Cars

2021 Land Rover Defender Melds Tradition with 21-Century Comfort and Technology

DETROIT — The Land Rover Defender is one of a handful of iconic automobiles. It is more than 70 years old and once more it has been redesigned.

Designers transferred Defender style elements to the new vehicle for the 21st century. That sounds like hype — and, indeed, we did take it straight out of the rather lengthy press kit. But it is true.

We saw a Defender that had to be more than 20 years old, and our vehicle had some of the same design cues: Alpine light windows in the roof, a side-hinged tailgate, flat sides, and an externally mounted spare wheel on the back, even though there was no spare tire, but our test vehicle did have one. And that old slogger had a snorkel for wading through deep water. For the record, our test vehicle could drive through almost three feet of water.

The Defender has kept its geometric form. Its headlamps had LED daytime running lights embedded in the housing. The fenders were sculpted, the wheel arches were squared, and the shoulders were pronounced.

At the rear, the geometric forms of the distinctive high-tech taillights harmonize perfectly with the front-end design. The sheerness of the rear vertically maintains the short overhang for a superior departure angle while maximizing interior space and accentuating the vehicle’s strong shoulder section.

Get this: The Defender is the first Land Rover with an optional factory-fitted Satin Protective Film which delivers enhanced design and durability. The PU-based wrap is applied to external bodywork and gives the standard metallic paint a rich and contemporary satin finish, showing the sophisticated surfacing of the exterior design in the best possible light. This durable wrap meets rigorous standards and has been developed for the highest performance in extreme conditions.

The film can be removed at any time, making it significantly quicker to repair than standard paint finishes. It is available with Indus Silver, Gondwana Stone and Pangea Green paint options, is solvent-free and contains no volatile organic compounds. That’s what Land Rover said.

We had the Defender 110 SE, and there is a Defender 90 with a slightly shorter wheelbase on the way. It may be on sale by the time you read this.

Our test vehicle was powered by a 3.0-liter V6 that made 395 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque. The engine was mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with a dual-speed transfer box.

It had driving and off-road modes, hill descent controls, an air suspension and 20-inch wheels and that spare tire mounted to the liftgate was not a donut. And the Defender was body-on-frame construction.

It was an intriguing mix of ruggedness and luxury and performance that worked. The air suspension took all the bounce out of the ride. Although this Defender was tame at low speeds, step on the accelerator with authority and it took off. And the interior was a mix of grained leather and woven textile fibers that looked like suede. Land Rover said this material paid homage to early canvas topped Defenders.

Make no mistake, the Defender looked slick, drove smoothly, rode nicely, and had plenty of oomph but it is one of the most renowned off-road vehicles in the world. It is a 4X4 body-on-frame sport utility, not crossover.

It had short front and rear overhangs for easy approach and departure angles, it was engineered to withstand extreme temperature, and there were configurable terrain response modes, a locking center differential and active rear and locking differentials. It could even flash an image of the undercarriage while wading through water.

The vehicle had a maximum payload of 1,984 lbs, a static roof capacity of up to 661 lbs, a dynamic roof load of 370 lbs, a towing capacity of 8,201 lbs and it could wade through 35.4 inches of water.

Our only beef with the test vehicle was that it didn’t have running boards of some sort. We had to grab hold of something to pull ourselves up into it and stretch our legs down until we touched ground to climb out of it.

But that was a matter of how Land Rover had configured this model. The Defender can be equipped with 170 different accessories. Our test vehicle had a panoramic roof that would open.

When we first got in our Defender, we noticed the digital instrument layout. The grained leather was plush, the woven fabric as we said looked suede and felt like Alcantara.

The new Defender had a premium infotainment system with an intuitive interface, featuring over-the-air software updates which could be accessed remotely. There was a 10-inch touchscreen with standard Apple CarPlay®and Android Auto™.

Our Defender 110 had seating for five; a third row is available. We had the SE, which was one of five trim levels. Option combinations are almost endless. We had the driver assist package that included adaptive cruise control with stop and go, the cold climate package that included a heated steering wheel and heated washer jets, advanced off-road package that included configurable terrain response and the off-road package that included an electronic differential, off-road tires and a domestic plug.

A tow hitch, 14-way heated and cooled front seats and satellite radio and the glass roof were individual options. As tested the total came to $72,180 including freight charges.

We think it is safe to say that the icon continues.

Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.

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