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2021 Land Rover Defender review

The Brits send us an all-new SUV capable of delivering luxury and tackling extreme-off roading.

2 weeks ago
Karl Brauer
EVP Strategy, Executive Publisher
PROS
  • Capable off-road
  • Impressive on-road driving dynamics
  • Variety of models to suit everyone
CONS
  • Heavy curb weight means low fuel efficiency
  • Not big on interior space
  • Third row is only for children

The 2021 Land Rover Defender is an all-new luxury SUV with advanced off-road capabilities. Despite the Defender’s aggressive off-road focus it doesn’t compromise on-road comfort and refinement. This makes the Land Rover Defender a truly dual-nature SUV, capable of serving urban/suburban family duty or delivering extreme off-road adventures. It’s offered as a 2-door (“90”) or 4-door (“110”), with seating capacity of 5, 6 or 7 passengers. Starting price for the Defender is $47,000.  

Land Rover Defender Exterior

With a 70-year history as Land Rover’s off-road ace the latest Defender needs to inspire rugged confidence while acknowledging the high-tech nature of modern SUVs. The 2021 Defender’s upright, “boxy” profile, with short front and rear overhangs, pays homage to Defenders of the past. Contrasting this traditional design are advanced features, like standard LED headlights and taillights, power-folding exterior mirrors with approach lights, and a “solar attenuating windshield” that automatically filters sunlight to reduce cabin temperature. 

The Defender’s boxy shape, externally-mounted spare tire and side-hinged tailgate are backed up by a 38-degree approach angle, 40-degree departure angle and up to 11.5 inches of ground clearance, letting the Defender scale gradients up to 45 degrees and wade through water as deep as 35 inches. There’s also a high level of personalization available, with body color or contrasting roof options, wheel sizes ranging from 18 to 20 inches and black or satin exterior trim packages.

2021 Land Rover Defender

Defender Interior

The Land Rover Defender’s strong, functional design language continues inside, with a dashboard featuring a powder-coated magnesium panel, or “cross car beam” as described by Land Rover. The modular theme continues with exposed structural elements seen in the doors, grab handles and center console. Contrasting this industrial design theme are high-tech standard features like a 10-inch central touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. 

Land Rover’s new “PIVI Pro” infotainment interface is modeled after the latest smartphone designs, with a focus on quick access to even the most complex system features. This system uses over-the-air updates to ensure the latest software features and security measures without requiring a dealer visit. Wireless smartphone charging is standard on the new Land Rover Defender, as is Bluetooth connectivity for two phones simultaneously. The central touchscreen coordinates its information with the reconfigurable 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster.

Additional high-tech features offered on the Land Rover Defender include a head-up display, voice-control navigation, a Wi-Fi subscription service, and a 3D surround camera system showing 360-degree exterior views and “ClearSight Ground View” to serve as a digital off-road spotter. Land Rover’s “InControl Remote” connected technology lets drivers track the Defender’s location and fuel level from their phone while also allowing them to lock, unlock or initiate climate control settings remotely. For audiophiles, the Defender can be equipped with Meridian sound systems featuring 10 or 14 speakers and 400 or 700 watts for power. 

Seating configurations for the shorter wheelbase Defender “90” allow for 5 or 6 passengers, depending on if the central front jump seat is specified. The same 5- or 6-passenger seating options are offered on the longer wheelbase Defender “110”, along with a 5+2 seating configuration utilizing a third-row seat. Cargo capacity in the 90 is 15.6 cubic feet behind the second row and 58.3 cubic feet behind the first row. For the 110 model, cargo space is 10.7 cubic feet behind the third row, 34 cubic feet behind the second row and up to 78.8 cubic feet behind the first row.

Defender Powertrains

Two engines are available on the Land Rover Defender. The base drivetrain is a turbocharged 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine making 296 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. A larger 3.0-liter, 6-cylinder engine, offering 395 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque, is also available. The 6-cylinder engine features supercharging, turbocharging and a mild-hybrid system that stores braking energy and redeploys it for acceleration, which is impressive at zero-to-60 mph in 5.8 seconds with the 6-cylinder engine (7.7 seconds for the four-cylinder Defender). Both engines send power through an 8-speed automatic transmission. 

2021 Land Rover Defender

Regardless of engine choice, fuel efficiency isn’t the Land Rover Defender’s strong suit. Combined EPA ratings are either 18 or 19 mpg, likely due to the SUVs high curb weight. A base Defender 90 weighs over 4,800 pounds, and that number jumps to 5,200 pounds for a well-equipped Defender 110. Thankfully, the Defender is equipped with a 23-gallon fuel tank, giving it a long range between fill ups. We’re also impressed by the Defender’s 8,201-pound tow rating and 1,653-pound payload rating. 

A standard four-wheel-drive system and two-speed transfer case is included with every Land Rover Defender. Multiple driving modes, altering the Defender’s throttle, transmission, braking, traction control and stability control settings, can be selected through Land Rover’s “Terrain Response” system, which comes standard on base models. The more advanced “Terrain Response 2” system, along with locking center and rear differentials, are available for buyers looking to upgrade their Defender’s off-road capabilities. 

Within the Terrain Response 2 system is a new “Wade Sensing” program that instantly optimizes the Defender’s throttle response, climate control settings, differential locks and ride height for water fording. This setting also activates the “Wade Sensing” monitoring system on the central display screen, allowing drivers to observe the depth of water under the Defender. 

2021 Land Rover Defender

Defender Driving Experience

With such a heavy off-road emphasis it would be reasonable to assume the Land Rover Defender feels harsh and unrefined on pavement. Happily, the Defender’s engineers knew such a compromise wouldn’t be tolerated by today’s luxury SUV shoppers. To address both on- and off-road demands they started with an ultra-stiff aluminum monocoque unibody chassis, then added an independent front and rear suspension with electronic dampening. Land Rover claims the Defender’s chassis is the stiffest it’s ever created, and three times more rigid than a traditional body-on-frame design. 

Impressive claims to be sure, but as with any vehicle it’s where the Defender’s rubber meets the road (and sand, mud, rocks, etc.) that matters. Under each of those circumstances the Defender impresses. In city and freeway driving the Defender offers precise steering, predictable braking and confident handling, with minimal body roll despite its high profile and substantial curb weight. Seat comfort is excellent, while wind and road noise are minimal – again, despite the Defender’s tall, blocky shape. Power is adequate with the base 2.0-liter engine and downright entertaining with the 3.0-liter.

Conversely, buyers looking for genuine off-road excursions will be delighted with the Land Rover Defender’s capabilities. Even the base model, with its standard two-speed transfer case and Terrain Response system, can tackle serious off-road challenges the majority of SUVs should avoid. Stepping up to the Defender’s advanced Terrain Response 2 system and locking differentials adds a level of competence only a handful of SUVs can match, with most of them lacking the Defender’s on-road refinement.

2021 Land Rover Defender

2021 Land Rover Defender Trim Levels and Pricing

The base Land Rover Defender 90 price starts at around $47,000, with a top-of-the-line Defender 110 in “X” trim costing $84,000. Between the two body styles, drivetrains and available trim levels there are a total of eight Land Rover Defenders offered:

  • Defender 90 Base (starts at about $47,000) – 2.0-liter engine, four-wheel drive, two-speed transfer case, Terrain Response, LED exterior lighting, body-colored roof, 18-inch wheels 
  • Defender 110 (starts at about $52,000) – 40:20:40 folding rear seat
  • Defender 90 X-Dynamic S (starts at about $$59,000) – Adds 3.0-liter engine, body-colored door handles, satin silicon skid pans and grille bar, leather seats, 19-inch wheels
  • Defender 110 SE (starts at about $64,000) – Adds 3.0-liter engine, premium LED headlights with signature DRL, ClearSight interior rear view mirror, ebony leather seats, 20-inch wheels 
  • Defender 90 First Edition (starts at about $65,500) – Adds electronic air suspension, configurable Terrain Response, fabric folding roof, Meridian audio system, 20-inch wheels
  • Defender 110 X-Dynamic SE (starts at about $67,000) – Heated, electric power fold exterior mirrors with approach lights 
  • Defender 90 X (starts at about $82,000) – Electronic active differential, Terrain Response 2, panoramic roof, black contrast roof, gloss black hood, darkened taillights, head up display
  • Defender 110 X (starts at about $84,500) – 14-way heated and cooled front seats with memory settings, tan/ebony leather seating, upgraded interior materials

If you are looking for a more accurate idea of pricing, you can build and price a Defender on Land Rover’s official site.

2021 Land Rover Defender

Defender Best Features

The Land Rover Defender’s ability to simultaneously tackle the duties of a luxury SUV in the city and extreme-off-road SUV in the middle of nowhere makes it a unique offering, even in today’s world of highly versatile utility vehicles. We also appreciate the Defender’s wide range of available features and personalization.

What is Our Favorite Version of the Defender?

We like the exterior proportions of the shorter Land Rover Defender 90, and with its optional front jump seat it can still carry six passengers. Combine this model’s lighter weight with the more powerful 3.0-liter engine in the Defender 90 X-Dynamic S and you’ve got a stylish, powerful and highly capable luxury off-roader. This model includes 19-inch wheels and 12-way power leather seats for under $60,000. 

Defender Notable Safety Features

Every Land Rover Defender includes emergency brake assist, blind spot monitoring, lane keeping assist, rear cross-traffic monitoring, a clear exit monitor (checks for approaching traffic when opening the doors to exit), a 3D surround camera and traffic sign recognition. All Defenders also come with wade sensing technology to assist with water fording. Adaptive cruise control, a head up display, and a ClearSight interior mirror are available options.

The 2021 Land Rover Defender has not yet been crash tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

2021 Land Rover Defender

Who Should Buy a 2021 Land Rover Defender?

The Land Rover Defender’s wide range of capabilities gives it a wide spectrum of potential buyers. Premium SUV shoppers will be satisfied with the Defender’s luxury features and refinement, though it’s not quite a coddling as some purely on-road-oriented competitors. The ideal Land Rover Defender buyer will have both luxury SUV needs and serious off-road adventure needs – a combination of traits the Defender is perfectly suited to fulfill. 

CarExpert’s Take on the 2021 Land Rover Defender

Land Rover has been producing highly-capable off-road SUVs for decades. In recent years the British brand upped its luxury quotient without diluting its off-road heritage. The new Defender is arguably Land Rover’s most successful combination yet of these normally contradictory traits, and at a price substantially lower than its flagship Range Rover model.  

Add the 2021 Land Rover Defender to our recommended list. 

2021 Land Rover Defender

Defender Competitors to Consider

  • Audi Q7
  • BMW X5
  • Genesis GV80
  • Lexus GX
  • Mercedes-Benz GLE
  • Porsche Cayenne


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OVERALL RATING7.9
Show Breakdown
Cost of Ownership 6.8
Ride Comfort 8.5
Safety 8.2
Fit for Purpose 8.5
Handling Dynamics 8.1
Interior Practicality and Space 7.6
Fuel Efficiency 7.1
Value for Money 7.6
Performance 8.1
Technology Infotainment 8.2