First Look – 2020 Land Rover Defender

Legendary Badge Returns to U.S. After 23 Years

Let's start by addressing the elephant in the room and be honest about what the 2020 Land Rover Defender is and what it isn't. It isn't an evolutionary step in the Defender lineage, it isn't retro, and it isn't an agricultural and military implement updated enough to achieve cult status within the consumer market. What it is, though, is a thoroughly modern reinterpretation of what Defender means to today's Land Rover and where Land Rover thinks it fits in today's market.

Coming to market with two models, the four-door Defender 110 in Spring 2020 and later next year the two-door Defender 90, the Defender with have six trims to choose from. Starting with the $49,900 D110 Standard model and working up to the bespoke $80,900 D110 X model. Curiously enough, neither D90 nor D110 denote wheelbase length anymore. The 90 is 102 inches and the D110 checks in at 119 inches.

The sooner you can get over that this vehicle is not a follow-on to the solid-axled, body-on-frame Defender of yore, you can come to terms with what it actually is: a sophisticated adventure machine big enough for the entire family and capable enough to put 95% of SUVs on the market to shame on any road less traveled. As expected, this is a wholly modern and forward-looking machine that represents the highest echelon of off-road capability in today's Land Rover lineup.

Design

Mindful of the Land Rover heritage and just how iconic the Defender name is, the Land Rover design team had a daunting task and mostly succeeded. While the overall design is very much contemporary Land Rover, small cues and nods to the original are tastefully integrated into the design. From the overall proportions to the Alpine windows, the design does feel very influenced by the original Defender.

We especially like the broad shoulders that form a lip before merging with the greenhouse, as well as the vertical rear door and exterior mounted spare tire. The rear door is side-hinged, and the wheel wells visually feel as if they couldn't take one more inch of tire in them.

However, there are some missed opportunities and fussiness in the final details. For instance, the "diamond plate" trim on top of the fenders are not to be used as actual steps, the clear lens over the headlights looks right out of the late nineties, and bumper cut lines will make upfitting aftermarket bumpers difficult at best. There is also a cavity in the rear bumper that looks like it would be the perfect step to access items on the roof, but isn't big enough for a boot, and the design team actually engineered a curiously gratuitous (and thankfully optional) floating pillar that does a great job of blocking outward visibility while only adding an aesthetic that will mostly be appreciated by big city urbanites wearing expensive pointy shoes (hey maybe that's where they got the dimensions of the bumper "step" cavity) and fancying themselves a member of an elitist design collective.

Fortunately, Land Rover made personalization a huge part of the Defender strategy. Seven exterior colors will be available along with 12 wheel designs ranging from an 18-inch pressed steel rim in white to 22-inch Luna alloys. Most notably, a full-vehicle satin protective film will be available from the factory to protect the finish of the vehicle from the trail rash. This wrap is designed to last the life of the vehicle, but can be removed at any time.

For as much hype was promised, it is an awfully conservative take on an unarguable icon.

Interior

While the exterior seems to be the expected result of a struggle between iconic and modernity, the gorgeously functional interior hits the mark. It's imaginative and modern, while taking ideas proven in the past, and ensuring the Defender stands out and apologizes to no one for what it is.

An exposed die-cast magnesium alloy cross-car beam with integrated hand pulls bring just enough of the structure into the cabin to give it a feel of ruggedness and credibility. All of the controls, including a 10-inch touchscreen, are centralized high on the dash, and when combined with a very upright seating position, opens up the floor between the seats for a passthrough to the rear cabin.

An optional console or middle jump seat is available. That's right, the Defender offers three-across first-row seating, a nod to previous Defenders, and when combined with a three-seat second row and a two-seat third row, increases seating capacity to eight. This alone could make for a very compelling choice of off-roaders with sizeable families who don't have a true option in the space. However, foregoing the console or jump seat makes it incredibly easy to access the second row from the first. Imagine the passenger capacity of a minivan and the off-road chops of a Land Rover. Defender, you have our attention.

As one would anticipate, storage cubbies abound, a rubberized floor makes post-adventure cleanup a breeze, and passengers have access to a slew of USB and 12V outlets. A full-length folding fabric roof on the D90 allows rear seat passengers to stand up through the roof for safely sightseeing in dangerous environments overflowing with lions and venomous snakes that might otherwise be missed on vehicles sporting the optional blind spot.

Engineering

The Defender is based on a 95-percent-new all-aluminum monocoque platform dubbed D7x and shares no body panels with any other Land Rover vehicles and gets a dedicated assembly line in Nitra, Slovakia. The D7x architecture provides the stiffest Land Rover body ever created, and according to Land Rover is about three times more rigid that a comparable body-on-frame design. The stout unibody provides the foundation for a fully independent suspension.

With increased travel, beefier ball joints, and stiffer bushings, the suspension sports nearly 20 inches of articulation, the most of any fully independent Land Rover model. Front suspension has over 10 inches of travel, while the rear suspension checks in at an impressive 12.4 inches of travel. The adjustment range of the optional air suspension is just over 5.3 inches in the front and 5.7 inches in the rear.

At approximately 33.4 inches in diameter, the Defender sports the largest wheel and tire package ever offered from the factory. This large rolling stock provides 11.5 inches of ground clearance and with the help of air suspension allows the Defender 110 to achieve a 38-degree approach angle, 28-degree breakover angle, and a 40-degree departure angle in Off-Road mode.

A new traction management system, dubbed Terrain Response 2 is enhanced with Wade Sensing. This new setting automatically softens throttle response, sets the HVAC to recirculate, locks the driveline, and adjusts ride height to the appropriate setting to take advantage of the Defender's 35.4-in water fording depth. When exiting a water crossing, the Defender momentarily drags the brakes to clean and dry the discs. The optional Configurable Terrain Response systems allows the user to tailor the system and fine-tune it for their needs and save those settings in a profile for easy access. These new systems take full advantage of center and rear locking differentials and full-time four-wheel drive with a two-speed transfer case. An auto mode also takes the guess work out of terrain settings for novice wheelers.

Off-road capability aside, the Defender has some serious numbers backing up the robustness of the platform. Towing clocks in at a notable 8,201 pounds, while payload comes in at 1,984 pounds. The roof has a dynamic roof load rating of 370 pounds and a static roof load of 661 pounds, making it an ideal choice for those gear-heavy overland journeys.

Understanding the importance of the Defender's ability to traverse some of the most rugged terrain on the planet, it was validated in over 62,000 tests and driven hundreds of thousands of miles all over the world in the most extreme environments during its development program. Defender also benefits from Land Rover's new enhanced validation testing for its electrical system, ensuring that those pesky British electrical gremlins don't rear their ugly heads just outside of Marrakesh.

Powertrain

At launch, U.S.-spec Defenders will be available with two gas engines, a four-cylinder or inline six-cylinder. Dubbed the P300 and P400, both engines feature twin-scroll turbos, while the six will add mild hybrid technology. The P300 produces 296 horsepower and Land Rover says it can hit 60 mph from a standstill in 7.7 seconds. The P400 adds a 48-volt electric supercharger and replaces the alternator with a belt-integrated starter motor for extra assist under acceleration. The 395 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque six will hit 60 mph in just 5.8 seconds. Both powertrains are backed by a ZF eight-speed automatic.

Technology

The Defender exceeds every 2020 expectation when it comes to technology, although some might bemoan the loss in simplicity offered by the original. Featuring Land Rover's Electronic Vehicle Architecture (EVA) 2.0, it is the basis for the Defender's technological revolution and utilizes over-the-air updates and a (finally) intuitive new PIVI Pro infotainment system. An Online Pack and supplemental Wi-Fi data package ensures that the vehicle, as well as passengers, will stay connected.

Other technological features include a new heads-up display, multiple cameras (including the trick ClearSight Ground View system that allows you to "see through" the vehicle to obstacles on the ground below the Defender), ClearSight Rear View mirror system, blind spot assist, optional adaptive cruise control, rear pre-collision monitor, rear traffic monitoring, Clear Exit Monitor, emergency braking, lane keep assist, and a bevy of parking aides.

A six-speaker, 180-watt sound system is standard, but optional Meridian 11-speaker and 15-speaker systems, featuring 400 watts and 700 watts of power, respectively, are available.

Initial Thoughts

With a starting price that is far more affordable than anticipated, the Defender is dropping squarely in the lap of Jeep, Toyota, and even the upcoming Ford Bronco. However, it sets itself apart by offering more payload, more towing, more room, and more passenger capacity than anything else currently in its class. The Defender is a sophisticated "gentleman's" wheeler that fills a unique gap and keeps the Land Rover brand credible while looking toward the future. At first glance, it's hard not to be impressed with what Land Rover has achieved here. Your grandpa would agree, even if he doesn't recognize it as the Defender of his day.