road cruise control system, 14-way power-adjustable heated and cooled front seats with memory, a 14-speaker Meridian sound system with 700 watts of power, a head-up display, and a panoramic sunroof.

The many options and accessories can add tens of thousands of dollars to the final price.

Exterior

Cues like the externally mounted spare tire, an available black or white roof, and the overall proportions recall the original Defender, but the styling is not retro. The stance is tall and upright, and the face is blunt and boxy, with an inset lower front bumper. The 90 and 110 look the same from the front, but the shorter 90 seems stubby compared to the 110, with its more traditional SUV proportions.

Short front and rear overhangs improve approach and departure angles, while black wheel flares and rocker panels visually lighten the blocky sides. A straight, chiseled character line runs the length of the vehicle, and the fenders bulge out from below it, making the greenhouse thinner than the body. At the rear, black lines run from the roofline down the tailgate, and surround the taillights.

Buyers can personalize their Defenders with contrasting white or black roofs, black hoods, graphics packages, roof racks, roof-mounted ladders, an A-pillar-mounted snorkel, and side-mounted storage boxes.

Interior

The cabin of the Defender is modern and utilitarian. There’s a wide, deep center console, and the instrument panel layout is simple, with a large touchscreen and a digital instrument panel. Sturdy materials are inspired by fabrics used in the outdoor/camping world–rubberized but soft. They feel like they could withstand the rigors of off-road adventure, but don’t feel out of place on a vehicle costing $80,000.

The Defender is available with multiple seating arrangements to accommodate five, six, or seven passengers. The front bucket seats are supportive, upholstered in rugged cloth on the lesser models and leather on the upper models. The unique feature is a jump seat that allows three passengers in the front, for a total of six.

The second row has good leg room and lots of head room thanks to the tall roof. There’s an optional third row for the 110 that’s better left folded down into the floor; it lacks usable leg room for most passengers.

Cargo capacity is 15.6 cubic feet in the 90 and 34 cubic feet in the 110, behind the second row. With the second row folded, there’s 58.3 cubic feet in the 90 and 79.0 cubic feet in the 110.

The third row in the 110 cuts that to 69.0 cubic feet.

The side-hinged tailgate opens toward the curb, blocking access, but it creates more cargo space by also carrying the spare tire. The available air suspension allows the rear end to be lowered for easier cargo loading.

Driving Impressions

The base 2.0-liter turbo-4 makes 296 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque, which isn’t enough to move the 5,000-pound Defender with much authority. Land Rover says the 0-60 time is 7.7 seconds.

The turbocharged 3.0-liter inline turbo-6 is another story. It makes 395 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque and launches the Defender from 0-60 mph in less than six seconds.

It’s equipped with a 48-volt mild hybrid with a twin-scroll turbocharger, electric supercharger, and a belt-integrated starter motor that can assist the gas engine and provide regenerative braking. Given all that, it’s disappointing that it only gets 19 mpg.

The Defender rides a unibody platform and offers available adaptive dampers and an air suspension. That’s not the usual formula for an off-roader, but it works, and it also improves the on-road dynamics, where it feels like a crossover through corners and over bumps. It’s smooth and controlled, with direct steering and sure brakes. It rides higher than most crossovers, though, so there’s a little more body lean in turns.

Off road, the Defender with air suspension matches the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. The air suspension gives it up to 11.5 inches of ground clearance, 0.7 inch taller than the Wrangler Rubicon, and helps it ford 36 inches of water, besting the Jeep by 6 inches. It also has 10 inches of suspension travel compared to 8 inches for the Jeep, and better breakover and departure angles.

The Defender tackles all obstacles with gusto. Its knobby tires grip the dirt and help it scramble uphill. Its modes adjust various vehicle systems to work best on the selected terrain, and a low-speed cruise control helps it crawl down steep hills.

Final Word

The 2021 Land Rover Defender is an excellent off-road tool without the usual Range Rover trappings. We like the X-Dynamic Defender 90 with the turbo-6 engine and optional air suspension for its size and content, but the four-door models are sure to be the more popular ones.

 

—by Sam Moses with driving impressions by The Car Connection

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