It's just as good on the pavement as it is off it.
The 2020 Land Rover Defender is among the most off-road capable vehicles sold today. It's no wonder why we called it the best off-roader you can buy and awarded it as the 2020 CarBuzz Off-Road Warrior. We've had plenty of fun putting the new Defender through its paces on two different continents, but after spending a week with one, we learned that this vehicle is more than just an off-road special.
No matter how well the Defender fairs off-road, there will still be plenty of buyers who never take it off the pavement. For them, Land Rover has managed to create a package that's just as lovely on the road as it is off of it. Land Rover sent us a Defender 110 SE to review, and we quickly learned why it's a better daily driver than a Jeep Wrangler.
The new Defender's styling has been criticized for being too far removed from the classic model it replaced. For those people, we suggest an ECD Defender with a Corvette engine under the hood. Land Rover wanted to modernize the Defender without straying too far from its utilitarian roots, and we think the company's designers got it spot on. The Defender no longer looks like a piece of farm equipment, but it's still more rugged than a Range Rover; it looks right parked in front of a mansion or on the top of a mountain.
Our Fuji White 110 tester looked particularly at home parked in front of a massive Florida home before undergoing off-road testing in the Ocala National Forrest. Like a Mercedes G-Class, the Defender is a vehicle that looks better dirty but can also be hosed down and parked outside of a fancy restaurant. We'd possibly opt for a bolder color like Gondwana Stone or Pangea Green, but Fuji White does give off a neat Storm Trooper vibe.
More impressive than the exterior styling is what Land Rover has done inside. Anyone who's ever driven an original Defender must admit that the cabin is the most significant improvement on this new model. Gone is the terrible seating position, lack of legroom, and old-fashioned controls; in comes a modern design, durable materials, and impressive technology. Land Rover managed to make the Defender feel luxurious and utilitarian at the same time, differentiating this model from the Discovery and Range Rover lineups.
The cabin feels open thanks to an available panoramic moonroof and Land Rover signature side roof windows. Land Rover didn't just cover the interior with leather, instead opting for rubberized plastic, exposed metal, and water-proof flooring. We think the design looks more luxurious than a Jeep Wrangler without straying into Range Rover or G-Glass territory.
Land Rover offers the Defender as a two-door 90 model or a four-door 110. While the 90 model has less space, the 110 offers plenty of room for a family. It may not maximize passenger volume compared to more mainstream SUVs, but the rear seats still offer a generous 39.1 inches of legroom. Land Rover sells the 110 as a five-seater or a seven-seat model with a third row. That third row is pretty cramped but could come in handy in a pinch. There's also a six-seater option with a bench seat up front, though it's likely to be a rare option.
Defender owners will have plenty of room for their belongings with 34 cubic feet of space behind the second row. That space shrinks to a measly 10.7 cubic feet with the third row up, though it grows up to 78.8 cubic feet with the second row folded.
Off-road vehicles are often terrible to drive on the road. This is not the case with the Defender. Though a Range Rover is far more road-friendly, the Defender easily bests rivals like the Jeep Wrangler and Toyota 4Runner with its wonderful on-road manners. The electronic air suspension soaks up road imperfections, and the steering is far more precise than we anticipated. It can still feel floaty at highway speeds, but nowhere near on the level of the Wrangler or 4Runner. The Defender is also quieter than those vehicles, making it a much better road trip vehicle.
Land Rover currently offers the Defender with two engine options, both of which trump what's currently offered in a Wrangler or 4Runner. The base 2.0-liter four-cylinder develops 296 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, which is enough to motivate the Defender smoothly on-road and off-road. With the optional 3.0-liter inline-six mild-hybrid setup, the Defender flies. 395 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque are enough to rocket the Defender up to 60 mph in just 5.8 seconds compared to 7.7 seconds with the four-banger. With a tow rating of 8,201 pounds, we can't imagine needing more power, though a V8 version is reportedly in the works.
We came away completely blown away by the Defender with how it handles any task. Even if this vehicle never leaves the pavement for its entire life, it feels perfectly at home on the road. Still, we hope owners will take advantage of the Defender's impressive capability because it can turn anyone into an off-roading master. With automatically locking differentials, excellent approach, departure, and breakover angles, and an impressive suite of cameras, this might be the easiest vehicle to hop in and off-road with zero previous experience.