Since the new Land Rover Defender was officially revealed, the SUV has generated tons of questions. Considering the legacy of the original Defender, this was something Land Rover couldn’t really afford to screw up. Even though it now owns off-road expert Bowler, the Defender needed to be capable of off-roading right out the gate. Even the entry-level, more city-focused Evoque crossover can tackle mud, rocks, and streams to some degree. So, is the new Land Rover Defender worthy of the name?
Can the new Land Rover Defender actually go off-road?
Motor Trend managed to get some seat time with the new Defender around Land Rover’s testing course. MT couldn’t drive the SUV, though; instead, Land Rover’s chief engineer Mike Cross drove. But even in the passenger’s seat, first impressions are Defender faithful have nothing to fear.
Both the 90 and 110 Defenders will come with all-wheel drive, two-speed transfer case, and an electronic active differential. Hill climbers will no doubt appreciate the SUV’s hill descent control and low-traction launch. Like the F-150 Raptor, the Defender will also offer a kind of off-road cruise control.
The Defender, like the Evoque and Range Rover, will also receive Land Rover’s Terrain Response system. This links the powertrain, suspension, and traction control systems to help the SUV better tackle different terrain. There’s even a Wade mode, which lifts the electronic air suspension up to let the Defender wade through 35.4” of water. And, like the Evoque, there will also be an optional sensor system that tells drivers how deep the water is.
On accessories and engines
Land Rover will also offer the Defender with several accessory packs. The Explorer Pack, for instance, will offer a raised air intake and exterior-mounted gear canisters. You can even get it with a fold-away roof ladder. Other packs will feature accessories like a portable rinsing system, protective grille bars, and deployable side steps.
Rumors have stated that entry-level models will receive a 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder, but Land Rover and Motor Trend report the base engine will be a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 296 hp. Top-spec HSE Land Rover Defenders, though, will have the same powertrain as the Range Rover mild hybrid. A 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine with both a turbo and supercharger, it will deliver 395 hp.
Is the new Land Rover Defender better on-road?
In an interview with MT, Cross acknowledged that some extreme off-roaders may have wanted more wheel travel from the new Defender. However, Cross stated that “more is better off-road, but that has a direct consequence to body roll on-road.” And it’s on-road that the Land Rover Defender shows the biggest change over its predecessor.
Yes, the new Defender has more electronics. But the systems make the SUV significantly better around town than the old model. MT noted the Defender did roll somewhat in the corners, but its ride was soft and plush. And there was less roll than in a G-Class.
Another big change is the Defender’s move from body-on-frame to unibody, reported Car and Driver, and shifting from solid axles to independent suspension. As with the new Tahoe Z71, fitting independent suspension does make for less low-speed rock-crawling articulation. However, the changes to the platform and suspension make the Defender much more comfortable on pavement. And, as the Jeep Wrangler demonstrated, independent suspension handles better at speed than solid axles.
The new Land Rover Defender’s interior is also a much better place to be. Autoblog liked the optional open-pore wood trim and the easily-accessible under-console storage. There’s also plenty of dash storage, as well as a handy front grab bar. And, while Carwow couldn’t critique the interior materials of the early-build Defender 110 it reviewed, host Mat Watson did like its rugged design.
Finally, among the Defender’s new electronics are new safety features and an infotainment system. And, as Road & Track reported, the new Defender will be able to upgrade these features with over-the-air updates.
What still needs work?
At the moment, behind-the-wheel reviews of the Land Rover Defender have not been released. The 110 model won’t reach dealers until spring 2020, according to Motor Trend, with the cheaper, smaller 90 model coming later in the year.
The biggest immediate issues seem to be space. Autoblog noted that the 110’s optional third-row seats are tight on leg-room. In addition, both the 3-row 110 and 90 have fairly little rear cargo space. Those optional external gear canisters may be a necessity.
There’s also the question of reliability. Land Rover’s vehicles have a reputation for breaking down, especially when it comes to air suspension and electronics. Consumer Reports ranked all of Land Rovers products low in reliability because of that. That doesn’t appear to matter to Land Rover’s more well-heeled customers, but the Defender is supposed to be entry-level. It may be the family car for some people—it needs to be reliable.
Land Rover Defender pricing and availability
And speaking of entry-level, there’s the price. Land Rover is quoting an MSRP of $49,900 for a base Defender, presumably the 90. That’s roughly $7000 more than the Evoque. However, Motor Trend reports a top-of-the-line Defender 110 P400 X will start at almost $81,000. That’s almost at the Toyota Land Cruiser’s MSRP, which is a roomier and significantly more reliable SUV.
The entry-level Defender is expected to compete with the Ford Bronco. At least so far, it appears the Defender has the off-road capabilities it needs. But will it offer enough of a driving experience to justify the price difference? That will have to wait until later.
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