The year 2020 was supposed to be awesome. A number of exciting new models were set to hit the market in the past 12 months including the all-new Land Rover Defender.
The British icon was preparing to make a big comeback and set new standards for off-road SUVs, which all too often deliver a rather antiquated driving experience.
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Land Rover had even invited us to a media launch in the U.K. back in April. Three days that would allow us to put the Defender to the test in the mud and the rolling fields of the English countryside.
Damn you, COVID-19.
But after many closures, lockdowns, delays and compromises, we finally managed to spend quality time with the Defender right here in Canada during an unseasonably warm month of December.
Impressive at First Glance
The 2021 Land Rover Defender impresses in many ways. First, it’s much bigger in person than on pictures. The silhouette is a bit less boxy than that of its predecessor, but there’s no denying its rugged presence and pedigree.
The interior is even more convincing. Like a military vehicle dressed up for the opera, the Defender is super-classy yet utilitarian. Everything from the door panels to the instruments, displays, seat upholstery and sturdy, textured plastic in the trunk has a unique look and feel.
There are two basic configurations to choose from—the two-door Defender 90 and the four-door Defender 110—along with several trim levels and packages. It all starts with a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine producing 296 horsepower. At the top of the lineup is the hardcore Defender X model designed to tackle the most challenging terrains with beefy tires and extra off-road tech.
Our tester was a high-end Defender 110 equipped with all the safety features you could imagine plus a few accessories such as a waterproof gear carrier and a snorkel to feed the engine with fresh air even when crossing a river.
We were also blessed with a six-cylinder engine that’s both turbocharged and supercharged to deliver 395 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque. Combined with a state-of-the-art automatic transmission, acceleration from 0-100 km/h is achieved in less than seven seconds. Land Rover claims a time of 6.1 seconds, but that’s when you have ideal conditions.
While devoid of some of the sophisticated off-road systems found on the Defender X, our tester still featured smart differentials front and rear as well as an adjustable air suspension.
Totally Worth the Wait
If there’s one silver lining to 2020, it’s got to be the Land Rover Defender. At least in the auto industry. This is proof that you can update a classic that has remained basically the same for decades without rubbing every fan the wrong way.
Simply put, the Defender is a success across the line.
Right away when you drive off the beaten path, you can feel the vehicle using its brains and brawn to handle tricky situations with confidence, even with less than stellar all-season tires. You just have to select the type of terrain via the infotainment screen and the Defender will adapt accordingly.
Everything is so effective, so effortless that it’s almost easy to forget you’re actually off the road. Or course, if you want a more traditional, more rewarding driving experience, you can change the Defender’s settings as you wish.
Now, what about when you’re on the road? Is it like the Jeep Wrangler and Toyota 4Runner where you get the impression of driving a leather-clad wheelbarrow? Not at all! The Defender feels refined, comfortable and capable, so much so that a Range Rover could be jealous. The engineers have done just an amazing job.
The 2021 Land Rover Defender is a tremendous vehicle that we’d easily recommend to anyone looking for a luxury SUV, whether for off-roading or simply as a daily driver. It’s that good.
So, yeah, 2020 sucked, but the Defender is back and we couldn’t be happier. Now, will it prove reliable over time and belie Land Rover’s reputation? That’s a whole other story…