For decades, the rugged off-road vehicle market has been dominated by two automotive icons, the Jeep Wrangler and the Toyota 4Runner (reviewed here). These vehicles are dependable, with unmatched capability to handle the toughest terrains our planet throws at them. There has not been much competition to these two SUVs, especially in North America, where the Land Rover Defender has not been sold since 1997 – until now – this is the 2021 Land Rover Defender.
The off-road SUV landscape has changed again with the announcement of the all-new Defender, as well as the upcoming Ford Bronco. With history dating back to the late 1940s, the Defender is a historic nameplate that is synonymous with toughness, and traits that are perfect for outdoorsmen and the colder Canadian climates. Production worldwide was ended in 2016, and Land Rover had been hard at work since in creating the next generation, unveiled at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show.
The all-new Defender features a modern, futuristic look that bears resemblance to both the iconic Defenders and the current generation Range Rover (reviewed here). Its boxy styling exudes confidence as an all-terrain conqueror, and comes in three-door Defender 90 and five-door Defender 110 body designs.
For the Canadian market, the Defender 90 starts at $76,700 and only comes fully loaded right now, and the five-door 110 tested here comes in at a starting price of $65,300. To celebrate the relaunch of this iconic nameplate, and to evaluate these capable off-roaders, we were invited by Land Rover Canada to the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park’s off-road trail and we spent a day with the 2021 Land Rover Defender 110 P400 SE.
For 2021, all models of the Land Rover Defender except for the base Defender 110 gets an upgraded P400 powerplant. It is a 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbocharged engine, producing 395-horsepower and maximum torque of 406 lb-ft. Don’t let the boxy shape and the tall ride height fool you, the Defender P400 is no slouch on paved roads. With the help of the smooth shifting ZF eight-speed automatic, the Defender P400 can get from a stand still to 100 km/h in as little as 6.1 seconds.
Typically, vehicles with elite level of off-road capability do not drive well on-road, so it was to our surprise during our test that the Defender is as compliant to drive on the highway as most urban unibody crossovers. The ride quality is excellent, and there is very little transmitted to the cabin despite those beefy tires. The steering is light and accurate, and with a relatively manageable turning radius, the Defender can easily handle the job as a year-round go-anywhere commuter.
Although the Defender can put on the disguise as a urban crawler, it is off the beaten path where it truly shines. By setting the Defender to low range, and selected the proper terrain setting through its drive modes, we were able to negotiate all of the tough terrain and slope that the off-road course threw at us. The overall experience was so effortless, that the adventure felt no tougher than navigating an underground parking garage with a minivan.
It was only when we watched our peers that we realized how treacherous some part of the trail was, and we were able to overcome it over and over with nothing but a big smile. On top of its off-road capability, the Defender sets itself apart from many other off-roaders by the level of refinement it delivers out in the wilderness. The steering wheel and seats are heated, visibility is excellent, with barely any noise transmitted other than the engine grunt and the sound of rocks or trees it conquered.
The Land Rover Defender also features state of the art driver assistance technology to help owners navigate their surroundings. The available futuristic 3D Surround Camera system offers an all-round visualization of the vehicle as if there are cameras pointing at you from all angles, with a Clearsight Ground View camera on the underside, seamlessly projecting live images onto the Pivi Pro touchscreen infotainment system. For on-road protection, the Defender can be equipped with Blind Spot Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, and Clear Exit Monitor systems to help keep occupants safe.
The 2021 Land Rover Defender 110 is a legend reborn that brings together all of the brand’s signature all-weather all-terrain confidence in a beautifully crafted package. It is loaded with technology that helps its drivers navigate the toughest challenges, both on-road or off, and the Defender’s refinement sets it apart from the traditional off-road icons.
2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon