2020 Land Rover Defender 110 First Edition Review

The legend returns for the 21st century


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: The new design is attractive and evocative of the original, incredibly strong engine, spacious and utilitarian interior, impressive off-road abilities, serious road presence.
Negatives: Big side mirrors obstruct views, some turbo lag, feels heavy in the turns, options send the price skyward.
Bottom Line: The new Defender adds refinement to legendary ruggedness, and it has truly arrived for the modern age. Not only does it have the capability of the old Defender, it's a truly attractive and comfortable SUV.
Not everyone remembers the Land Rover Defender, the no-nonsense off-roader that sadly stopped selling in the states way back in 1997. Its ability to take on terrain that would stymie others was legendary. Land Rover went back to the drawing board for the second coming of the Defender for the 2020 model year, and it's perhaps the most significant model to come from the brand in the past decade, trumping the introduction of the aluminum Range Rover back in 2012. We got the chance to drive the four-door 110 version in First Edition trim. Read our full review to find out whether or not Land Rover made good on the Defender's reputation.
 

Driving Experience

8.2

 

There's not much the Defender can't do, and the powerful turbocharged and mild hybrid engine is no slouch on road, either. We didn't get the chance to take this beast off-road, but it has the chops to take on virtually everything you can throw at it. It doesn't even have true mechanical locking front diff, either, instead relying on a nifty brake-based system that actually works surprisingly well for real-world conditions.

Ride Quality: The Defender's suspension system strikes the right balance on just about any road surface. It feels on the firm side, but it's always very comfortable without being cushy and disconnected. The air suspension also works very well, and it adjusts the ride height depending on needs.

Acceleration: Although there's a hint of turbo lag, the Defender's I6 engine is strong, aided by the mild hybrid system. 0-60 comes in 6.5 seconds, and it feels pretty quick, too. Shifting via the 8-speed automatic is smooth, too.

Braking: The brakes can feel grabby at times, but the system works well overall. We had no trouble brining the heavy Defender to a stop.

Steering: The steering feel is largely absent, and the turn-in could be more responsive. But at least there's some heft to the effort.

Handling: There's no question the Defender is a tall vehicle, but the driving dynamics are pretty good and body roll is managed well.

Technology

8.4

 

Land Rover isn't exactly known for its in-car technology, namely its infotainment systems, but the Pivi Pro is the brand's best-looking, best-operating system to date.

Infotainment System: The landscape-oriented 10" screen is easy to read and decently responsive. The screen is split into three menus, which takes some getting used to, but overall the systems is much better than before.

Controls: All infotainment controls are on the screen, which can be a little bit frustrating while driving. The climate controls are easy to operate, and we like that physical knobs are still present (along with easy-to-read temp displays in the dials).

Styling

9

 

In a world of similarly styled SUVs and crossovers, the Defender stands out. Although it doesn't mimic the original, there are definitely styling aspects that evoke the Defender of old including a vertical greenhouse, square off profile, and an interior that's as utilitarian as it is luxurious. We loved the corrugated hood trim, and the special 110 decal to give the First Edition a special touch.

Front: The front end is our biggest problem with the Defender's styling. Although it looks tough, it's a little bit too rounded and busy for our liking. We also don't like shrouded headlights, and this is the first vehicle in a while where a bigger grille would've been better.

Rear: We're totally in love with the two sizes of squarish taillights, as well as the side-hinged tailgate like the original. The blacked out top half and side strips also look fantastic.

Profile: From the side view, the Defender looks tough as nails with zero chrome to be found and big fenders. The incredibly short front and rear overhangs make it look particularly aggressive, as do the big rack and snorkel.

Cabin: This is the first Land Rover interior we seriously love. It has plenty of nice tactile surfaces (especially the steering wheel hub) and the overall utilitarian look is very well-executed.

Comfort

8.6

 

There's a lot to love about the comfort levels in the Defender 110. We were surprised by how much room there is inside, and the ergonomics are quite good. Our only issue those big side mirrors.

Front Seats: These are large and cushy. Some might not like the mix of leather and fabric mesh, but it works in keeping the Defender a bit more sporty and a bit less cushy than the Range Rover.

Rear Seats: There's a ton of legroom and headroom here in all three positions. You can be well over six feet tall and also sit behind tall front occupants without a problem.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): Despite the poor predicted reliability of Land Rovers, the Defender feels solid and doesn't exhibit any errant noises.

Visibility: Visibility is pretty good, with the exception of the large and quite purposeful side mirrors. They just sit a bit high and obscure sightlines out the front side windows.

Climate: Heated and cooled seats work well, as does the overall climate system. The vents in the dash are situated up top, and they are a bit small, perhaps not maximizing potential airflow, but we didn't experience any problems.

Safety

7

 

Although the Defender has yet to be crash tested by any U.S. entities, it did do well in the European NCAP testing, earning five stars. Our tester also came with a number of important safety measures.

IIHS Rating: Not tested.

NHTSA Rating: Not tested.

Standard Tech: Our First Edition came standard with a slew of features including Emergency Braking, 3D Surround Camera, 360 Parking Aid, Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keep Assist, Driver Condition Monitor, Traffic Sign Recognition, Adaptive Speed Limiter, Rear Traffic Monitor, and a Clear Exit Monitor.

Optional Tech: None.

Storage/Cargo

8.9

 

The Defender 110 isn't the most spacious SUV out there, but it scores high because of its brilliant cabin storage options that belie its size. This isn't a pickup truck, but the cabin is rife with cubbies all over the place. Also, in four-door trim, the cargo area is plenty big for long trips and big outings.

Storage Space: The center console had a deep refrigerated armrest for beverages/food, a phone tray and cupholder section, and a really deep cubbie to hold bigger items. The dash is set deep on the passenger side where there's a long tray area. Even the driver's side near the door has a convenient tray in the dash.

Cargo Room: In four-door trim, the Defender has 34 cubes behind the second row and 78.8 cubes with the seats folded flat. The tailgate opens wide for easy loading, and there's even a deep storage section underneath the load floor.

Fuel Economy

6.2

 

The inline six engine might have a mild hybrid setup, but the heavy Defender is not a fuel miser. We drove it on local roads for the most part, and it did not meet its EPA estimates probably because we love exploiting the engine's power.

Observed: 14.3 mpg

Distance Driven: 77 miles

Audio

8.7

 

We enjoyed our 400W Meridian sound system that's standard on the First Edition. The sound has plenty of bass and good midrange, and there's no distortion. At an $80 grand price tag, it's nice to have premium sound come standard.



Final Thoughts

We wanted to dislike the Defender because we really have a love for the bare-bones first generation SUV. But Land Rover did it right, even though it's no longer a body-on-frame titan. It will handle everything the old SUV did, we're sure, even though we didn't test it off-road. It has the right rugged features, incredible power, and added luxury and tech today's premium buyers expect. We can't wait to drive the new V8 version, but the six-cylinder is plenty for us. It's a stunning, very capable SUV that will be sure to draw new devotees.

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