2020 Land Rover Defender: Review

What Is It?
The 2020 Defender is a brand-new model from Land Rover, but the name might sound familiar — Defender traces its roots back more than 70 years to the original Land Rover and was last sold in the U.S. in 1997. And even though all Land Rovers possess incredible off-road capability, the Defender was one of the toughest and most capable vehicles in the company’s history. With the 2020 Defender, Land Rover continues the brand’s high level of off-road prowess while advancing the luxurious ride and sophisticated features now associated with the famed SUV marque.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceTest Vehicle
Land Rover provided a 2020 Land Rover Defender 110 X-Dynamic SE painted in Gondwana Stone. Optional extras on the tester included a cold climate package, an off-road package, an advanced off-road capability package, a panoramic sunroof and 14-way heated memory front seats for a total MSRP of $72,780. Competitors to the Defender include the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen, Jeep Wrangler, Toyota 4Runner and the upcoming Ford Bronco.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2020 Land Rover Defender Styling

The new Defender isn’t exactly retro, although it carries a number of styling cues from the original such as squared-off lines, round headlights and a power dome on the hood. Even DEFENDER lettering across the hood matches that of the original. But the new model still has a thoroughly modern look with LED headlights and smooth lines. “The new Defender is respectful of its past but is not harnessed by it,” said Land Rover Chief Design Officer Gerry McGovern.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceFamiliar Silhouette
The 2020 Land Rover Defender has a familiar silhouette incorporating short front and rear overhangs that not only give the new SUV a tough appearance but also incredible off-road capability. The rear-mounted spare tire and windows at the roofline are more elements repurposed from the original Defender.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceUnder the Hood
A 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder engine powers the 2020 Land Rover Defender 110 X-Dynamic P400, utilizing both a twin-scroll turbocharger and a 48-volt electric supercharger for a combined output of 395 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque. This mild hybrid system features a belt-integrated starter motor that assists the gasoline engine under acceleration and also eliminates the need for an alternator. Power gets sent to the permanent all-wheel-drive system via an 8-speed ZF automatic transmission and a 2-speed transfer case. Defender also boasts a towing capacity of 8,201 pounds.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceDesigned for Off-Road Adventures
Although most Defender owners will seldom take their SUVs off pavement, the new Defender is plenty capable of tackling rough terrain. The permanent four-wheel-drive system features a 2-speed transfer case, center differential and available Active Locking Rear Differential. Maximum suspension articulation is almost 20 inches, and with the air suspension set to its highest level the Defender has 11.5 inches of ground clearance and can wade through 35.4 inches of water.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceTerrain Response
The Defender features Land Rover’s latest Terrain Response system that not only allows the driver to choose from preset selections, it can also configure the system individually. The driver can choose a center limited-slip differential or a rear limited slip, as well as three settings for throttle response, gearbox response, steering and traction control. Up to four individual profiles can be saved. The Terrain Response 2 Auto function recognizes the drive surface and adjusts the settings with no additional input from the driver.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceInner Space
The 2020 Land Rover Defender maximizes interior space while offering plenty of storage. Since the gear selector is mounted below the display screen, there’s plenty of space in and below the center console. Up front, the passenger has a shelf with a USB port — a great for location for storing a cellphone. And when the going gets a bit rough, a padded grab handle immediately above the shelf functions as a nice design element stretching across the cabin. Exposed screws and fasteners add to the Defender’s rugged theme.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceControls
Climate and vehicle controls for the 2020 Land Rover Defender are centralized in one location next to the gear selector. At first blush this seems like a complicated panel of buttons, it actually functions quite intuitively.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceDisplay
The 2020 Defender debuts Land Rover’s new PIVI Pro infotainment system — a next-generation touchscreen with an innovative interface, a simplified menu structure and user-friendly functionality. The 10.0-inch touchscreen allows the driver to select up to 10 tiles of information for a quick display of the preferred information, including everything from audio and navigation to off-road information such as wade sensing and slope assist.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceFront Seats
The front seats of the 2020 Land Rover Defender feature a unique design both stylish and comfortable. The test Defender SE featured Grained Leather with Robust Woven Textile materials.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRear Seat
Rear-seat occupants in the 2020 Land Rover Defender will enjoy plenty of legroom and headroom, and with the panoramic sunroof and additional windows at the roofline in back the SUV feels bright and spacious inside. Thanks to the new Defender’s flat floor, even the middle seat is relatively comfortable, although the seat itself is a bit stiff compared to the outboard perches. Multiple USB ports are available to keep devices of rear-seat passengers fully powered.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceCargo Space
Access to the cargo area of the 2020 Land Rover Defender occurs via a larger right-hinged door rather than a traditional hatch. This creates a wide opening for easy loading but can make access difficult if the vehicle gets parked too close to a wall or another car. The area itself is quite spacious, and rear seats can be folded in a 40/20/40 configuration allowing for additional flexibility.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOn the Road
We fully expected the Defender to deliver a stiff, jouncy ride on the pavement but were pleasantly surprised at how comfortable and composed the new SUV performs during everyday driving — clearly the new Defender is a modern Land Rover. Even on winding back roads, the Defender feels stable with optimal steering feedback and little body lean.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceDecent Power
With 395 horsepower on tap, the 2020 Land Rover Defender is quick and has good acceleration from either a standing stop or when passing on a two-lane road. With the Defender’s mild hybrid system, the all-too-annoying engine auto shutoff isn’t an issue — startup is seamless and almost imperceptible.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceIn the Snow
We didn’t get a chance to head off-road in the new Defender, but we did tackle some fresh snow and found this latest Land Rover more than up to the challenge. We selected “Grass Gravel Snow” from the Terrain Response menu — a setting that reduces throttle response to lessen wheel slippage. We also raised the ride height for maximum ground clearance at an impressive 11.5 inches — a bit of overkill for a few inches of the white stuff, but fun all the same. While traversing roads with several inches of fresh snow the Defender felt solid and stable, providing plenty of confidence in its ability to handle the wintry conditions.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRating: 8.5
Off-roading Land Rover enthusiasts have been pining for the return of Defender, and they’ll be pleased with this new model. Sporting modern styling reminiscent of the original Defender, this new SUV offers impressive off-road capability combined with composed everyday driving characteristics. Add in a stylish, comfortable interior and the latest high-tech infotainment and safety features and the Defender is sure to develop a new loyal following.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2020 Land Rover Defender
At home in deep snow with 11.5 inches of ground clearance available.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2020 Land Rover Defender
Plenty of ground clearance with suspension raised.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2020 Land Rover Defender
Plowing through the snow.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2020 Land Rover Defender
Dependable Defender dashing through the snow.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2020 Land Rover Defender
Plenty of light with panoramic roof and traditional windows at roofline.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2020 Land Rover Defender
Additional USB port for devices stored on the front-seat passenger shelf.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2020 Land Rover Defender
Plenty of storage under the center console.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2020 Land Rover Defender
Multi-function steering wheel.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2020 Land Rover Defender
Digital driver’s display.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2020 Land Rover Defender
Four-wheel drive information display.

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