The Jeep Wrangler Just Can’t Keep up With the Land Rover Defender

The release of the all-new Land Rover Defender undoubtedly draws some comparisons to other off-roading icons like the Jeep Wrangler. The Defender can trace its roots all the way to the 1948 Land Rover Series 1. Similarly, the Wrangler got its ancestry dates back to 1940 with the Willys Jeep. Flash forward, and both off-roading SUVs feature both off-roading components as well as luxurious creature comforts. Regardless, the all-new Defender dominates the Wrangler in a few key areas.

The 2021 Land Rover Defender is the better off-roading SUV

Since both the Land Rover Defender and the Jeep Wrangler are rugged SUVs, let’s start by comparing their off-road chops. The Wrangler is off to an early lead on paper, given its body on frame design, which provides high ground clearance. To combat this, the Defender employs a host of tech features.

The Land Rover Defender is the brand's newest off-roading SUV.
Land Rover Defender | Land Rover

For starters, despite utilizing a unibody design, the Defender can have greater ground clearance than a Wrangler thanks to its available adjustable air suspension. According to FCA, the Wrangler’s coil suspension gives it 10.9 inches of ground clearance with no available adjustment. In contrast, the Defender’s air suspension system lowers the ride height on the road to 8.5 inches of ground clearance but can raise it to up to 11.5 inches while off-roading. The result is that the Defender can offer excellent driving characteristics both on and off-road.

The tech-filled Land Rover doesn’t stop there either. While the Wrangler does offer locking differentials and all-wheel drive. The Defender’s Terrain Response system allows drivers to adjust almost all significant off-roading components directly from the infotainment screen. There’s even an auto setting for the system, which allows it to read the road and adjust the suspension, transmission, and traction setting to maximize grip regardless of the situation.

The Wrangler is all business while the Defender is a luxurious SUV

The Land Rover Defender’s interior is quite tech-filled as well. The best infotainment screen available in the Jeep Wrangler is an 8.4-inch touch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. On the other hand, the Defender offers a 10-inch touchscreen that not only comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto but interacts as the main control panel for most of the off-roading features.

2020 Land Rover Defender 110 interior | Land Rover

While the Jeep Wrangler is stuck utilizing a traditional analog gauge cluster, the Land Rover Defender offers a digital instrument cluster configured with traditional style dials or other useful information such as navigation instructions.

The Jeep Wrangler’s ability to remove its doors and roof is a double-edged sword. While, on the one hand, it allows the Wrangler to be far more configurable than the Defender, it does mean that the interior needs to be waterproof. As a result, the Wrangler cannot utilize the same high-quality interior materials as the Defender. While the Jeep is covered largely in interior plastics and rubber, the Land Rover benefits from a healthy dose of leather.

The Land Rover’s capabilities come at a steep price

Let’s not get too down on the Jeep Wrangler because the Land Rover Defender is far from perfect. While it may be a better overall SUV, those capabilities come at a price. A base Defender 90 starts at $46,100 or over $17,000 more than the Wrangler’s base $28,293 base price. Additionally, if you want the tech features which make the best use of the Defender’s off-roading chops, you’ll have to opt for higher trim levels, further widening the price gap.

A Land Rover radiator badge is displayed during the London Motor and Tech Show at ExCel
A Land Rover radiator badge | John Keeble/Getty Images

Does the Land Rover Defender Deserve To Be Motor Trend’s 2021 SUV of the Year?

Fully specced out, a Defender 110 tops out at around just over $87,000. A range-topping Wrangler High Altitude tops out around just under $58,000. While neither is cheap, getting the best of the Land Rover will require deeper pockets. Regardless of which you prefer, they are both iconic off-roaders with great capabilities and long-standing heritage.