The 2021 Land Rover Defender Is an Equal-Opportunity Performer

With traditional sedans taking a back seat to SUVs as today’s popular family vehicle, more and more segments are emerging for them. There are SUVs in all colors, sizes, and shapes ranging from simple to feature-packed. How does a discerning shopper even begin to choose?

Fortunately, the folks at MotorTrend have compiled a roundup of the best SUVs of 2021. And the Land Rover Defender made the list. But which SUV took the top spot?

MotorTrend’s criteria

The MotorTrend team subjected the SUVs on the list to a strenuous 10-day instrumented and subjective testing process. Instead of being compared to its peers, each SUV was evaluated individually according to the team’s six key criteria.

The reviewers considered each SUV’s styling and how its materials were used for advancement in design. They also examined each vehicle’s engineering for concept and execution. And they looked at today’s high-tech powertrains, suspensions, and transmissions, along with infotainment systems and available space.

Efficiency was important. How well did each vehicle perform in fuel efficiency, the overall cost to own, weight, and other areas? They included top electric SUVs in their evaluation. They also tested and evaluated each SUV’s safety measures.

The MT team looked at each SUV to see what it offered for the price. Value, along with predicted retained value after five years of ownership, was an important consideration. 

The last point on their list was “performance of intended function.” They considered how well the SUV did its job as intended. Did it live up to the off-roading prowess the automaker claimed? Was it really luxurious? 

MotorTrend 2021 SUV of the Year: The Land Rover Defender

RELATED: How Reliable Is the Land Rover Defender?

MT points out there’s a wide range of SUVs in today’s market. Many of them, the reviewers explain, are actually compact utility vehicles (CUVs) or car-based crossovers hiked up a few inches so people sit higher as they would in an SUV.

The 2021 Land Rover Defender is not a CUV, MotorTrend confirms.  Gone is the ancient steel frame it once sported. The new L663 Defender uses an aluminum unibody and fully independent suspension instead of previous models’ live axles. No matter how shocked enthusiasts might be, the truth is this Land Rover can take on some of the toughest terrains.

After putting all 28 SUVs through the paces, the reviewers found the 2021 Land Rover Defender to be the obvious pick for the top spot. They also explained it was their feel-good choice and their surprising choice.

One team member claimed that after driving only 100 yards in the latest Land Rover, he was ready to declare it the winner. Editor-in-chief Mark Rechtin said that when he got in the Defender, he felt transported. All of the elements work together harmoniously to provide an exhilarating adventure.

The lack of live axles surprised the reviewers. One team member initially thought the Defender was a luxury SUV dressed up as an off-roader. He didn’t think it could walk the walk, but it certainly did. 

After one team member drove a Defender 110 498 miles off-road in Namibia with just two miles of pavement, the Land Rover proved it was tough enough. 

Though the reviewers’ first impression of the exterior was hesitant, the new L663 Defender’s engineering blew them away. There were a few glitches, like the infotainment system and a rattle in the middle-row seats. But MotorTrend’s team gave the new Defender the top prize for its design, performance, versatility, value, and exceptional quality.

The other finalists

The five SUVs right behind the 2021 Land Rover Defender were the Cadillac Escalade, Genesis GV80, Kia Seltos, Nissan Rogue, and Toyota Venza.

Though the Cadillac Escalade didn’t wow with its ride quality, fuel economy, or Chevy parts, the team loved its interior. They appreciated its style and class-leading tech.

The Genesis GV80 had a rough ride that an underwhelming 2.5T engine didn’t help. The reviewers also thought the infotainment system wasn’t particularly user-friendly. But they found it to be a great value with an impressive and luxurious interior.

While the Kia Seltos used some cheap materials in the cabin here and there, it offered a generous amount of space. The team loved its styling and well-tuned continuously variable transmission. 

The Nissan Rogue had improved cabin quality and a bigger back seat. It also offered great practicality. They found the engine loud and driving dynamics good but nothing to write home about.

Finally, there was the Toyota Venza. The reviewers found that it can’t tow and that the tires make a good bit of noise. But they thought it drove comfortably, with fast bursts of acceleration and responsive hybrid brakes.