Land Rover Defender Pros and Cons Review: Surprise, Surprise


  • Incredible ride
  • Fabulous design
  • Great inline-6


  • Some interior cheapness
  • Tiny third row
  • Build quality concerns

Perhaps as a result of being deprived of the Land Rover Defender in America since 1998, we were unsure what to expect with the new one. A few of us have had some experience with the old one, and features editor Christian Seabaugh got to drive the new version 500-miles across Namibia (insert jealously induced expletive here), but by and large the big silver truck with the fanny back hanging off the side was virgin territory. It was much better than we expected.

“Shock of all shocks,” says senior editor Scott Evans said. “The off-road truck with the giant knobby tires rides really well over all the rough pavement. All the travel in the suspension and all the squish in the side walls makes this thing ride really well.”

View Other 2021 SUV of the Year Contenders and Finalists Here

Perhaps Scott is being tongue in cheek, but if you have spent any time in an old Defender, you know it does not ride well. Even if you put the thing on giant knobby tires. Every judge commented on how surprising the excellence of its ride quality was, with that [censored] Seabaugh going a step further and telling us how refreshed he was after a long day of off-roading across Africa.

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We collectively didn’t see this coming. “Ooh baby, that air suspension,” said head of editorial Ed Loh said. The comfy ride didn’t mean the big Land Rover was bad to drive. Evans also noted, “The Defender really does handle surprisingly well for such a massive and tall truck.”

Nor did we expect to fall head over heels for the 3.0-liter Ingenium inline-6. “What an awesome engine,” Buyer’s Guide director Zach Gale crowed. With 395 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque, the engine had more than enough power to motivate the Defender’s 5,719-pounds of mass. “It feels quick,” said Seabaugh. “The engine is responsive, and thanks to that electric supercharger, it’s very-nearly lag-free, making power all the way to fuel cut- off. I’m more impressed with the transmission though; not only is the gearing great, but the transmission is responsive and smart.”

We loved the design, both outside and especially inside. Starting with the outside, senior editor Miguel Cortina said, “Every angle you look at it you see a cool-looking SUV.” Even when trying to diss the looks, we just couldn’t do it. From Evans, “I’m not sure how I feel about the styling, because it does look cartoony to me, but it’s also so fun and looks ready to play. It’s certainly a standout, and in some ways I see a lot of advancement in design.”

But again, the inside of the Defender is what really impressed. “Inside, everything is chunky and blocky, all big buttons and squared off fonts,” editor-in-chief Mark Rechtin noted. “And yet it’s elegant. Just check out the exposed bolts in the door cards—they’re there for a precise purpose, a function, but their form is beautiful.” Plus, the front and middle rows were surprisingly spacious. The same cannot be said for the 10-and-under third row, however.

Perhaps most shocking of all to us was the base price: $47,450 for the new-for-2021 2-door Defender 90, and $51,850 for the 4-door 110. However, at those 2021-model-year prices you get a 296-hp turbo inline-4 instead of the mighty straight-6, and coil springs in place of the lovely air suspension. None of which we were able to test for this competition. Even still, just physically your money buys you a lot of off-roadable SUV.

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Some corners were cut however; most notably some of the interior plastics felt a bit down market. Specifically the stuff lining the rear compartment. Also, we are leery of Land Rover’s notoriously spotty build quality: Our truck had a rattle in the middle seat, an insistently buzzing roof rack, and a frozen satellite radio. Land Rover assures us that these were the result of this Defender being an early build because of supply chain disruption from the global health crisis. We sure hope that’s the case.

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