The Land Rover Defender is a well-known British luxury SUV that’s brilliant off road. It comes in versions that seat five, six or seven people, with a slew of high-tech features that give a decidedly cutting-edge appeal to its old-school shape.
The design makes no compromises to deliver the hallmark Land Rover look. It creates plenty of head room, while the seats, including the front bench, are wide enough for three adults. There’s an available third row in a model called the 110, but it’s useful for smaller people only.
Four-wheel drive with a 2-speed transfer case comes on every Defender, along with a traction-response system. Optional equipment includes a locking rear differential. It’s capable of towing 8,200 pounds.
There are three engines, starting with a 2.0-liter turbo-4 making 296 horsepower on the base and S models. Then there’s a 3.0-liter turbo-6 making a more-than-ample 395 horsepower; it’s a mild hybrid, to boot.
New for 2022, there’s a supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 making an overboard 518 horsepower. All three engines are mated to a smooth 8-speed automatic transmission.
The turbo-4 engine is EPA rated at 18/21/19 mpg in the short-wheelbase 90 model, and 17/20/18 mpg in the longer-wheelbase 110. The turbo-6 gets 17 mpg city, 22 highway, 19 combined with both models. The powerful V-8 drops to 15/19/16 mpg in the 90 and 14/19/16 mpg in the 110.
The Defender hasn’t been crash-tested, and might not be because of its high price. Standard safety equipment includes automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, active lane control, and a surround-view camera system, which is a nice safety feature that’s rarely standard. Options include adaptive cruise control and a rear camera mirror.
Made in Slovakia, the 2022 Defender comes as base, S, SE, X-Dynamic, X, V8, and V8 Carpathian Edition.
The Defender 90 costs $49,050 and the 110 $51,850, as base models. They are well equipped, with rugged cloth upholstery, heated front seats, a 10.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, satellite radio, and nice 18-inch steel wheels. There is an optional 11.4-inch touchscreen, new for 2022.
The 90 with the turbo-6 engine costs about $61,000
The air suspension and adaptive dampers are $1,600, while the $1,550 Off-Road Pack includes off-road tires and the electronic active differential. The $750 Advanced Off-Road Capability Pack adds a configurable terrain response system and off-road cruise control.
The V-8 Carpathian Edition blows the price over six figures, at $105,350 for the 90 and $108,550 for the 110. For that you get a long, long list of luxury equipment, from open-pore wood trim and a 14-speaker sound system to a tow package and 22-inch alloy wheels. Options will bring the price to more than $120,000.
The Defender honors tradition to a T. It’s tall and angular, with short overhangs and an old-school spare tire mounted on the tailgate. It’s easy to guess that this SUV might be good off-road, especially when you notice how the front bumper leads downward to a skid plate.
The headlights are round and the sides are slabbed, but air vents behind the front wheels keep it from looking too flat. The overhangs are short on both the 90 and 110, which help when climbing up steep embankments and over big rocks. Looking at the Defender from head-on or from the rear, you can see that it narrows above the doors.
The taillights—round, to match the headlights—are placed in vertical black bands that reach the roof. The spare tire on the tailgate looks ready to get dirty. Options that add to that suggestion include a snorkel for river crossings, as well as roof racks for duffel bags.
Inside, the Defender feels more like a truck–a very stylish one, but one with a standard cloth three-person cloth bench seat and rubberized dashboard and flooring. Expensive models can come with leather or synthetic suede bucket seats and open-pore wood trim, to move it closer to the luxurious Range Rover line.
The touchscreen is standard 10.0 inches or available 11.4 inches. Upper models have digital gauges.
We found the Defender to work best as a 90 five-seater, with bucket seats in front and no third row. Thanks to the tall roof, the second row has a ton of head room (as does the front), but also ample leg room. There’s 15.6 cubic feet behind the second row, bigger than all but the most massive trunks, and 58.3 cubic feet when the seat is folded flat.
The longer 110, without the optional third row, has 34.0 cubic feet with the second row raised, and 79.0 cubic feet with it dropped. But that’s its biggest advantage. When the third row is added, the two passengers back there will be cramped.
To give that iconic spare tire a place to hang on the back, the tailgate is hinged, but it’s on the right side, so the door makes a barrier between the cargo and the sidewalk or airport curb.
The 2.0-liter turbo-4 engine in the base model pumps out 296 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, which is enough to carry the heavy Defender to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds. It’ll get you there, but it won’t snap your head back.
The 3.0-liter turbo-6 is an inline engine, not a V-6, and it’s notably smooth for that. Its twin-scroll turbo and mild-hybrid system brings 395 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque, to reach 60 mph in under 6.0 seconds. The mild hybrid system consists of a 48-volt motor that uses regenerative braking. Like the turbo-4, it uses an 8-speed automatic transmission that we found to be pretty much seamless.
Land Rover promises us that we’ll be impressed by the supercharged V-8’s 0-60 mph time of 4.9 seconds. It uses that same 8-speed automatic.
With its rigid unibody structure, the Defender rides better than body-on-frame 4WD SUVs. Its height and weight don’t help in handling, however; it leans in corners more than most crossovers.
The handling is improved by the optional air suspension and adaptive dampers, which also raise the off-road capability. The air suspension can jack up the ground clearance to 11.5 inches, from the freeway level of 8.6 inches. The Defender can cross a 36-inch-deep river. It’s not incapable on streets, but the Defender itches to explore all those hardcore off-road specs. Give it mud, sand, or rocks to climb. That’s its happy place.
The 2022 Land Rover Defender tackles adventure with space, strength, and sure footing. We’d pick a version with the adaptive dampers and air suspension to make the most of its exceptional off-road capability.
—by Sam Moses with driving impressions by The Car Connection