From modest off-roader to luxuriously appointed overlander, the 2021 Land Rover Defender offers is an adventure-mobile with undeniable capability—and desirability. Its design is technically retro, but it represents a modern twist on the legendary Defender from the previous generation. A turbocharged four-cylinder engine is standard and a turbo inline-six-cylinder with a hybrid-assist feature is optional. A host of off-road technologies are standard or optional, and all models come with all-wheel drive and a fully-independent suspension. More advanced options are found on higher-end models or part of myriad packages. The Defender has few rivals, with several of them also wear Land Rover badges, but when it comes to conquering difficult terrain, few SUVs can truly keep pace.
Where This Vehicle Ranks
Genesis GV80 Starting at $49,925
Porsche Cayenne Starting at $68,850
BMW X5 Starting at $60,395
Volvo XC90 Starting at $49,995
Audi RS Q8 Starting at $115,595
Land Rover Defender Starting at $47,450
What’s New for 2021?
The two-door “90” body style sees increased availability for 2021 and now comes in base, S, X, First Edition, and new X-Dynamic trims. Speaking of X-Dynamic, this new trim level is also now available on the four-door “110” model and provides the appearance items from the top-spec X without the expensive off-road-tech features, such as the adjustable air suspension and active differential.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
As much as we like the look of the two-door 90 model, the four-door 110 is more practical for most buyers. The base P300 powertrain—a 296-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder—seems peppy enough for day-to-day driving, so we’d stick with that; those who plan to tackle serious off-road trails may find the optional P400 engine—a turbocharged-and-supercharged 395-hp inline-six with 48-volt hybrid assistance—to be a better choice. We’d suggest the SE trim level as it adds a number of desirable features to the Defender’s spec sheet, including 19-inch aluminum wheels, automatic high-beam headlamps, 12-way power-adjustable front seats, and a digital gauge display. Land Rover offers four accessory packages—Explorer Pack, Adventure Pack, Country Pack, and Urban Pack—each of which outfit the Defender with specific features. There’s also a bevy of personalization options available, but we’ll leave the customization to you.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The 2021 Defender is powered by a standard turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Of course, every model features all-wheel drive and locking differentials for navigating treacherous terrain. The Defender is also available with a 3.0-liter inline-six. Along with turbocharging, the upgraded engine utilizes an electric supercharger and 48-volt hybrid system. Unlike its predecessor, the Defender has a unibody construction versus a body-on-frame setup, and it replaces the old solid axles with a fully independent suspension. The latter comes standard with coil springs, but it can be upgraded with an air suspension that allows adjustable ride height. The Defender also has 11.5 inches of ground clearance and the ability to ford through 35.4 inches of water, which exceeds both the Jeep Wrangler‘s maximum clearance and its wading ability.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The EPA’s fuel economy ratings for the various Defender models are fairly similar regardless of what’s under the hood. The 90 model with the four-cylinder receives ratings of 17 mpg city and 21 highway. Step up to the six-cylinder engine and the 90’s city rating drops to 17 mpg but the highway rating goes up to 22. The 110 model with the six-cylinder engine actually has the same estimates as the six-cylinder 90. We haven’t had the opportunity to test any Defender on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy route, which simulates real-world mpg and is part of our extensive testing regimen.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
The Defender’s cabin walks the line between premium and utilitarian, with just enough design cues from the rest of the Land Rover lineup to make those familiar with the brand feel right at home. Exposed rivets in the door panels add a particularly rugged appearance, and a magnesium beam that runs the full width of the dashboard isn’t entirely cosmetic—it’s also structural. Under the infotainment display, a trapezoidal extension of the dashboard provides a place for buttons and switches for the climate-control system and driving mode. The shift lever and ignition switch are also mounted on this center stack rather than the center console. In some models, the center console can be flipped back to create a jump seat between the driver and passenger, similar to a three-across bench in some full-size pickup trucks. Cargo space behind the rear seat is somewhat limited, but on par with rival off-roaders such as the Jeep Wrangler; the rear seats can be folded to open up a much larger cargo bay, but those seeking to haul people and gear may want to look at the larger Land Rover Discovery or invest in a roof-top cargo carrier.
Infotainment and Connectivity
The Defender’s dashboard sports a 10-inch touchscreen infotainment system that runs a brand-new interface for Land Rover called Pivi Pro. Compared to the rest of the Land Rover lineup’s Touch Pro Duo interface, the Defender’s system relies on a single touchscreen instead of two, offers quicker response times, and can handle over-the-air software updates for future releases. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both standard, as is an in-dash navigation system, a six-speaker stereo, and an onboard Wi-Fi hotspot. Both 10- and 14-speaker Meridian stereo systems are optional features and buyers of higher-end Defenders receive a digital gauge cluster and a head-up display.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have released crash test results for the new Defender. Among the slew of available driver-assistance technology, the Rover has several unique systems tailored for off-roading and towing. Key safety features include:
- Standard automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection
- Standard lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist
- Available adaptive cruise control