DEFENDER 110For a new generation of fans
Do you love classic old–school truck appeal that is rugged around the edges; or enjoy a vehicle that feels like nothing short of a nuclear holocaust will deter its simple mechanical approach of raw guts and determination to get the job done? If so, you may find the all-new Land Rover Defender at odds with tradition. But take a deep breath – it’s still good news.
The Defender 110 is missing that tactile coalface interactive driver engagement style that original Defender owners love and shared with Tojo79 series and pre-JL Jeep Wrangler fanatics. You’re now cocooned in a protective shell of electronic wizardry. Make no mistake, the captain still pilots this ship. But it’s from a refined and well-appointed bridge without the need to shovel coal in the engine room.
Granted, this new Defender may lack that old world simplistic charm, but there has been a massive leap forward to meet or exceed expected standards of safety and performance of a modern SUV.
If you’re willing to embrace change and modern engineering design, advancements in chassis development, and ground-breaking technology, then this vehicle delivers on all fronts.
I’m talking about smoother ride, better handling, stronger fuel-efficient engines and off-road performance more akin to a modified 4WDrive than one straight off the showroom floor.
Its bold individual and unique design is instantly distinguishable from the crowd, and is undeniably Land Rover.
The new Defender’s front end is a modern and bold step forward from the original Defender, embracing both newer design language and traditional DNA easily recognisable from other well-known Land Rover models. This modern interpretation stands on its own, unencumbered by the boundaries or engineering limitations placed upon the previous generation. Yet respectfully it still pays homage to its predecessor with subtle elements such as the Alpine light windows in the roof, a large single-side, hinged rear door and spare wheel mounted on a vertical rear end. So, perhaps the apple hasn’t fallen that far from the tree.
Just as fashion changes, so too has the Defender’s status amongst its peers in the Land Rover stable. No more the stripped-out basic commercial offering at home with wellington boots, bib and brace overalls with a long sleeve plaid jacket.
Significantly extending the original Defenders core capabilities; this new vehicle brings with it a more relaxed and comfortable tone of blue denim jeans, chambray shirt and some RM Williams boots, making it more appealing and relevant to a much wider demographic.
Defender completes the Land Rover line up; from Range Rover’s opulent luxury, to the family friendly, highly capable Discovery. This rugged square jawed intrepid explorer was purpose built to master challenging terrain so we could safely enjoy the more adventurous side in all of us. If you think about it, there’s no denying Land Rover has done a masterful modernisation of what is effectively the quintessential practical box on wheels.
Our test vehicle, a Defender 110 P400 SE finished in Santorini black, had a formidable presence with its broad, bold front-end styling. It looked even more aggressive with its Transformer style LED headlights and tribal markings in the guise of crisp white daytime running lights.
All nicely offset by the accented silver-grey lower air intake grill cover that’s discreetly swept back at the outer edges to deflect vast amounts of cool air into the intercoolers when aggressively force feeding the Defender’s power plant.
The commercial square grated grill and matching side vent covers on the front quarter guards added to its rugged appeal. The non-functional fake checker-plate panels adorning the tops of proper front quarter guards and inset bonnet complete with 110 decal are a nice acknowledgment of an earlier time.
Side on, this beast is a vertical slab, only broken by the chamfered waistline extending forward from the tapered instep of the rear body panelling and running the length of the vehicle.
The horizontal roof line complements the squared-off glass and wheel arches, giving the Defender a strong, assertive stance. Although I’m not sure I see the relevance of the large decorative flat panel placed over the C pillar and encroaching into the rear window area.
The Land Rover’s D7x aluminium monocoque design is three times stiffer than a traditional body-on-frame.
So, it comes as no surprise that the Defender will easily handle a static roof load of 300kgs; plenty of capacity for a large roof top tent and two adults. Packed down and ready for transit, it’s still has a dynamic load of 100kgs. That leaves you with a vehicle carrying capacity of 800kgs to be divided up amongst passengers, cargo, tow ball weight and 4WDrive accessories.
At the rear, the modest uncluttered design, and specific placement of the recessed LED taillights show an uncanny resemblance to the simple styling of its predecessor, confirming this vehicle as a genuine member of the Defender family.
There’s also a silver-grey centre piece to the integrated rear bumper to compliment the front and complete the design.
While standing on elegant machined 20-inch rims, at least they were wrapped in 255/60R20 Good Year Wrangler All terrain adventurers as opposed to low-profile road tyres. This allowed me to breathe a little easier, given our intended test route.
The very vertical rear and upright front allows the forward or aft overhang to be kept to an absolute minimum, enabling the 110 Defender to achieve an impressive approach angle of 38 degrees with a ramp over and departure of 28 and 40 respectively, when the suspension is in off-road height.
Add to this high sill panels, and no less than 291mm of ground clearance with a wading depth of 900mm.
It’s obvious this new Defender packs some serious credentials for a vehicle straight off the showroom floor.
Land Rover is exceptional at designing interiors that match the vehicles’ intent. Pure opulent luxury in the full cream Range Rover or a balanced blend of commercial design practicalities and visual elements for the Defender. There are big multi-function chunky rotary controls, Allen key bolts on door panels, and a storage shelf running the length of the dash. It integrates entry grab handles into the dash framework to provide a perfect grip-bar when undertaking adventurous off-road driving.
There’s the practicality of rubber to brush or wipe out dust and dirt. The extremely comfortable heated and electrically adjustable front seats with memory position on passenger and driver’s side make it easy to find the perfect seating position. Or swap between drivers with a simple one touch seat adjustment.
Our SE seating was finished with leather inserts and covered with a heavy weave canvas style material that felt very durable.
The utilitarian boxy design allows for a more vertical window line, meaning head and shoulder room are spacious. Wide opening doors and well-placed grab handles front, and rear make it easy to climb in or slide out. Interestingly, the upper door lining is covered in a wetsuit style material, it’s also on the console lid and across the top of the dash. It wipes down easily and seems water repellent, how durable it would be with sunscreen, sweat and red dirt only time will tell.
A brilliant feature is the ability of the rear-vision mirror to switch to a full width digital screen at the flick of the button.
Land Rover has mounted a rear vision camera on the roof of the vehicle. So, when the rear of the cabin is loaded to the ceiling with boxes or camping gear, you can still see what is behind the vehicle. It takes a little getting used to, because of the very wide angle of view, but is a tiny stroke of genius design.
I also liked the ability to access both front and rear doors by keyless entry, making those times when you just want to drop something in or grab something out of the back seat super easy. Nice!
The rear seat works as a standard 60/40 split, with the base tumbling forward and the back rest laying down to create a level flat floor. Or you can separately fold down just the centre to carry longer items. Rear head rests quickly fold forward when not needed, improving rearward visibility. There are even door ajar warning lights in the armrests. With a 6’ driver, there’s an impressive amount of leg room in the rear. Dual air vents on the rear of the console ensure plenty of cool air for rear occupants, with controls to adjust mode, fan speed and temperature.
I was pleased to find the centre seat in the rear wasn’t as bad as expected. The traditional kid’s only seat could comfortably seat an adult for a moderate distance without complaint. Or you can fold the back support down to create a comfortable arm rest and somewhere to place the macchiato for the two-rear passengers.
There’s no lack of connectivity with a USB port on the back of each of the front seats, with dual 12v cigarette sockets and USB ports located just below the AC controls. And there’s also four ISOfix points for those with youngsters. There’s a control for fan speed, which I assume is for the 5+2 seating option with one rearward facing vent on the passenger’s side C pillar.
Pull open the rear door and access is tall and reasonably wide; there’s good height from floor to ceiling offering 1,075 litres behind the second-row seats, and as much as 2,380-litres when the second row is folded flat. Both the rear floor and back of the second-row seats are covered in a hard plastic checker plate style covering for easy cleaning.
A standard 12v outlet is on the passenger’s side with a 230V 180W GPO on the driver side.
A vehicle jack sits under the rear floor along with a privacy blanket for the rear cargo area. Convenient bag hooks are on the rear pillars, and
I really liked the ability to raise or lower the suspension for loading height or trailer connection via the controls mounted just inside the door.
Jump into the command seat and at first glance the interior design may look simple and uncluttered. But it’s what you don’t notice until you use it, that gives ongoing appreciation to how much design thinking went into the placement and configuration of all the vital controls and driver information displays. Land Rover has nailed the concept of less is more, and as a result the cabin has a relaxed unpretentious and spacious feel, with just the right blend of visual and tactile commercial touches to signify you’re driving a robust purpose built 4WDrive. Unlike the traditional integrated dash to floor design, our SE Defender’s console is an interesting open design with a large storage area at the front. The large lid doubling as an arm rest houses a very handy refrigerated compartment, and there’s an inductive charging platform for phones. There’s also the option to have a centre seat in the front; how practical is that retro concept?
Honestly, the more time I spent inside this vehicle from city to country, the more I appreciated how good it truly was.
All switches and rotary dials are neatly clustered together in a logical layout on a central panel that extends outward from the dash and which also houses the electronic joystick gear shift lever.
Above that is Land Rover’s new Pivi Pro infotainment system, which is intuitive to use and feature rich with easily accessible menus for a range of driver information. The interactive instrumentation driver display is crisp and clear and enables you to view a range of information in the centre including GPS navigation, phone, audio, camera views and 4WDrive information.
However, not all is perfect! The amount of wear and scuff marks evident on the rubberised cup holder compartment made it look very grubby and old before its time. The other issue was a stain on the canvas covering of the driver’s seat, which looked like it had been treated with cleaning products but without success. I saw a YouTube video of someone who had washed their vehicle with soapy water and opened the driver’s door to grab something. A small amount of water and soap landed on the seat, and they’ve been unsuccessful in removing the resulting stain. I would expect enhancement in material choice or protectants in future models.
Press the start button and there’s an infectious rasp from the exhaust as the 3.0L inline petrol six bursts into life before settling down into a subdued idle. Engage drive and the Defender glides off effortlessly and you pick up momentum.
The first thing you notice is how solid and planted this big heavy vehicle feels.
However, large glass, good sized mirrors and a high seating position provide great visibility and the nicely assisted electric steering, responsive throttle and powerful brakes make it surprisingly easy and relaxing to manoeuvre in city traffic or around suburban streets.
Even parking in snug carparks presents no real challenge with excellent surround cameras to keep external clearances in check.
As a daily driver, the Defender is quiet and comfortable. Its roomy interior is family oriented with practicality in mind to accommodate transportation challenges involving children, teens and fur kids for the extended family.
Move onto the freeway and the mid-range response is smooth and linear in its delivery. The torque at slower speed is so good that you feel like you’re driving a diesel, yet it keeps the crisp acceleration of a spirited petrol. This is thanks to the clever mild hybrid technology further enhancing the 3.0L’s already impressive performance.
The MHEV 48V system features an electric supercharger for immediate response at low rpm transitioning over to the twin-scroll turbocharger to deliver impressive top-end power.
Give a firm squeeze on the throttle and the Defender will execute overtaking duties with eye-widening authority. But if that’s not impressive enough, provoke this beast and the Defender will unleash 294kW of aggression through its sophisticated and muscular driveline, while harnessing a 550Nm surge of torque as the traction control works hard to maintain grip. This 2,361kg Defender 110 propels itself from stand still to 100kph in an exhilarating burst of only 6s. Given its 89L fuel capacity, and an indicated drinking habit of 9.9L /100km, then with a moderate right boot you should see somewhere between 700-800km on a tank. Load it up with gear and pull a trailer and you’ll naturally be south of that.
From subdued inner city commuting to enthusiastic driving or working hard on challenging terrain, the 8 speed automatic transmission borders on a precognitive ability to read the engine’s mind, enabling smooth and precise gear changes, whatever the circumstances.
Get out onto the open road at 110kph the Defender settles into being a relaxed cruiser consuming long stretches on the back top with considerable ease. Gliding along, the well-calibrated air suspension disperses with all but the largest of the surface irregularities, cushioning its occupants from harsh bumps and vibration. Interestingly, when covering more textured road surfaces at speed, the Good Year Wrangler All Terrain Adventurers created a noticeable hum which intruded into an otherwise quiet cabin.
Despite the Defender’s large bulk, you’ll feel a good level of confidence and stability when changing direction or tackling long sweeping bends on country roads, allowing you to relax and enjoy the drive. Understandably, there’s more body roll than a Dynamic Response equipped Range Rover Sport, but Land Rover’s Adaptive Dynamics does a more than reasonable job of monitoring driver input, vehicle speed, steering position and body movement 500 times a second, allowing the Defender to rapidly adjust suspension response to changing conditions.
The Defender utilises Terrain Response II, which is as good as it gets. Land Rover was the frontrunner, implementing this functionality in 2003. It’s no surprise that in 2021 it remains the benchmark technology by which we judge all others. The Defender has eight settings to choose from including ECO, comfort, grass gravel snow, mud and ruts, sand and rock crawl and there’s even a wade function. Plus, this accomplished system is configurable for driver requirements. Yes, you can tailor how the vehicle reacts by altering several key systems to best suit the terrain conditions.
Turn into the gravel and the combination of subtle air suspension, adaptive dynamics, and being able to spin a dial to select grass gravel and snow from the terrain response system uncovers yet another level of capability. Despite corrugations, potholes, deep patches of gravel mid corner, even sudden undulation changes or off-camber bends, the Defender relished the conditions. Drive sensibly, and it never feels skittish or light-footed, even under throttle or firm braking. Traction control, dynamic stability and ABS intervention ensure the Defender remains predictable and stable even over ball-bearing gravel.
Time to get serious and push the Defender into the rough. Selecting low range and raising the suspension height we dialled up rock crawl, engaged All Terrain Progress Control and set off to negotiate steep loose gravel climbs and twisted rocky ledges covered in shale and loose stones, followed by deep moguls guaranteed to leave wheels hanging precariously in the air and sticky mud that would turn road tyres into slicks.
We figured a short steep section with deep offset hollows would test the Defender’s ability to meter the level of traction control from fully locked to open and back again in a very short distance. Too aggressive and the vehicle will labour to climb, not enough and the system would jerk and buck as it tried to arrest the spinning wheel causing further loss of momentum and traction.
Switching on All Terrain Progress Control and setting it to its minimum speed, we removed our feet from both pedals and pointed the Defender’s nose skyward.
Slowly and with controlled application of throttle, it began to climb.
Watching from outside, I could see the passenger’s front wheel began to lose grip from the surface; there was a momentary pause, a reduction in engine torque, and then it crept forward. The moment the passenger’s front wheel left the ground it remained completely stationary, showing 100% of the drive was being redirected to the driver’s front wheel that was still in contact with the ground.
As the passenger’s wheel gently touched down, there was another change of pitch from the engine as the driver’s rear wheel left the ground and it repeated the process.
The Defender climbed to the top with no sign of duress or strain.
We repeated the test several times to experience and observe from outside and behind the wheel, all with a repeatable and consistent outcome.
Moving on to the rocky ledges, the Defender’s ground clearance really came into play.
With 291mm of clearance, we easily cleared obstacles that would have scraped on other standard non modified vehicles.
This was also the chance to try out the Defender’s technology party trick, having the driveline displayed in the main instrument cluster showing wheel position, and suspension travel.
We activated the cameras to enable Land Rover’s advanced ClearSight Ground View technology, which lets you see the ground usually hidden by the bonnet.
By using a delayed feed taken from just in front of the vehicle, it passes underneath at the same time you drive over the terrain. Every genuine 4WDrive should have this camera functionality as standard. You can literally watch the placement of the front wheels from inside the vehicle.
Driving over any rocky terrain requires gentle application of throttle and brake, often in combination to maintain vehicle balance and forward momentum.
The Rock Crawl mode makes several adjustments to the differential, brake and throttle response providing the driver with accurate control over the vehicle. And it works very well indeed, as we balanced the vehicle several times on two opposing wheels to negotiate an obstacle.
Hill launch assist also proved its worth on several large boulders with the rear wheels only just having straddled the ledge, any roll back would have seen the vehicle slide sideways, but the system held the vehicle motionless, allowing time to make a smooth transition from brake to throttle.
Slowing making our way to the top, over sharp rocks and pointed stones, my remaining angst was not for the Defender but the tyres. The smeared gravel dust on the front looked like a smirk on its face, showing how much it was enjoying being off the blacktop.
With such large reserves of torque on tap, great ground clearance, and no low hanging diff centre to act as an impromptu plough between the wheel ruts – the mud bath was a non-event. Other than an awesome opportunity to get some great pics.
Let’s face it; a Land Rover looks perfect covered in mud!
Making our way down a rough old dry washout as we headed back toward the highway, I couldn’t help but think just how easy the day’s challenges had been. I’d truly underestimated what the new Defender would deliver.
Like many taking a road test from a dealership, my first impression was of impressive on-road prowess. This was comfortable, powerful and a real joy to drive.
With such good black top behaviour there had to be a compromise in its off-road capability.
But there isn’t; as good as it is on the road, it’s as good off-road.
The new Defender can’t hope to capture the nostalgia and feeling that you get from a simple hands-on mechanical style 4WDrive, and it’s not trying to achieve that mystical goal. The durability of interior materials, and the reputation the Defender will develop for mechanical reliability, can only be proven through the test of time.
The Defender’s strength is that it provides an exceptionally balanced performance both on and off-road in a stock standard vehicle. What it delivers in comfort, performance, and practicality with a 5 Star safety rating and a new level of off-road prowess is what makes this vehicle so desirable. With respectful deviation from its predecessor, the new Defender will blaze its own path and generate a whole new generation of admiring loyal followers.
Model: Defender 110
Options as fitted to test vehicles
About our Motoring Editor: Ray has been passionate about all things automotive since he first started collecting Matchbox and Hot Wheels models when he was five. Since leaving his executive role at General Motors (GM), he’s been sharing his driving experiences with Australian audiences for nearly 20 years, commencing his automotive journalist career with a popular WA-based magazine and was writing his own column in The West Australian for 8 years.
Ray’s strong love of automotive engineering and clever design has seen his articles and photography featured in prominent national magazines in Australia and the UK. He loves sharing his passion with other drivers, including via a long running stint as Senior Instructor for Land Rover Experience, providing training and education for new vehicle owners.
Recently Ray has been presenting on TV shows including Ready for Adventure and the very popular Caravan and Camping WA, to showcase some of the great products, vehicles and companies that make getting out and exploring Western Australia that much more enjoyable.