Skip advert
Advertisement
In-depth reviews

Land Rover Defender SUV - Engines, drive & performance

The Land Rover Defender has a wider range of talents than almost any other vehicle on sale

Carbuyer Rating

4.4 out of 5

Owners Rating

5.0 out of 5

Read owner reviews
Engines, drive & performance Rating

5.0 out of 5

​It might be one of the best loved models of all time, but one thing the Defender was never famous for was its everyday performance. Enough low-down grunt to get up steep banks and tow a trailer, yes, but not straight-line speed away from the lights.

With a more advanced powertrain, the new Defender has a far broader set of talents. Its advanced adaptive four-wheel drive and air suspension (on top trims) ensures it's still capable of traversing the world's most inhospitable terrain, but it can also tear from 0-62mph in as little as 5.2 seconds with a brawny V8 engine fitted.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Just as impressive as its on-paper statistics, there's the fact it's simply fun to drive as well. Many have questioned whether the new Defender would tread on the toes of the Discovery, and it’s easy to see why. From behind the wheel the Defender instantly makes you smile; its steering is more alert, and while the suspension is a little firmer, there’s more feedback flowing back through your fingertips and the seat as you drive. It makes the incredibly capable Disco feel almost redundant. 

Attack a British road, and the Defender feels surprisingly sporty, digging its front tyres into the road with lots of grip on offer. It's remarkably composed too; the fact the body leans slightly through faster corners and the nose lifts under acceleration only seems to add to its character. To cope with its extra power, the V8 version is fitted with upgraded suspension components, plus a limited-slip differential and new traction control software, which only enhance the driving experience. It feels stable and quite engaging in corners, with a smoother ride than the Mercedes G-Class.

Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

Yet, the same suspension can transform to scale ruts, wade through deep water and absorb torturous bumps. Every Defender is fitted with an eight-speed automatic gearbox that also has low-range ratios designed specifically for off-road driving and towing. At Eastnor Castle's off-road experience centre, sections have been opened up for the first time in a decade to test the Defender's extreme capabilities. A set of tortuous undulating water-filled pits is a particular challenge, and just when you think the Defender is about to get stuck, its Terrain Response 2 software modulates power to the wheels to find just enough traction to drag it out the other side.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Designed around Land Rover's new D7x platform that's incredibly stiff - and has been subjected to years of rigorous testing during its development - the Defender has approach and departure angles of 38 and 40 degrees respectively, along with a 900mm wading depth. It can tackle 45-degree side slopes and inclines, and its trick assistance systems can be used to adjust the chassis and differentials manually or simply be left in Auto, where it recognises the surface you're driving on.

Land Rover Defender diesel engines

The Defender launched with two versions of the 2.0-litre 'Ingenium' diesel engine, badged D200 and D240. The latter (237bhp) is more powerful than the former (197bhp) but both get a healthy 430Nm of torque to help with tricky terrain or when pulling heavy loads. Each gets an automatic gearbox and permanent four-wheel drive as standard, with the faster car capable of 0-60mph in 8.7 seconds.

Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

However, these engines were replaced very early in the Defender’s lifecycle, with Land Rover switching the four-cylinder units for punchier 3.0-litre straight-six diesel engines equipped with mild-hybrid hardware. These were badged D200 (again, with 197bhp), D250 (serving up 247bhp), and D300 (with 296bhp). Acceleration from 0-62mph takes 10.2s, 8.3s and 6.7 seconds respectively for the mid-length Defender 110, with the lighter 90 slightly quicker and the longer, heavier 130 a little slower. It’s worth noting that the D200 has also since been discontinued, leaving just the D250 and D300.

Petrol engines

Unlike the previous iteration of Defender, buyers also get the option of two petrol engines, badged P300 and P400. The smaller 2.0-litre turbo gets 296bhp, propelling the car from 0-62mph in 7.1 seconds, while the 3.0-litre straight-six P400 mild-hybrid has 395bhp and gets to 62mph in six seconds.

Advertisement - Article continues below

The 48-volt mild-hybrid electrical assistance tech is designed to harvest the energy normally wasted under deceleration and store it in a small lithium-ion battery. This can be used to bolster the engine's torque under acceleration, or switch off the engine more of the time when waiting in traffic.

It's fun to drive, with a tuneful sound and impressive acceleration. Interestingly, there are no steering wheel-mounted paddles for the automatic gearbox, as engineers don't feel they fit the Defender ethos, but you can nudge the gearstick to shift manually. The engine and steering again feel surprisingly willing for a big, heavy SUV.

Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

The V8 version should be even more capable. With 518bhp and a 0-62mph time of 5.4 seconds, it's the fastest factory version of the Defender ever launched. Considering its boxy shape, a 149mph top speed is particularly attention-grabbing. To make the most of its extra power, the V8 Defender also gets a new active electronic differential, upgraded suspension and a toughened gearbox. Its Terrain Response system also gains a new Dynamic mode for enthusiastic driving on-road.

Yet it's not as raucous as some buyers may be expecting. That's likely to be the brief for an SVO version of the Defender that's still to come, but for now the V8 sounds quite restrained, only emitting a bark in Dynamic mode.

Plug-in hybrid engines

The Defender P400e plug-in hybrid uses a 2.0-litre petrol engine, electric motor and a 19.2kWh lithium-ion battery. With a combined 398bhp, it's only a few tenths slower than the V8 model, getting from 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds. Unfortunately, the P400e is limited to the Defender 110 model. Air suspension and 20-inch alloy wheels come as standard.

Despite the extra weight of its battery, the P400e still feels sharper than expected on the road, with quicker steering responses than the Land Rover Discovery. In Hybrid mode, the powertrain decides how to juggle between its power sources and it's hard to detect the changes from behind the wheel. 

The petrol engine can sound a bit coarse under hard acceleration but this is also the quietest Defender when driven sedately, particularly in EV mode. The electric motor alone can power the SUV at up to 87mph but at higher speeds wind noise is noticeable because of the Land Rover's boxy shape.  

Skip advert
Advertisement

Charlie writes and edits news, review and advice articles for Carbuyer, as well as publishing content to its social media platforms. He has also been a regular contributor to its sister titles Auto Express, DrivingElectric and evo. As well as being consumed by everything automotive, Charlie is a speaker of five languages and once lived in Chile, Siberia and the Czech Republic, returning to the UK to write about his life-long passion: cars.

Skip advert
Advertisement

Recommended

Top 10 best diesel cars
The best diesel cars
Best cars
14 Jul 2023

Top 10 best diesel cars

Land Rover Defender SUV review
Defender 130
In-depth reviews
27 Jun 2023

Land Rover Defender SUV review

Most Popular

Engine management light: top 5 causes of amber engine warning light
Engine warning light
Tips and advice
17 Apr 2024

Engine management light: top 5 causes of amber engine warning light

All-new Citroen C3 Aircross squeezes 7 seats into small SUV body
Citroen C3 Aircross front quarter
News
18 Apr 2024

All-new Citroen C3 Aircross squeezes 7 seats into small SUV body

Best new car deals 2024: this week’s top car offers
Carbuyer best new car deals hero
Deals
19 Apr 2024

Best new car deals 2024: this week’s top car offers

Tips & advice

View All
Car dashboard warning lights: the complete guide
Car dashboard symbols and meanings
Tips and advice
26 Mar 2024

Car dashboard warning lights: the complete guide

Electric car charging stations: a complete guide
Public EV charge point
Tips and advice
11 Jan 2023

Electric car charging stations: a complete guide

PCP vs HP – which type of car finance is right for you?
PCP vs HP
Tips and advice
17 May 2022

PCP vs HP – which type of car finance is right for you?

Average speed cameras: how do they work?
Average speed cameras: how do they work?
Tips and advice
21 Mar 2024

Average speed cameras: how do they work?

Best cars

View All
Top 10 best car interiors
Peugeot 208 hatchback
Best cars
25 Jun 2021

Top 10 best car interiors

Top 10 best electric cars 2024
best electric cars
Best cars
28 Mar 2024

Top 10 best electric cars 2024

Top 10 best cheap-to-run cars 2024
The best cheap-to-run cars 2023
Best cars
2 Jan 2024

Top 10 best cheap-to-run cars 2024

The UK's top 10 fastest hot hatchbacks 2024
Fastest hot hatchbacks hero
Best cars
2 Jan 2024

The UK's top 10 fastest hot hatchbacks 2024