2021 Land Rover Defender

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2021
The Car Connection
2021
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Kirk Bell Kirk Bell Senior Editor
December 30, 2020

Buying tip

If you can pay up for the air suspension it’s the Defender’s unique off-road advantage.

features & specs

110 AWD
110 S AWD
110 SE AWD
MPG
17 city / 20 hwy
MPG
17 city / 20 hwy
MPG
17 city / 22 hwy
MSRP
$50,500
MSRP
$53,800
MSRP
$62,700

An off-roader with controlled on-road manners, the 2021 Land Rover Defender is a roomier, more civilized alternative to a Jeep Wrangler.

What kind of car is the 2021 Land Rover Defender? What does it compare to?

The 2021 Land Rover Defender is a unibody SUV built to take on body-on-frame off-roaders like the Jeep Wrangler, Toyota 4Runner, and upcoming Ford Bronco.

Is the 2021 Land Rover Defender a good car?

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The 2021 Land Rover Defender works as an adventure seeker and daily driver. It has Jeep Wrangler off-road capability and the controlled road manners of a crossover SUV, though with a taller stance. We rate it a 6.6 out of 10 overall. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

What's new for the 2021 Land Rover Defender?

The Defender returned for the 2020 model year as the four-door 110 body style after a 22-year hiatus in the U.S. For 2021, Land Rover adds the shorter, two-door 90 body style and the X-Dynamic trim level that sits just above the base trim.

How much does the 2021 Land Rover Defender cost?

In addition to the two body styles, Land Rover offers the Defender in base, X-Dynamic, First Edition, and X trim levels. Base models start at $47,450 for the 90 and $51,850 for the 110. They come standard with cloth upholstery, rubber flooring, a 10.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and 18-inch steel wheels. 

Higher-line models range past $80,000, and Land Rover offers a wide variety of options and accessories to outfit the Defender for off-road adventure and overlanding.

The Defender also comes with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, active lane control, and a surround-view camera system. The cameras aid off-roading as well as safety.

Land Rover doesn’t go full retro with the storied Defender nameplate like fans might expect. Instead, it’s a modern SUV with a tall, blocky look. Cues like the externally mounted spare tire, an available contrast black or white roof, and the overall proportions recall the original.

Under the hood, Land Rover offers a 296-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo-4 or a 395-hp 3.0-liter turbo inline-6. We’ve only driven the turbo-6, which is assisted by a 48-volt mild-hybrid system, and it delivers ready power and quick shifts through its 8-speed automatic transmission.

The Defender’s unibody structure works with available adaptive dampers and air suspension to give the vehicle the smooth ride and control of a crossover, albeit a high-set, heavy one. That air suspension and tall ride height work with standard terrain control modes, low-range gearing, knobby tires, and generous approach, breakover, and departure angles to help get the Defender through any off-road terrain.

Inside, the Defender can seat five to seven people thanks to an available front jump seat and a two-passenger rear bench that isn’t fit for man or beast. The first two rows are spacious, though, and the cargo area has good space, especially in the 110.

The sturdy interior materials match the Defender’s mission and create a high-quality but not high-luxury environment. Two standard screens, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a 10.0-inch center touchscreen, add a tech flavor that provides infotainment and enhanced off-roading information.

Where is the Land Rover Defender made?

In Slovakia.

6

2021 Land Rover Defender

Styling

The Defender is a modern take on the off-road SUV with cues from its past.

Is the Land Rover Defender a good-looking car?

Land Rover didn’t go overly retro with the Defender, instead building a modern SUV with nods to the Defender’s past. We don’t find the Defender compelling or offensive on the outside, and on the inside it appeals for its sturdy simplicity. We rate it a 6. 

The Defender has a tall, upright stance with a blunt, boxy face and an inset lower front bumper. The 90 and 110 look the same from the front, but the shorter 90 seems stubby compared to the 110, which sports more traditional SUV proportions. Short front and rear overhangs improve approach and departure angles, while black wheel flares and rocker panels visually lighten the blocky sides. A straight, chiseled character line runs the length of the vehicle, and the fenders bulge out from below it, making the greenhouse thinner than the body. 

Land Rover plays off that proportion at the rear where black lines run down the tailgate from the roofline and encompass the taillights. The rear-mounted spare tire is a classic SUV and Defender theme. Buyers can further differentiate their Defenders with contrasting white or black roofs, black hoods, graphics packages, roof racks, roof-mounted ladders, an A-pillar-mounted snorkel, and side-mounted storage boxes.

Inside, the Defender is modern and utilitarian. A large touchscreen is the centerpiece of a dash that also sports “DEFENDER” lettering. The layout is simple, with a digital instrument panel in front of the driver, a wide, deep center console, and a horizontal layout. Materials are part of the design as they’re sturdy and inspired by fabrics used in the outdoor/camping world. 

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2021 Land Rover Defender

Performance

The 2021 Land Rover Defender offers a unique combination of on-road comfort and off-road prowess.

The 2021 Land Rover Defender isn’t just an off-roader. It’s comfortable on the street, too. We rate it a 7 for performance based on those strengths. 

Is the Land Rover Defender 4WD?

Yes, it comes standard with four-wheel drive with a two-speed transfer case and terrain response system that adjusts vehicle systems for different surfaces. Locking center and rear differentials are available.

How fast is the Land Rover Defender?

The base 2.0-liter turbo-4 makes 296 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, but the Defender weighs close to 2.5 tons, so acceleration is just adequate with a 7.7-second 0-60 mph time. The turbocharged 3.0-liter inline turbo-6, however, is strong and torquey. It makes 395 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque and launches the Defender from 0-60 mph in less than six seconds. It’s the clear choice. Neither engine does better than 19 mpg combined, according to the EPA.

That’s disappointing because the turbo-6 is a 48-volt mild hybrid with a twin-scroll turbocharger, an electric supercharger, and a belt-integrated starter motor that can assist the gas engine and provide regenerative braking. 

The Defender rides a unibody platform and offers adaptive dampers and an air suspension. That’s not the usual formula for an off-roader, but it works and it improves the on-road dynamics. If you never took it off road it might feel like any other crossover through corners and over bumps: smooth and controlled with direct steering and sure brakes. It does sit higher than most crossovers, though, so there’s a little more body lean in turns.

Take it off-road, and the Defender can meet or beat the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon for capability. The air suspension gives it up to 11.5 inches of ground clearance, 0.7 inch taller than the Wrangler Rubicon, and helps it ford 36 inches of water, besting the Jeep by 6 inches. It also has 10 inches of suspension travel compared to 8 for the Jeep, and better breakover and departure angles, though the Jeep has a better approach angle. 

Off road, the Defender tackles all obstacles with gusto. It’s knobby tires grip the dirt and help the SUV scramble up ]hill. Its modes adjust various vehicle systems to work best on the selected terrain, and a low-speed cruise control helps it crawl down steep hills. 

In all, the Defender is as capable as the best Wrangler off road with a more comfortable, refined, and controlled demeanor on the road, and it can tow up to 8,200 pounds.

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2021 Land Rover Defender

Comfort & Quality

The 2021 Land Rover Defender has a utilitarian interior with good room for up to six, but its optional third-row seat is useless.

The Defender is no Range Rover. It’s far more utilitarian and its interior materials match that mission. It fits three across in the first and second rows, though the third row is comically small. We rate it an 8 for its good room in the two usable rows and its cargo space. 

Land Rover offers the Defender with multiple seating arrangements to accommodate five, six, or seven passengers, depending on body style and the chosen seating configuration The unique feature is a front-row jump seat that recalls the 1960s and expands seating to six. An optional 5+2 configuration adds a tiny third row that is better left folded down into the floor than used for human beings. It lacks leg room and any semblance of thigh support. The second row has lots of leg room and the first two rows have room for cowboys and their hats thanks to a tall roof. The front outboard seats are the best positions with their supportive buckets upholstered in cloth and leather at the higher levels and cloth on lesser trims.

Cargo capacity is 15.6 cubic feet in the 90 and 34 cubes in the 110 with the rear seats up. That expands to 58.3 cubic feet in the 90 and 79.0 cubic feet in the 110 with second-row folded. The third row exclusively in the 110 cuts that to 69.0 cubic feet, which is another reason to avoid the $1,200 upcharge for it. When equipped with the air suspension, switches in the rear let owners lower the rear end for easier cargo loading. The side-hinged tailgate opens toward the curb, blocking access, but it creates more cargo space by also carrying the spare tire.

The Defender’s interior materials are sturdy and rubberized, and still soft to the touch. They feel like they’re up to the rigors of mud and dirt from off-roading and also appear appropriate for prices ranging past $80,000, given the vehicle’s character.

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2021 Land Rover Defender

Safety

The 2021 Land Rover Defender has a good set of safety features but no crash-test results.

How safe is the Land Rover Defender?

Relatively new, the Defender has no crash-test results so we can’t rate it yet. 

The Defender comes standard with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, a driver-attention monitor, an exit monitor, active lane control, and a surround-view camera system. Buyers can also get adaptive cruise control and a rear camera mirror.

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9

2021 Land Rover Defender

Features

Land Rover outfits the Defender with a slew of options and accessories to make it more comfortable on-road and more capable off-road.

The 2021 Land Rover Defender offers a varied lineup with the addition of the two-door 90 body style has been added. Buyers can choose from several trim levels and plenty of options and accessories. It comes well appointed in its base level, too. We give it a 9 for features. 

Trim levels include base, X-Dynamic, First Edition (90 only), and X. 

Every base Defender comes standard with cloth upholstery, rubber flooring, eight-way power-adjustable front seats, wireless smartphone charging, a 10.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, satellite radio, a terrain response system, LED headlights, rear fog lights, and 18-inch steel wheels. 

Which Land Rover Defender should I buy?

Defender prices escalate quickly, so we recommend staying pretty basic by going with an X-

Dynamic model, which starts at $59,150 for a 90 and $66,850 for the 110, though the latter has a higher level of equipment. All X-Dynamics come with the turbo-6 engine and add 12-way power-adjustable front seats, leather and cloth upholstery, rear seat tablet mounts, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, automatic high beams, rear tow hooks, and 19-inch alloy wheels. For best capability, adding the Off-Road Pack, the Advanced Off-Road Pack and the air suspension to the 90 brings the total close to $64,000. Unfortunately, buyers have to go all the way up to the X model to get the air suspension with the 110 body style.

How much is a fully loaded 2021 Land Rover Defender?

The top-of-the-line X model costs $81,850 for a 90 and $84,350 for a 110. They add an electronic active differential, automatic and custom settings for the terrain response system, a low-speed off-road cruise control system, metal pedals, 14-way power-adjustable heated and cooled front seats with memory, a power-adjustable steering wheel, extended leather upholstery, a 14-speaker Meridian sound system with 700 watts of power, a head-up display, and a panoramic sunroof. A variety of options and accessories can add tens of thousands to the final price.

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3

2021 Land Rover Defender

Fuel Economy

With either engine and in either body style, the 2021 Land Rover Defender isn’t efficient.

Is the Land Rover Defender good on gas?

Not particularly, and the turbo-4 can actually be less efficient than the turbo-6. With either engine, the Defender qualifies as a 3 on our scale thanks to combined ratings between 15 and 20 mpg. 

All Defenders come with four-wheel drive. The differences are in vehicle size and engine size. The turbo-4 in the four-door Defender 110 gets the lowest ratings at 17 mpg city, 20 highway, and 18 combined; in the two-door Defender 90, it’s rated at 18/21/19 mpg. Both the 90 and 110 are rated at 17/22/19 mpg with the turbo-6.

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The Car Connection Consumer Review

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$46,100
MSRP based on 90 AWD
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6.6
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 6
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 8
Safety N/A
Features 9
Fuel Economy 3
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