The biggest thing I love about Land Rover (any Land Rover) is its off-road capability. It has a go-anywhere aura, and I have gone to many off-the-beaten-path places – from Moab, Utah, to Corinth, Greece – in Land Rover vehicles. In fact, I was supposed to drive the all-new 2020 Land Rover Defender throughout the English countryside in April. But Covid-19 had other plans.
So, instead, I spent time traversing the urban jungle of Chicago and taking a road-trip to the Detroit area. While it’s not the same as crawling through dried riverbeds or up rock walls, it provides some interesting information on long-term road comfort.
And that information is mostly good.
The test vehicle was a First Edition model with the P400 powertrain. That means it’s equipped with a 3.0-liter Inline 6 turbocharged engine and delivers 395 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque.
One of the first comments my husband made when we were merging on the highway was: “This thing can move.” And it really can.
Frankly, I was surprised by the quick off-the-line start as well as the ease with which it passed at highway speeds. It wasn’t Lamborghini Urus quick, but it held its own in aggressive city traffic.
The downside, of course, to aggressive driving is going to be fuel economy. The EPA estimates you should get 19 mpg in combined driving, and I averaged 15.9 mpg in 711 miles – more than 600 of which were all highway.
The base engine is a 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder turbocharged engine that delivers 296 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque.
While power is nice, the biggest takeaway from my road trip is seat comfort. When I first sat down to adjust for my driving position, I thought I was doomed.
The seat bottom was about an inch longer than my short legs would like. However, what I discovered is: After settling into driving on the highway, I slouched. Thus, the seat bottom wasn’t an issue. And the seats overall were both supportive and comfortable.
That’s without a lot of stops. I hate stopping on a road trip, so other than a quick stop for gas on either side, it was solid drive time.
Yet neither my husband nor I got out of the vehicle feeling creaky or stiff.
Because a lot of people will use this for everyday driving, which includes road trips, I thought that was an important takeaway.
I love the upright stance of the Defender. It’s distinctive and rugged-looking. But as cool as it looks on the outside, it’s even more interesting on the inside.
The center stack and dash are minimalist, bordering on Spartan. The durable cloth seating material was quite different than what you might expect on a lux-level vehicle, and the exposed bolts on the doors and consoles added an air of bad assery.
Then there are the porthole style windows over the cargo area. It. Just. Looks. Cool.
The single large 10-inch touch screen has simple and easy-to-read-and-access graphics, and I loved the multi-function dials that switch from temperature, fan and heated seat controls to drive modes with a press of a button.
Another point in favor of the touch screen is easy access to Apple CarPlay. Once you plug in your device, there’s an icon that pops up in the left nav, so you don’t have to page through screens to access it. Plus, if you want out of Apple CarPlay, you just go back to that left nav, and voila!
The first time I sat in the Defender, I literally squealed with glee because I like everything Land Rover has done here.
Land Rover understands not everyone will be tackling mountains or journeying to off-road destinations in their Defender, so it gives buyers the opportunity to add what it calls “Accessory Packs” to add visual interest and functionality.
The test vehicle had the Explorer Pack ($4,800), which included cool add-ons such as the roof rack, side-mounted gear carrier and matte black hood decal.
If I were going for a pack, I’d probably opt for this one because I think it looks the coolest – though I have to admit the roof rack did give me heart palpitations as I pulled into my garage. I just barely cleared the opening. But that gear carrier is brilliant for a runner (or surfer or hiker), who regularly gets muddy, wet or otherwise dirty while being out and about. Change into dry clothes in the back seat and stow your wet, muddy, smelly gear in the side pack.
I’ve had more than one instance of accidently leaving that icky gear in the trunk, and let’s say it’s a bitch to get that smell out.
Other packs include the Adventure Pack ($3,200), which adds a seat backpack includes the side pack but ditches the roof rack, the Country Pack ($2,100), which ditches the side pack but adds cargo space partitions and a portable rinse system, and the Urban Pack ($1,700), which basically takes all the cool stuff away.
If you don’t want a full accessory pack, there are several individual accessories you can get to customize the interior and exterior of the Defender, including a pet access ramp ($519.16), a deployable roof ladder ($780) and even the side-mounted gear carrier ($950).
I hate auto stop/start in pretty much every vehicle I’ve driven. If you aren’t familiar with this feature, it’s the evil setting that shuts off your engine whenever you come to a complete stop so that you can save 0.0004 gallons of gas.
Most systems are not seamless, and the vehicle shutters and shakes as the engine shuts down and leaps back to life. The HVAC system is also muted – so on a warm day, you’ll just have access to the fan rather than full A/C.
The other big problem: lag time. There’s always some kind of lag between when you take your foot off the brake and the engine decides to turn back on. While waiting for a train or stop light, it’s not a huge deal. But if you’re stopped at an intersection, waiting for a break in traffic so you can make a left turn, it’s a big deal. And the lag on the Defender is considerable.
Thankfully, there is also a defeat button. You just have to remember to hit it every time you start the vehicle.
The only other thing that is a bit of a turn off with the 2020 Defender is the cabin noise. At city speeds, it’s not that noticeable, but as soon as you hit the highway, there is wind noise galore. Granted, a lot of that was likely due to the roof rack and side-mounted gear carrier. So, some of that will be eliminated if those two items aren’t included.
However, there was also some wind noise from the large side mirrors as well as tire noise.
The thing I really noticed, though, was the noise from – what I assume was – the regenerative braking that made (loud) recapture noises as I decelerated from highway speeds – like when I was entering an off-ramp.
Basically, it seemed like interior quietness wasn’t a priority. But if you’re off-roading with your windows down or you’re jamming to music with the radio cranked up – all this becomes a lot less noticeable.
I just happen to like driving in silence. I’m weird. I get it.
The Defender 110, which is the four-door model we tested, is the only version available for the 2020 model year. The two-door Defender 90 was supposed to hit the streets for 2020 but was delayed to 2021 because, well, Covid. So, all the trims and pricing below are for the 110 only.
Defender ($49,900): This includes standard all-wheel-drive (duh), electronic air suspension, adaptive dynamics, terrain response system, 18-inch all-season tires, two-zone climate control, automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, surround view camera, lane keep assist, wade sensing, wireless charging, 10-inch touch screen, passive entry and push-button start. It also comes with the base P300 powertrain. Adding the up-level P400 engine adds $12,350 to the price tag.
First Edition ($68,650): This trim only comes with the P400 engine and adds the Terrain Response 2 system, panoramic roof, first edition badging, automatic high beams, fog lights, 20-inch tires, heated steering wheel, heated seats, rear traffic monitor, rear camera mirror, premium Meridian sound system and interactive driver display.
Defender X ($80,900): This top-tier trim adds an electronic active differential with torque vectoring by braking, X badging, darkened taillights, orange brake calipers, heated-and-cooled front seats, an extended leather upgrade, premium upgraded interior package, driver assist package, surround sound and head up display.
While there were a few things I didn’t like about the 2020 Land Rover Defender, I don’t think they’re dealbreakers. For me the comfort and cool factor outweighed the noise and auto stop/start.
I do need to point out the Defender is likely larger than you think it is – a lot larger. I was thinking it would be more along the lines of Jeep Wrangler four-door, but it’s more like a Land Rover Discovery. The test vehicle even had a third-row seat for (very) occasional use.
I’m excited Land Rover brought back this icon, and I hope I have the chance to test it in an actual jungle rather than an urban one sometime soon.