When adventure is the luxury, this is the SUV to take you there.
When I think of the Land Rover Defender, I think of Queen Elizabeth, elegantly spiriting away from Balmoral castle and across the Scottish moors, masterfully at the wheel of her Land Rover Defender. The future of both her kingdom and her vehicle are confidently in hand despite the challenges before them; for the Queen, confidence is rooted in being prepared and maintaining a stiff upper lip. For the Defender, confidence is in its all-terrain capability, dutiful interior details that let the driver command the ship and an airy space that is both war room and respite. It is the perfect companion.
The Land Rover Defender, with its characteristic boxy shape and iconic add-ons like grille protectors and roof racks, was seen in 2-door, 4-door and convertible models. A prestigious vehicle, it quickly became a go-to for explorers and trail blazers, leaders and troops, celebrities and entourages, safari guides and their guests. Until, that is, 1997 when it was last sold in the US and 2016 when it ended production all together.
Classic, Iconic and Now, Newly Reimagined
But now it’s been re-crafted into a modern version with a starting price tag of $50,500. Not just a confident all-terrain SUV, the Defender can be customized to truly fit off-road life and and bucket-list adventures with 4 outfitter option packages, two and four door models, seating for 5, 6 or 7 (with a third row) and a choice of two engines — a 4 cylinder with 296 horsepower or V6 with 395 horsepower.
The 2020 Defender takes its heritage seriously, adding characteristic details like transom windows on the roofline and a spare tire mounted on the rear gate (not on the hood as it had been in previous models). Seats are leather framed with woven inserts made from Decitex fibers and recycled polyester for added strength; they are an homage to the canvas roofs of early Land Rovers.
Clever, Modern Details Continue the Innovative Defender Heritage
Then, there are some novel modern features like an available refrigerated center console, a front seat bench option that allows seating for 6 and a tow hook that, with the push of a button, pops out from the under the rear bumper.
Tipping a hat to heritage and harnessing modern technology, innovative details are incorporated to truly make the Land Rover Defender capable under any conditions, from climbing snowy, muddy mountain trails to easy clean-up from muddy gear or people: The rear cargo floor is a resilient hard surface and can be removed for cleaning, and the soft surfaces the passenger cabin. The center console top, the dash and the door panels are covered in a soft, cleanable fabric called Luxtec.
As simple as this detail is, it turned out to be one of my favorite features.
Three Things That Define Defender: Light, Power and Space
During my week-long test drive of the 2020 Land Rover Defender 110 SE I discovered three things that are key about this SUV — aside of its off-road prowess — that define Defender: Light, power and space. The light in Defender comes from the high ceilings that are accented by the transom windows and sunroof, making the interior feel more like a room than a car.
Then, there is a lot of power: not only at the throttle with 395 horsepower and 406 torque in our SE edition test model, but there are lots of places to plug in devices and gear, including a three power ports in the center console, one on the front passenger side dash, four rear seat power ports and a household plug and 12V port in the cargo area.
And storage is everywhere. Larger items can be stowed in the spacious cargo area or on the roof; rails can be reached with an attachable ladder and textured panels on the hood allow a place to safely step. For smaller storage needs there are many interior spots to stow stuff. The front cabin has a deep center console that can hold a lot of things—huge water bottles, a small laptop or tablet or cameras so they are ready to grab and shoot. A storage bay spans the entire dashboard, even offering space to the left of the steering wheel and behind the infotainment screen where you can tuck away maps, snacks sunscreen. There’s even a key cubby on the dash so you don’t have to fish at the bottom of the cupholder for it.
From the Rear, the Defender is a Classic SUV
The spare tire mounted on the rear gate gives the Defender a classic look and feel. It also gives it old school function: the rear gate swings wide from the left side to give full access to the cargo floor. Inside, a few key details make the cargo area great for hauling gear or a place to set up and watch the sunset. First, the cargo floor is made of a textured hard surface and it’s removable for cleaning; just give it a quick spray with the hose and pop it back in. Underneath is a jack and kit for changing the spare tire.
Then, two power ports — one 12V and one household plug — allow you to power your gear. And to make it all accessible, the Defender can be lowered (or raised) up to 5.7 inches for extra help loading or unloading. If you need a higher clearance, it can also raise up while on your off-roading adventures.
What is the Defender’s Off-Road Capability?
The Defender is capable of tackling harsh terrain with its pre-programmed drive modes (Land Rover calls it their Terrain Response system), which you can toggle through on the center screen. Based on the terrain ahead, you can choose between different drive modes like snow, gravel and sand, or “wade” which raises the suspension to better navigate up to 35” of water. Of course, you also have eco or comfort modes which are a little more comfortable for street driving.
Modern Technology for Modern Adventures
Connectivity is as important as comfort and capability. I love that when I plugged in my phone Apple CarPlay came up automatically on the center screen. Android Auto is also available. I had a choice of using my own maps or the built in navigation, which has its advantages: First, if you’re off the grid you’re more likely to be able to navigate with the built in system rather than the one that relays through a phone app. And, when you’re out of gas (guess how I knew this!) the built in navigation system will alert you and direct you to a nearby gas station.
Another tech feature I really loved is the live rearview mirror. When you flip the lever under the mirror you toggle between a rear view reflection and a live video. This will come in handy when the cargo space is packed to the roof or when hauling a trailer; your view is not blocked by stuff or people.
And, then there’s the tow-mode camera setting that not only guides you with yellow guidelines on the screen to help you steer, but it also has a target for your tow hook. The whole system is super helpful; it adjusts guidelines and provides a view of the ground so you can see any obstacles or uneven ground in the direction you’re heading.
What does the 2020 Defender Cost?
The MSRP of the 2020 Defender 110 SE I drove is $62,250 and it’s inclusive of some great features, including:
- The Performance and Handling package inline-six cylinder engine with mild-hybrid assist (395 horsepower and 406 lb-ft torque), Land Rover’s Terrain Response 4 wheel drive system with hill descent control and air suspension.
- The Comfort and Convenience package includes LED headlights, front fog lights, rain sensing wipers, two-zone climate control and other tech features like Bluetooth connectivity, keyless entry, and more.
- The Safety and Security Package includes a perimeter alarm, rear child passenger car seat ISOFIX system, electronic traction control, dynamic stability control, roll stability control, ABS, emergency braking assist, cruise control and speed limiter, lane keep assist and rear traffic monitor.
- Some optional items were also added at no charge including adaptive cruise control, a heated wind shield and headlight power washer, Advanced Off-Road Capability Pack that gives more control over off road functions, off-road tires, the rear household plug, 14-way heated front seats, the sliding panoramic sunroof, Sirius XM radio, and the Black Contrast Roof. It’s nice to get these things at no charge!
- With the destination charge of $1,025, the total MSRP came to $63,275.
What We Loved
- The interior’s mix of functionality and luxury
- The wireless charging station and deep storage in middle console
- Live rearview mirror
- The easy clean interior materials — this was a favorite
- The small storage shelf running along the front of the dash
- Distinct look in the rear exterior
- Adjustable air suspension with the push of a button
- The six power ports and USB ports in the backseat alone
- The panoramic sunroof
- The open, airy interior filled with heritage details
What You Need to Know
- Child car seat latches on either side on the rear outboard seats
- Camera settings include on-road, off-road, and tow modes
- A refrigerator can be added into the middle console
- The leather seats come heated but cooled seats are an add on
- The gear selector goes back for drive, forward for reverse, center for neutral and you push a button for park
- There are textured panels on the hood which allow you to have grip for your feet when loading things onto the roof
- Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard
- Fuel economy is estimated to average 19 MPG: 17 city, 22 highway. We averaged about 16 MPG during our test drive.
I Felt Like a Queen for a Week
And I can completely imagine I’d feel like a queen every day driving the Land Rover Defender. In the driver’s seat you’re in command of this very capable, fun to drive, easy to maneuver full size SUV. There are creature comforts like leather seats, connectivity that makes time in any car easier and luxuries like the live view mirror and the tow-view rear view camera. And, capability that not only lets you climb mountains and traverse sand dunes, but easy-clean surfaces so you only bring home the memories, not the residue of your adventures.
What We Listened to in the Land Rover Defender
Getting out of the city and off the grid is the goal, and a great soundtrack is necessary. This is where we started, with classic but contemporary sounds, authentic guitars and catchy tunes and driven by some classic English song masters.
Disclosure: The Land Rover Defender was provided for this test drive. All opinions are my own.