2020 Land Rover Defender X review: Rugged and refined in equal measure

March 16, 2021 0 By boss

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Man, this thing is sharp.


Andrew Krok/Roadshow

Sometimes, Mother Nature brings the off-road park to your doorstep. With my corner of Michigan nestled deep under a foot of snow, and with neighborhood snow-plow infrastructure so lacking it may as well not exist, venturing outside becomes a capital-A adventure. Thankfully, I have a Land Rover Defender X in my driveway, which through a combination of luxury appointments and outright off-road capability turns this stark-white hellscape back into a winter wonderland.

Like

  • Looks badass.
  • Can drive through nearly anything.
  • Mild-hybrid I6 can push.

Don’t Like

  • Touchy brakes
  • Big boy, big thirst
  • Infotainment better, still not great

Whether out of general newness or the fact that a Defender has not graced our amber waves of grain in two decades, this SUV really turns heads. Part of that comes from its surprising dimensions. It looks a lot smaller in pictures, but get right up on this thing and it feels like you’re staring down a building. Its 119-inch wheelbase dwarfs both a Range Rover and a Mercedes-Benz G550. The body is shorter overall than either, but this is no compact utility vehicle.

Being large and in charge reflects on the Defender’s styling, too. It’s both faithful to Defenders of old and still future-forward, borrowing elements like round headlights and diamond plating on the hood and adapting them to a sleeker, more modern design. It lacks the aggressive militaristic rigidity of the Mercedes G-Class, but it’s not far off. My range-topping X tester zhushes things up with a black contrast roof and hood, satin chrome trim and beefy 255/60R20 Goodyear Wrangler all-terrain tires ($350). Throw in the rear-mounted spare and you’ve got A Whole Look.

The interior further exemplifies the whole safari-chic theme. Cover the badge on the Defender X’s steering wheel and you’d be hard pressed to say this isn’t a Range Rover. Then again, with a starting price of $82,250 including destination, it’d better be close. Leather abounds, with rough-cut walnut trim splashed across the center console and door panels to great effect. The plastics have a rougher finish to them that speak more to durability than flimsiness. Considering the exterior dimensions, it’s no surprise that there’s oodles of headroom and legroom for all passengers, and the seats themselves are mighty comfortable. Visibility is top-notch, too, although the rear-mounted spare tire can eat into rearward views; thankfully, my tester sports a rearview mirror that displays a feed from the backup camera mounted above the spare.

Function walks hand-in-hand with form inside the Defender X. Nearly the entire middle of the dashboard serves as a tray for stashing maps, masks, phones, you name it — heck, there’s even a pass-through behind the infotainment screen. The center console offers two levels of storage, in addition to a small cubby under the armrest. Swing open the tailgate (be careful if you park too close to a wall or other cars) and there’s 38 cubic feet of cargo space, half a cube more than the Mercedes G550 and nearly 150% of what you get in a Range Rover.

While there isn’t a V8 under the hood (yet), it almost feels like there is. Instead, the Defender X utilizes a 3.0-liter straight-6 gas engine combined with a 48-volt mild-hybrid system. This powertrain delivers a sufficient 395 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque. Given its 5,200-plus-pound curb weight, Land Rover’s Ingenium engine can shove the Defender about with an impressive amount of haste, its eight-speed automatic rattling off smooth shifts in the background whether I’m gaining or shedding speed. It sounds pretty good in the process, too. The mild-hybrid is more efficient than the 2.0-liter gas engine available on lower trims, offering an EPA-estimated 17 miles per gallon city and 22 mpg highway — not great numbers by any stretch, but 3 mpg ahead of the V8-powered G550 on the freeway. Those figures are relatively easy to meet, but far trickier to beat. It’s thirsty.

That focus on smoothness extends to the rest of the Defender X’s ride. Equipped with those thicc off-road tires and a standard air suspension, this unibody SUV’s soft ride feels a little more composed than a Mercedes G550, but there are some truck-ish vibes still lingering about, with sharp highway expansion joints translating some shudders to the cabin and a bit of wallowing over undulating pavement. Throw in steering that’s a little on the light side, and there’s no forgetting the thing’s mass in daily operation. The brakes, which on my tester feature red calipers for some reason, are more than capable of stopping in a hurry, although the pedal is touchier than I’d like, requiring a little more finesse for smooth stops. If you need some extra ground clearance, the air suspension can raise the body to offer 11.5 inches of space between Defender and dirt.

The Defender’s interior isn’t just attractive, it’s also plenty versatile.


Andrew Krok/Roadshow

Speaking of dirt, Roadshow’s social media editor, Daniel Golson, had a different Land Rover Defender that he took through some serious paces at a local off-road park, and he referred to it as an “absolute beast over even the rockiest and most treacherous terrain, with the Terrain Response driving modes making it quick and easy to set up the car.” He didn’t even need to reach into the nethermost regions of the Defender’s many off-road options to have a great time, either, but with locking differentials, 360-degree cameras and hill-descent control, the Defender is able to tackle some serious stuff.

My time in shin-deep snow couldn’t have been easier. I didn’t even have to make use of the Defender’s many modes; letting the standard four-wheel-drive do its thing made for slip-free starts and stops every time. Sure, it might be like bringing a tactical nuclear device to a knife fight, but it’s nice to be overprepared for once.

The Defender’s new infotainment system is good, but Jaguar Land Rover’s latest still suffers from some of the same issues that have plagued its iterations for years.


Andrew Krok/Roadshow

All Land Rover Defenders come standard with the automaker’s new Pivi Pro infotainment system, which lives on a 10-inch touchscreen nestled into the dashboard. It’s home to just about everything you need here, whether it’s off-road settings, navigation, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and what isn’t shown there is displayed clearly on either the configurable gauge display or the head-up display that’s part of the X trim. Pivi Pro is a little underwhelming, though; while I do appreciate the new skin and its improved responsiveness, it’s still sluggish to boot up when cold and overall response can still be laggy. It also takes some getting used to how the menus and options are arranged.

In terms of safety equipment, all Defenders include automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, a surround-view camera system, lane-keeping assist and parking sensors. The Defender X also rocks a standard Driver Assist Pack, which is optional on lower trims, consisting of adaptive cruise control, active blind-spot assist and rear cross-traffic alert.

You’ll be happy that a rearview camera-mirror is available, because that badass mounted spare eats into rearward visibility.


Andrew Krok/Roadshow

The Land Rover Defender is not a cheap proposition, but it’s thankfully nowhere near the MSRP excesses of the Mercedes G550, which won’t leave a dealer’s lot for anything less than $125,000 or so. Four-door Defender 110 models start at $51,250 including destination, while my Defender X exists at the upper bound of $85,750, as it includes just about everything the automaker can include. It’s a downright steal compared to its competitor, though, even if you don’t get the badge cachet or a V8 under the hood. The G550 may be more luxurious, but I’m not sure it’s worth that many tens of thousands of dollars more, given how similar the two are in terms of off-road capability.

Regardless of outside factors, though, the Land Rover Defender rocks. It brings luxury-level trimmings to a vehicle that can practically drive through an apocalypse unscathed. It’s more than comfortable enough in daily use and will serve as a potent family hauler even if it never sees so much as an inch of mud, and for far less than its primary competitor. The 20-year wait was worth it.

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