Land Rover Defender SUV review
"The Land Rover Defender has returned with an incredible repertoire of talents, including a strong range of plug-in hybrid, petrol and diesel engines"
- Fun to drive
- Incredible off road
- Great interior
- High running costs
- Expensive to buy
- Cumbersome tailgate
This is the all-new Land Rover Defender, the long-awaited, much-hyped replacement for Britain's most famous SUV. It returns some four years after production of its predecessor stopped, and manages to be both similar and yet significantly different.
Its design clearly pays tribute to the original ‘Landie’, albeit in original new ways, and Land Rover still claims it's the best off-roader you can walk into a showroom and buy. However, its advanced technology, improved performance, luxury and safety kit mean the Defender has been parachuted into the 21st Century.
We'll let you decide whether its design is a success, but it certainly looks appropriately chunky, and details like its front and rear lights are impressively intricate. There are plenty of personalisation options too. It may be that you love the basic Defender with steel wheels, but hate the range-topper with gargantuan alloys, or vice versa. Similarly you may prefer the looks of the three-door Defender 90 or longer five-door 110, and there’s an even lengthier 130 also in the pipeline.
Inside, the Defender has a rugged, industrial aesthetic, characterised by exposed bolt heads, metal surfaces and an exposed magnesium crossmember that forms part of the car’s structure. It's also unique thanks to an optional jump seat between the front occupants that can make the 90 or 110 a six-seater. A third row of seats is also available for the 110.
Passengers are treated to the latest in-car entertainment and connectivity, with Land Rover's Pivi Pro system using two modems to ensure it can be wirelessly updated, even while being used for media, navigation or traffic updates.
At launch, a pair of four-cylinder 2.0-litre diesel engines with 197 or 237bhp were available, badged D200 and D240 respectively. These have now been replaced by a pair of 3.0-litre six-cylinder engines with mild-hybrid electrical assistance. In base D200 trim, this engine produces 197bhp, which increases to 247bhp in mid-range D250 spec and 296bhp in the range-topping D300 version.
The entry-level P300 petrol is unchanged with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine producing 296bhp. For those wanting more power, a 394bhp 3.0-litre straight-six petrol P400 mild hybrid is also available in the top X trim, but a starting price of £81,000 means it probably won't be a common sight on UK roads. A 518bhp V8-engined version of the Defender is likely to be even more exclusive; it's the fastest factory version ever, hitting 0-62mph in 5.4 seconds, but also costs around £100,000.
A P400e plug-in hybrid was introduced as part of the 2021 revisions and is the first PHEV powertrain in the history of the Defender. This model combines a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, an electric motor and a battery. It's sure to be the top pick for company-car drivers but it's expensive to buy, costing slightly more than six-cylinder Defenders.
The PHEV version is the fastest Defender until Jaguar’s Special Vehicle Operations division creates a high-performance V8 model, which is expected later this year. The entry-level diesel costs from £45,000 and every version has an eight-speed automatic gearbox, low-range gears and four-wheel drive.
The D250 diesel is capable of getting the Defender from 0-62mph in a respectable 8.3 seconds, but it's the way the Land Rover feels to drive that's most surprising. The steering is direct and responsive, tucking the nose into corners with little hesitation and while there's some body roll, this suits the Defender's character. This is a Defender that's sporty and enjoyable to drive along a twisty road, thanks to the chameleon-like nature of its adaptive air suspension.
Off road, the same setup can extend, providing enough articulation to see the Defender crawl over almost any obstacle and wade through almost a metre of water. It's almost unstoppable off-road, and surprisingly comfortable while tackling the very roughest terrain. It can also tow up to 3,500kg and carry an unbelievable 300kg on its roof.
The Defender has always been innovative and the latest version is one of the most intelligent cars we've ever tested. It may be rather uneconomical - unless you choose the plug-in hybrid - but it makes up for this with impressive on and off-road manners, and an incredibly well considered design for demanding buyers, their passengers and all their gear.