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Land Rover Defender 110 2021 review: off-road test

The Land Rover Defender has always been synonymous with off-road adventure. All of us have a Defender memory or experience – or perhaps many memories and many experiences – and all of us have, at least, one friend or relative who is a mad-keen, die-hard Defender-lover.

Even those people with little knowledge or experience of the outdoors know the name and recognise the vehicle.

The Defender has always been a vehicle full of appeal; very capable off-road but rather ordinary on-road with few concessions to safety, comfort or actual drivability. Well, none if I’m being honest. But it remained much-loved. 

So, in 2016, when Land Rover called time on the then current Defender after 68 years of production, there was collective groan of despair and disbelief around the world – even from those who take pleasure in disparaging the Defender as merely a puddle of leaking oil looking for a place to park.

Well, taking on what was really was an impossible task – creating a new Defender that easily slots into a modern SUV/4WD market and yet still embodies the spirit of the old Defender – Land Rover revealed the new Defender in September 2019 and recently staged its Aussie launch in regional NSW.

What’s it like? Read on.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

In true Land Rover style, the 2021 Defender is available in many and varied forms.

In 110 guise, there is a choice of three engines: the D200 (a 2.0-litre i4 diesel, 147kW/430Nm); the D240 (a 2.0-litre i4 diesel, 177kW/430Nm); and the P400 MHEV (a 3.0-litre i6 294kW/550Nm petrol engine as part of a mild hybrid electric vehicle (MHEV) set-up – more about that later).

There are six trim levels: Defender 110, S, SE, HSE, First Edition and X.

There are nine variants: Defender 110 with the D200 ($69.626); the 110 with the D240 ($75,536), in S ($83,435), SE ($90,936), or First Edition spec ($102,135); and the P400 in S ($95,335), SE ($102,736), HSE ($112,535), or X spec ($136,736).

The 2021 Defender is available in many and varied forms. The 2021 Defender is available in many and varied forms.

Unprecedented times have impacted the supply chain and there were no new diesel Defenders available to drive at the Aussie launch, or even available to buy in Australia until further notice, as demand has rapidly outstripped supply in the current global conditions.

The Defender will be available in 90 (not here yet) and 110 body designs, with up to six seats in the 90 and the option of five, six or 5+2 seating in the five-door 110.

As standard, the Defender gets a stack of gear including LED headlights, heated, electric, power-fold door mirrors, approach lights and auto-dimming keyless entry, cabin walk-through, auto-dimming interior rear view mirror, carpet mats, fabric eight-way heated semi-powered front seats 

It also has 10.0-inch touchscreen Pivi Pro system, a smartphone pack (with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), DAB radio, satnav, an online pack with data plan, and a 180W six-speaker sound system.

As standard, the Defender gets a stack of gear including LED headlights. As standard, the Defender gets a stack of gear including LED headlights.

Driver-assist tech includes AEB, a 3D surround camera, a 360° parking aid, wade sensing, cruise control and speed limiter, lane keep assist, and traffic sign recognition and adaptive speed limiter.

The new Defender has a permanent all-wheel drive system with dual-range transfer case, electronic air suspension, and Terrain Response. 

But, again, in true Land Rover tradition, Defender buyers are able to option up their vehicle with a multitude of accessories and Packs, which include grouped accessories to suit your particular bent, i.e. Adventure, Explorer, Country or Urban.

There’s a choice of 11 wheels across four sizes – from 18-inch to 22-inch – and that range includes the Defender’s old-school 18-inch white steel wheels, although I haven’t see any of those available here in the metal yet.

Driver-assist tech includes AEB, a 3D surround camera, and 360° parking aid. Driver-assist tech includes AEB, a 3D surround camera, and 360° parking aid.

At launch, we spent the lion’s share of our time in an Indus Silver five-seater P400 S, which, as mentioned, has a manufacturer suggested retail price of $95,335, but its price as tested is $109,987, because it was equipped with a stack of optional accessories, including a $2740 comfort and convenience pack (with premium cabin lighting, front centre console refrigerator compartment, Meridian Sound System and wireless device charging), a $2086 driver assist pack (with blind spot assist, rear collision monitor and rear traffic monitor), 19-inch six-spoke, gloss black alloy wheels ($520) and more.

Exterior colour choices (satin protective wraps) include Pangea Green, Indus Silver and Gondwana Stone.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

From the ground up, this is an all-new Defender. It’s built on Land Rover’s new D7X platform – the ‘X’ is for extreme so that should give you a bit of a hint as to what its design and engineering goals are. 

Land Rover reckons the Defender’s monocoque body-frame is now three times stronger and three times stiffer than traditional body-on-frame set-ups. And who are we to argue?

From the ground up, this is an all-new Defender. From the ground up, this is an all-new Defender.

Billed as the toughest Land Rover ever made, it looks good and has the side-opening tailgate, alpine lights, raised bonnet and sculpted grille.

It’s undoubtedly a Defender, though it’s barely recognisable as such. It has much softer edges than before and a contemporary quality about it – and the fact you can tailor-design it with accessories and packs gives it even more appeal. Although you certainly pay for that privilege.

Sure, it’s a new rebooted Defender – as if the old one’s been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century and yet it still retains an adventure-ready presence and that ol’ Defender spirit.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

This Defender has a 3.0-litre turbo-charged in-line six-cylinder petrol engine – producing 294kW at 5500rpm and 550Nm at 2000-5000rpm. It has an eight-speed automatic transmission, and a permanent all-wheel drive system, dual-range transfer case, as well as Land Rover’s Terrain Response 2 system, with switchable modes such as Grass/Gravel/Snow, Sand, Mud and Ruts, and Rock Crawl, all which optimise throttle response, engine outputs, transmission shifts and diff control to best suit the terrain. 

Our test vehicle also had the Defender’s new configurable terrain response system (giving the driver the ability to select and save powertrain, traction and diff settings for off-road driving) and a wade programme, which increases air-suspension ride height and closes off HVAC vents to reduce the ingress of moisture in the air.

This Defender has a 3.0-litre turbo-charged in-line six-cylinder petrol engine. This Defender has a 3.0-litre turbo-charged in-line six-cylinder petrol engine.

It also has centre and rear diff locks.

As mentioned earlier, the P400 is an MHEV (a mild hybrid electric vehicle) and, as such, it has a 48-volt lithium-ion battery, aimed at reducing engine load and fuel consumption, and it has a 7kW electric supercharger aimed at minimising turbo lag.

How practical is the space inside?

The interior is a nice blend of durable materials – rubber mats, carpet and soft-touch surfaces (depending on your Defender’s spec) – and stylish touches, such as a metal Defender-stamped section in front of the front passenger. 

Our Defender’s interior style is called Acorn/Lunar and includes Acorn grained leather and woven textile seat facings with Lunar interior – whatever that means. I didn’t mind it, but check out the photos and make up your own mind whether it’s your cup of tea or not.

Storage spaces include centre console (more about that soon), glovebox, twin cup holders (concealed by a removeable rubber tray) in between driver and passenger, overhead sunglass storage, narrow door pockets, and shallow spaces here and there for all of your everyday-carry gear.

The interior is a nice blend of durable materials. The interior is a nice blend of durable materials.

Where the front centre console is in our tester, you can opt for it with or without a refrigerator, or that space can instead be a cabin walk-through (a no-cost option), or a front jump seat (a $1853 option). 

Charge points include USBs up front, and a wireless charging spot (part of the $2740 comfort and convenience pack).

Up-front and in the back seats, there is adequate room for everyone, and the seats are very supportive.

The second row is a 40:20:40 folding configuration with centre armrest. Second-row passengers have air-vent controls and USB charge points in the rear of the centre console.

Up-front and in the back seats, there is adequate room for everyone. Up-front and in the back seats, there is adequate room for everyone.

The rear cargo area seems a bit small in this five-seater, although it offers a claimed 1075 litres. With the second row folded down, there is a listed 2380 litres of space.

The S-spec cabin has rubber flooring and rubber flooring in the rear cargo area.

The rear cargo space has a “loadspace cover”, under which you can hide your valuables, and cargo hooks.

Generally, it’s a nice-looking, well laid out cabin.

  • The rear cargo area seems a bit small in this five-seater, although it offers a claimed 1075 litres. The rear cargo area seems a bit small in this five-seater, although it offers a claimed 1075 litres.
  • With the second row folded down, there is a listed 2380 litres of space. With the second row folded down, there is a listed 2380 litres of space.

What's it like as a daily driver?

Damn good. 

It’s unlike any Defender you’ve ever experienced. It was actually a lot of fun to drive on-road – which is something no Defender driver has said ever!

Our blacktop drive loop of just under two hours included time on a highway, and stints on country back-roads, with plenty of twists and turns thrown into the mix, and the Defender consistently felt lively and dynamic – well, for a large 4WD wagon, anyway.

It’s a big 4WD wagon at 5018mm long (that’s including the rear-mounted spare tyre, and it has a 3022mm wheelbase. It’s 2008mm wide and 1967mm high.

With its substantial bulk, it sits nicely on the road; it’s comfortable, composed and controlled, no matter how hard you throw it into corners. Minor body-roll only ever creeps in when you get particularly aggressive with it.

It’s unlike any Defender you’ve ever experienced. It’s unlike any Defender you’ve ever experienced.

But it always feels highly manoeuvrable; it never feels too bulky or unwieldy.

Throttle response is smooth, and you can tap into the 3.0-litre petrol’s 294kW and 550Nm whenever you want to – for a punch off the mark from a standing-start or to safely and smoothly overtake someone on the open road.

The eight-speed automatic transmission is pretty cluey, but I found the small shifter itself a bit annoying to work as I preferred to use the auto in Sport/manual mode (requiring quick shifts up or down), but perhaps it’s something I’d get used to if I had more time in the Defender.

Road-holding is very impressive for a vehicle that used to be as dynamic as a school bus or tractor – or a school-bus tractor.

Our test vehicle was on 19-inch rims and Goodyear Wrangler All Terrain tyres. Our test vehicle was on 19-inch rims and Goodyear Wrangler All Terrain tyres.

The Defender is quiet and refined: noise, vibration and harshness levels have been well and truly subdued and the Defender’s cabin is a cocooned space now, in which you feel insulated from whatever you’re driving past. There is some wind rush around its big wing mirrors, but it's not terrible. 

Comfort levels are exceptional for something that used to be a real punishment to drive or to be a passenger in.

I only ever really noticed the MHEV system when the engine seemed to cut-out when your speed hit 3km/h or under and the Defender went ‘off the boil’ – no problem when you’re cruising around on a flat road, minding your own business, but a bit disconcerting when you’re tackling low-speed, low-range 4WDing.

Our test vehicle was on 19-inch rims and Goodyear Wrangler All Terrain tyres (255/65R19 114H).

With its substantial bulk, it sits nicely on the road. With its substantial bulk, it sits nicely on the road.

What's it like for touring?

Damn good, as capable as ever, if not more so. With trade-offs though – let me explain.

In terms of off-road measures, the Defender has a claimed 291mm of ground clearance and a wading depth of 900mm. If you belly out in the Defender, there’s an automatically applied emergency 75mm of extra height from the air suspension system.

It has approach, ramp (breakover) and departure angles of 38 degrees, 28 degrees, and 40 degrees respectively.

The off-road drive loop, organised and guided by 4WD and towing experts, John and Carl Eggenhuizen of Getabout Training Services, included a mix of gravel and dirt tracks, rocky hill-climbs, slippery descents, mud-holes and water-crossings.

So, with air suspension raised to off-road height and tyre pressures dropped to 26 psi, we got stuck straight into the drive and, from the get-go, the Defender was in its element.

From what has traditionally been a real basic, no-nonsense 4WD, the new Defender offers such levels of comfort and refinement that it’s a dramatic change. 

Steering is light and responsive at low speeds and that's always handy for such a big vehicle during low-speed, low-range 4WDing, especially when tracks become quite tight and twisty.

As it did on-road on this launch, it felt strong and planted on the track, any track, and ride and handling at speed over chopped-up sections of dirt road is so smooth and so composed, I could barely believe I was driving a Defender. 

The new Defender offers such levels of comfort and refinement that it’s a dramatic change.  The new Defender offers such levels of comfort and refinement that it’s a dramatic change. 

The Defender’s suspension – a combination of a multi-link set-up and fully independent air suspension – works supremely well to smooth out most road-surface imperfections at all speeds. Case in point: it made bearable what would otherwise have been a particularly teeth-rattling ride over a chopped-up dirt road.

There’s plenty of low-down torque from the petrol engine and in low-range that’s evenly applied.

The comprehensive terrain response system, which gives you the option to dial through different driving modes, including Mud and Ruts, and Rock Crawl both of which we used a fair bit on this off-road drive loop, is quite a clever set-up and almost feels out of place in a Defender.

The added bonus is: you can calibrate the responses – acceleration, traction sensitivity, and diff control – to suit your driving style and the terrain you're on.

Wheel travel is decent and the Defender is able to get useable flex out of that multi-link set-up and air suspension combo.

Another thing is the fact we were doing a lot of bouncing around on hard-core terrain – over rocky ground and through mud-holes – and it was still comfortable. I could imagine doing hours of low-range 4WDing in this Defender and not suffer a massive headache or feel like I’ve sustained a spinal injury as you might feel after hours of driving in some other modern 4WDs. 

And that's a big plus in this Defender’s favour and something no driver of previous defenders could surely claim.

The Pivi touchscreen system is essentially the new Defender’s command centre, where you can cycle through terrain response programs, set driving modes, and operate everything from that screen. It's easy enough to use, generally, however, one of the few niggles I have about this Defender, is that this system can get a little bit tricky to operate; I had problems trying to select the modes that I actually wanted in between sections of terrain. Maybe it's just me, the Luddite that I am, but it just feels a little bit tricky to operate on the move.

I could barely believe I was driving a Defender.  I could barely believe I was driving a Defender. 

The driver-assist tech and all the high-tech off-road-oriented wizardry, especially terrain response, is so seamlessly effective and works so well that it’s almost too good, too smooth. You feel one or two steps removed from the experience of actually driving the terrain you're on. It doesn't feel like such a dialled-in experience as the Defenders of old, or even as hands-on as it still does when driving off-road in the rebooted old-school 4WDs, such as the Suzuki Jimny, or the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

That's not to take anything away from the new Defender’s capability – it’s very capable – but it just feels a little bit cold, a little bit too clinical in its execution.

You can’t fault the efficacy of the electronics but that’s another part of the problem – you’re wholly reliant on them functioning and being effective. One journo reported that a fault alert flashed on the dash when he went through some water. Now, that may be an easy fix – and it was on this occasion (just a quick turn-off-and-back-on solution) – but then again, it may not be a quick fix. And if you’re in the middle of nowhere, at the mercy of your high-tech off-road systems, and a sensor malfunctions, then minor strife could become a real problem. It’s certainly not something the application of good old-fashioned bush mechanics could solve, as may have been the case on a previous-generation Defender. But then again, this is an issue you’ll potentially be confronted with in any modern-day 4WD.

The Defender has a claimed maximum unbraked capacity of 750kg and a maximum braked towing capacity of 3500kg.

It has a maximum roof load of 300kg.

How much fuel does it consume?

The P400 Defender’s fuel consumption is a claimed 9.9L/100km (on a combined cycle).

We weren’t able to do a proper calculation due to time constraints, but the dash-indicated fuel consumption was 13.5L/100km towards the end of our off-road stage; and 11.3L/100km at the end of our on-road stage. (We drove a different vehicle in each phase – but same engine and spec though.)

The Defender has a 90-litre tank.

What safety equipment is fitted?

In terms of safety gear, the new Defender has AEB, a 3D surround camera, 360° parking aid, wade sensing, cruise control and speed limiter, lane keep assist, traffic sign recognition and adaptive speed limiter, hill descent control, tyre pressure monitoring system and more.

It has ISOFIX points on the second-row outboard seas only.

The Defender does not yet have an ANCAP safety rating.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

This Defender is covered by a five-year / unlimited kilometre warranty, and five-year service plan ($1950 for diesel engines; $2650 for petrols), which includes five years roadside assist.

This Defender is covered by a five-year / unlimited kilometre warranty. This Defender is covered by a five-year / unlimited kilometre warranty.

It barely looks like a Defender – it actually looks like a Land Rover Discovery rammed onto a brick – and it doesn’t drive like a Defender.

This is like no Defender that has come before it: it’s refined, composed and comfortable on-road and it’s just as capable as it’s ever been off-road – if not more so.

But by embracing so much positive change – in terms of creature comforts, drive-ability and safety – has the new Defender sacrificed some of its character, some of its spirit?

The simple truth is: there is so much good going for this vehicle that even some of those die-hard fans of previous Defenders, who have already voiced their displeasure at the new Defender, will still surely consider this a big step in the right direction for a legendary off-roader.

By the way, even though I haven't driven it yet, I reckon the D200 in S spec ($69,626) would be a pretty good way to get into an affordable Defender and then you have the flexibility to build on it from there, with your own selection of accessories and/or packs.

$69,626 - $95,335

Based on new car retail price

Daily driver score

4/5

Adventure score

4.2/5

adventureguide rank

  • Light

    Dry weather gravel roads and formed trails with no obstacles, very shallow water crossings.

  • Medium

    Hard-packed sand, slight to medium hills with minor obstacles in all weather.

  • Heavy

    Larger obstacles, steeper climbs and deeper water crossings; plus tracks marked as '4WD only'

Price Guide

$69,626 - $95,335

Based on new car retail price

This price is subject to change closer to release data