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2020 Land Rover Defender 110

Big power and off-road prowess.

Four Wheeler StaffWords and Photos

After a decades-long hiatus, Land Rover has finally returned the Defender nameplate to the U.S. market with the all-new 2020 Land Rover Defender 110. Because of the vehicle's late introduction, although it qualified for our 2020 Four Wheeler of the Year test, no testers were available at test time. Because of this, the 2020 model year Defender remained eligible in 2021.

It was no secret that going into the 2021 Four Wheeler SUV of the Year test the Defender was the clear frontrunner. Read on to see how it fared

Ramp and Track

The 2020 Land Rover defender came to us equipped with the company's 3.0L I-6 gasoline engine. This engine, equipped with a twin-scroll turbocharger and 48-volt electric supercharger, pumps out an impressive 395 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. Despite being the vehicle with the smallest engine displacement, and the only one without a V-8, the Defender made the most horsepower and torque. The Land Rover Defender also had the lowest curb weight at just 5,035 pounds. As such, the Defender smoked the competition on the track by racing from 0 to 60 mph in just 6.46 seconds and running through the quarter mile in 14.95 seconds at 95.9 mph. The Defender was able to rein in all of that speed going from 60 mph to a standstill in just 124.23 feet.

On the 22-degree RTI ramp the four-wheel independently suspended Defender climbed 57.75 inches before losing traction for a score of 443.08 with the air suspension in normal ride height. Pumped up to off-road height, 2 inches above normal, the Defender climbed to 57.50 inches, an ever so slight decrease. This resulted in an RTI score of 441.16.

Interior and Exterior

Our judges were all over the map when it came to judging the interior and exterior of the Defender. No one was surprised by the overall complexity of what should have been the most basic of vehicle tasks. For example, there was only one person on the judging panel who knew how to reset the trip odometer, and this was only because he has spent a couple years driving late-model Land Rovers. Our judges panned the infotainment system as overly complicated for use while driving, noting that the controls were tucked inconveniently behind the shift lever. Other judges noted that the interior felt "cheap," while some noted that it was difficult to find a comfortable driving position.

Coming from an openly off-road biased point of view, the exterior was noted as simply not living up to the Defender lineage. The vehicle was seen as being soft in all the wrong places. Really more of a "modern hipster" version of the classic Defender. Our judges really appreciated the functionality of the headlights and the availability of rear-facing foglights. When it comes to recovery points, our judges took off points for the front tow point being essentially underneath the vehicle and behind the bumper fascia, while the rear only had a trailer hitch receiver.

On the Highway

On paper, highway performance should have been a strong suit of the Defender. It's got tons of power, grippy tires, and a fancy air suspension. However, many of our judges found the steering and braking to be far too heavy and the suspension to be overly stiff. The braking especially frustrated our judges, as it was so overboosted that it made us all feel like first-time drivers. Directional stability was also called out as being far too twitchy. Forward visibility was quite good; however, side and rear are less than ideal. The vehicle came equipped with a rearview camera monitor to help with this, but some of our judges are old-school and couldn't quite get used to the view.

When the Pavement Ends

Off-road is where the Defender should have really shined. And, in general, it was quite impressive. We've come to really enjoy the point-and-shoot ability of the current lineup of Land Rover vehicles. And we're accustomed to the fact that the suspension is going to flex like a sheet of plywood. The Defender is no exception, lifting a wheel high into the sky on even the smallest obstacles. These high-flying tire antics are no issue, however, as the vehicle's traction control system works to effortlessly maintain forward momentum.

The biggest gripes from our judges came from the myriad of electronic controls and nannies. Defender uses Land Rover's new Pivi Pro infotainment system to control everything from the stereo to the HVAC and even the suspension and drive modes. This is a good idea in theory, but several judges never even found how to adjust the vehicle's different drive modes, as it was a multi-step process. We also had the Pivi Pro screen go black on us for several hours, which was a huge issue because without it you can't adjust the aforementioned drive modes, among many other things.

While the Defender was the only vehicle in the test with a locking rear differential, selecting when to use it was left up to the vehicle. We had issues of the vehicle jerking violently to one side when the locker engaged in sand washes and also found it to have issues maintaining axle lock during long hill climbs. A simple, user-selectable axle lock button would alleviate all of this.

We also struggled to find a way to shut off, or in any way diminish, the traction and stability control nannies. This meant that sand driving was a chore and sliding the vehicle in any manor was frowned upon.

The Defender went everywhere and did everything, but it wasn't the pleasant and relaxing wheeling we're used to from Land Rover and Range Rover. And for a vehicle wearing the Defender badge, that was a shame.

Bottom Line

In short, the general consensus among the judges is that the 2020 Land Rover Defender would have made for an excellent Discovery replacement. While it's powerful on the highway and immensely capable off-road, our judges found too many points of contention, and in the end the scoring landed the Defender in the number four position.

What's Hot

Massively powerful I-6 engine, adjustable air suspension, locking rear differential.

What's Not

Heavy steering, heavy braking, questionable styling, maddening electronics.

Logbook Quotes

"Range Rovers with Terrain Response II are such a joy to drive. Why can't this be the same?"
"This was the first time in years we didn't cut a Land Rover tire on the trail. "
"The Defender flat out cooks on the highway."

2020 Land Rover Defender 110 SE

Base Price: $62,250
Price As Tested: $72,180
EPA Fuel Econ (City/Hwy/Comb): 17/22/19
Tested Fuel Econ (Average/Best): 14.85/23.40
Engine: 3.0L Supercharged and Turbocharged I-6
Power: 395 hp @ 5,500 RPM
Torque: 406 lb-ft @ 2,000 RPM
Transmission:8-speed automatic
Accel 0-60 MPH:6.46 seconds
-Mile: 14.95 seconds @ 95.9 mph
Braking 60-0 MPH: 124.23 feet