By Andy Stonehouse
The highly-anticipated 2020 (now 2021) Land Rover Defender, the uber-stylized, virtually unstoppable, retro-futuristic reinvention of Land Rover’s classic-looking off-roader, is quite the vehicle, in many ways. There hasn’t been a Defender in North America since 1997, owing to domestic safety rules, so this is indeed a big reintroduction.
While I had a joyous experience in the $71,025 Defender 110 SE model, the legion of hardcore, old-school Land Rover fanatics will either love or recoil in horror from the new, Slovakian-built Defender’s very striking mix of futuristic design and super-classic elements.
Like the very first Land Rovers going back to the late 1940s, this new model has decided that boxy is better and the rear cabin of the extended-wheelbase (119-inch) 110 model integrates that retro, safari-proven style with functional side skylights and an optional, ultra-classic white contrast roof. There’s also a peculiar, body-colored panel inserted in the otherwise black-on-black windows in the rear (which serves as the mounting plate for roof racks and such); side mirrors are tiny boxes, and the rear brake lamps look like they come out of a 12-year-old kid’s Minecraft session.
The 110 model can be ordered in five- or seven-passenger seating arrangements—mine subbed in a dedicated cargo area with the most rugged plastic floor and seatback plating I’ve ever seen (an effect repeated on its hood panels). Later this year, you will also be able to order the shorter Defender 90 model; all Defenders can be customized with a gajillion accessories, e.g. roof racks, gear carriers, spare wheel covers, portable rinse systems and scuff plates.
I literally beat the hell out the Defender 110 during the test drive, engaging all of its ultra-sophisticated electronic off-road controls and easing up and down steep, rocky, sandy and snow-covered slopes, without a single problem. They’re all controlled by a new, fantastic center console (featuring an upright gear lever kind of like a joystick) that is entirely dark with the power off, but lights up to allow you access to easily control everything from terrain and throttle/braking response to the vehicle’s self-guided crawl mode. A broad video screen offers feedback on 4×4 settings, with innovative around-view cameras to help with safer navigation in sketchy spots. It’s also got a new wading mode to safely glide through up to 34 inches of water.
There are two choices of power for those various models, including a 296-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder and the very impressive 395-horsepower, mild hybrid electric vehicle inline-six cylinder engine. Mine had the latter and its 48-volt integrated supercharger turns what is a lot of metal into a box that will hit 60 mph in 5.8 seconds, and absolutely gallop up mountain passes. A very slow cruise got me mileage in the mid-20s, but I would expect the 19 combined MPG the EPA sticker suggests.
Si: Undoubtedly one of the most capable off-road vehicles in the world, it will offer assistance to other brands with extra, semi-hybrid power that helps it boogie, uphill.
No: It’s weird as hell, in a lot of ways, and the looks and design are definitely polarizing. The interior also looks more like a science experiment than a passenger vehicle.
Andy Stonehouse is a guest contributor to Latino Traffic Report and a freelance automotive journalist based in Golden, Colorado. All photos are stock, not as-tested.