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2021 Land Rover Defender Review

With a heritage dating back to 1948, the Land Rover Defender is a rugged 4-wheel-drive (4WD) sport-utility vehicle that maintains an obvious link to the past. At the same time, it’s a modern all-new vehicle with a rugged unit-body chassis that has all the requisite niceties to satisfy the modern buyer.

Very few other SUVs are built with so much off-road capability in mind. These include the Jeep Wrangler, the Ford Bronco, the Mercedes G-Class, and the Toyota 4Runner & Land Cruiser.

Note: The 2021 Land Rover Defender is the only one of these with a unit-body chassis, but it’s a rugged design with steel subframes and independent front and rear suspension.

The 4-door model, the Defender 110, which has air suspension, is on sale now. The 2-door model, called the Defender 90 and equipped with coil spring suspension (all but the X model), arrives in January. Both Defenders profit from a thoroughly modern electronics suite that improves vehicle capabilities on pavement and on dirt.

What’s New for 2021?

The 2-door Defender 90 arrives at Land Rover dealers in January. What’s more, a Defender X-Dynamic model is new for 2021, and Sirius XM satellite radio has been made standard across the lineup. Also standard for 2021 are a Clear Exit Monitor and a Rear Traffic Monitor, along with an updated infotainment system and available Cabin Air Ionization, basically an interior air purifier.  See the 2021 Land Rover Defender models for sale.

What We Like

  • Great heritage
  • Superb off-road
  • 2-door (90) or 4-door (110)
  • Short front and rear overhangs
  • inline-6 engine
  • Utilitarian, but comfortable
  • Seats up to seven (110)
  • Full-size spare tire

What We Don’t

  • Not body-on-frame
  • No diesel model
  • No manual transmission

How Much?

$46,100-$83,600

Fuel Economy

The 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 and Defender 110 are sold with either a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine (296 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 295 lb-ft of torque @ 1,500 rpm-4,000 rpm) or a turbocharged mild-hybrid 6-cylinder (395 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 406 lb-ft @ 2,000-5,000 rpm). Both powertrains send power to all four wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission.

The 2-door Defender 90 hits 60 in 7.6 seconds with the 4-cylinder and 5.7 with the inline-6. The Defender 110, slightly heavier, posts times of 7.7 and 5.8 seconds, respectively.

When equipped with the 4-cylinder, the Defender 90 is rated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at 18 miles per gallon city/21 mpg city/19 mpg combined. With the inline-6, the Defender 90 is rated at 17 mpg city/22 mpg hwy/19 mpg combined.

The Defender 110 equipped with the 4-cylinder powertrain is rated at 17 mpg city/20 mpg hwy/18 mpg combined, while the 6-cylinder Defender 110 does even better, coming in at 17 mpg city/22 mpg hwy/19 mpg combined.

A Defender 90 or 110 with the 6-cylinder engine, aided as it is by a belt-linked electric motor/alternator/starter, is rated to tow 8,201 pounds. The 4-cylinder Defender models can tow 7,716 pounds. No diesel model is available.

The Defender 90 has a 23.4-gallon fuel tank. The Defender 110’s capacity is a bit larger, listed as 23.8 gallons.

Standard Features & Options

The base Defender 90 ($46,100, plus a $1,025 destination fee) is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with 296 horsepower. In addition to an 8-speed automatic transmission and full-time all-wheel drive with dual-range transfer case, the base Defender 90 has 18-in wheels, a 10-in touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Sirius satellite radio, and cruise control. Equipped with the same powertrain but more standard equipment (like power front seats and 19-in alloy wheels), is the Defender 90 S ($49,400).

Next up, the Defender 90 X-Dynamic S model ($57,800). It’s powered by the 3.0-liter inline-6 that puts out 395 horsepower, and it boasts 2-tone seats, illuminated scuff plates, and some gloss-black exterior trim.

The Defender 90 First Edition ($64,100) and Defender 90 X ($80,500) have the same mild-hybrid powertrain, with the First Edition distinguished by its folding fabric roof, 20-in alloy wheels, front jump seat, and 400-watt sound system with 11 speakers. The Defender 90X is considerably more expensive, thanks to adaptive air suspension, All-Terrain Progress Control, adaptive cruise control, an active electronic differential, and a 700-watt sound system with 15 speakers.

In addition to standard air suspension, the base 4-door Defender 110 ($50,500) has the turbo 4-cylinder engine, 18-in steel wheels, a 10-in touchscreen, cloth upholstery, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and a 3D surround-view camera. If you opt up for the Defender 10 S ($53,800), you get the same 4-cylinder engine but a cloth/leather interior and 19-in alloy wheels, along with 12-way power front seats and an Interactive Driver Display.

The rest of the Defender 110 lineup has the 395-hp mild-hybrid powertrain featuring the turbocharged and electric supercharged inline-6 engine with electric assist. The Defender 110 SE ($62,700) comes with 20-in wheels and a rear traffic monitor, plus an electrically adjustable steering column and an 11-speaker Meridian sound system.

As an X-Dynamic SE ($65,500) model, the Defender 110 gets 19-in wheels, two-tone seats, and a handful of styling tweaks, while the X-Dynamic HSE ($71,600) gets 20-inch wheels, adaptive cruise control, heated and cooled front seats, and a sliding panoramic roof. The top Defender, the Defender 110 X ($83,600), is highlighted by All-Terrain Progress Control, Configurable Terrain Response, an electronic active differential, and dark gray 20-inch wheels.

Notable options on the 2021 Land Rover Defender include the $1,550 Off-Road Package, which includes off-road tires and an active rear differential. The $750 Advanced Off-Road Capability Package ($750) adds All-Terrain Progress Control, Terrain Response 2, and Configurable Terrain Response.

Additionally, there’s a $750 Towing Package and a $700 Cold Climate Package that comes with a heated windshield and heated washer jets, along with a heated steering wheel and headlight washers. What’s more, the Defender 110 is available with the $2,100 Family Pack, which comes with manual third-row seats, three-zone climate control, and cabin air ionization. You also can get a refrigerator, which mounts between the front seats and is a part of the $900 Comfort and Convenience Package.

Stand-alone options include adaptive cruise control ($1,200), a front jump seat ($900), a black contrast roof ($1,000), and a panoramic sunroof ($1,800, not available on the base model.).

Safety

The Land Rover Defender 90 and Defender 110 have not been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Standard safety equipment, though, is generous. It includes forward-collision warning with pedestrian protection, automatic emergency braking, a blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and a lane-departure warning. Moreover, the Defender 90 has a surround-view monitor, front and rear parking sensors, and Clear Exit Monitor, which warns people not to exit the Defender if it senses traffic approaching from behind.

Behind the Wheel

We sampled a Defender 110, and we came away impressed with the tightness of its chassis and the suppleness of its standard air suspension. While traditionalists will miss the old body-on-frame chassis, this new Defender is significantly more refined, inside and out.

The Defender 110’s air suspension works with Land Rover’s Terrain Response program, which has Normal, Wade, Rock Crawl, Mud and Ruts, Grass/Gravel/Snow, and Sand modes. As a result, the Defender adapts well to varying conditions via adjustments to throttle response, the traction control, the differential, and even ride-height. This is a durable off-road-capable SUV that does not punish its occupants in daily use.

The new Land Rover Defender isn’t quite as comfortable as its larger Range Rover sibling, but we think it’s more capable on the dirt. It climbs terrain that would be impassable for most crossover SUVs, and it has an impressive wading depth of 35.4 inches (with air suspension). Moreover, it negotiates rocky trails with remarkable ease, aided by the 6-cylinder mild-hybrid powertrain that had plenty of torque for any situation.

Other Cars to Consider

2021 Jeep Wrangler — The Wrangler, like the Defender, is designed to be enjoyed in the dirt, not just look like it should be there. Much less expensive than the Defender.

2021 Toyota 4Runner – This body-on-frame Toyota is rugged and capable off the road, if a bit dated inside. Still selling well after all these years.

2021 Mercedes-Benz G-Class – The G-Class Mercedes has military origins, and it can go just about anywhere, thanks to three locking differentials. Significantly pricier.

2021 Toyota Land Cruiser – A proven body-on-frame worldwide player powered by a V8.  Great reliability, but full-time 4WD translates to poor fuel economy.

Used Land Rover Range Rover – If you can get a certified pre-owned version of the company’s flagship for less than the price of a Defender, why not? It has a warranty.

Questions You May Ask

When does the 2021 Land Rover Defender go on sale?

After some delays related to the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. sales of the 2021 Land Rover Defender 110 have begun. Look for the 2021 Defender 90 to go on sale in January of 2021.

 What is the Defender 90 First Edition?

The Defender 90 First Edition, based on the SE and powered by the 6-cylinder engine, has adaptive air suspension, configurable Terrain Response, satellite radio, a folding fabric roof, and unique 20-inch wheels. It’s available in three colors (Pangea Green, Gondwana Stone, Hakuba Silver Metallic). Sales are limited to only one Defender 90 First Edition per dealer.

What’s the difference between the Defender 110 and the Defender 90?

In the old days, a Defender 110 was a 4-door with a 110-in wheelbase, and the Defender 90 was a 2-door with a 90-in wheelbase. Now, the Defender 110 is a 4-door with a 119-in wheelbase, and the Defender 90 is a 2-door with a 101.9-in wheelbase. The Defender 110 seats up to eight, while the max capacity of the Defender 90 is six.

What is All-Terrain Progress Control?

Standard on the 90 X and 110 X, the technology allows the Defender to maintain a steady slow speed during technical off-road driving, which allows the driver to focus more on the steering.

What is Terrain Response 2?

With Terrain Response 2, the Defender driver can select Auto and let the vehicle determine the best traction settings. Excellent for driving in changing conditions.

Where is the 2021 Land Rover Defender built?

The 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 and Defender 110 models are built in Nitra, Slovakia.

Autotrader’s Advice

It’s your choice as to whether you prefer the 2-door or the 4-door Defender 110. But we’d get the 6-cylinder engine because of its added power and smoothness, at no real sacrifice in fuel economy. We are also impressed with the air suspension, which is standard on the Defender 110 and available on the 90. Find a Land Rover Defender for sale

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Andy Bornhop
Andy Bornhop is an author specializing in the automotive world, primarily the new cars, trucks, crossovers, vans and SUVs that support our daily lives and provide us with such superb personal mobility. While all new vehicles are much more competent than they used to be, there remain some significant differences, and Andy enjoys sharing that info with anybody who’s interested. His first car? A... Read More about Andy Bornhop

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