Car review: new Land Rover Defender

Landrover Defender 2021 silver, parked facing up a steep slope

Achingly cool to look at, but does what it should do, too - Credit: Chris Pickering

Land Rover’s new Defender is built to tackle the most extreme terrain on the planet, but it’s equally at home on the road

Nobody could have predicted the success of the original Land Rover. Conceived as a rugged, utilitarian workhorse for post-war British farmers, it went on to become an international icon. Steve McQueen had one, as did Paul McCartney and fashion designer Ralph Lauren. Even Marilyn Monroe famously posed alongside one.

It’s this legacy, as much as its agricultural origins, that the new Defender has to live up to. Simply being unstoppable off-road is no longer enough when a brand new pickup truck can be had for half as much. But fear not, Landie fans, because this is very much a worthy successor to the original.

DESIGN

The Defender comes in two main forms. If you’re in search of practicality, the larger Defender 110 is a no-brainer with its four-door body, generous 916-litre boot and optional seven-seat layout.

The short-wheelbase Defender 90 that we’ve gone for here is a rather different proposition. Its supermini-sized boot comes as a bit of a surprise given this is still quite a large car on the outside, while the two-door bodyshell makes access to the rear seats quite fiddly.

But it’s achingly cool to look at, with its chunky yet sophisticated styling that echoes the original Land Rover silhouette. It’s also slightly nimbler than the 110 and supposedly even more capable when the going gets tough.

New Defender pointing down a steep grassy bank

The new Defender delivers both on and off road - Credit: Chris Pickering

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Both offer plenty of space for front and rear seat passengers, along with a seemingly limitless array of cubby holes and storage compartments. The whole interior feels beautifully built and cleverly designed. It manages to blend rugged functionality with a sense of quality; even the indicators stalks have a satisfyingly tactile feel.

The Defender hasn’t forgotten its roots, either. Underneath the removable rubber mats fitted to this example there’s a wipe-clean plastic floor. That doesn’t detract from the ambience in any way, and it’s a revelation when it comes to cleaning up after muddy boots.

ON THE ROAD

Corners could be a nerve-wracking experience in the old Defender, but the new model handles with aplomb. There’s a touch of body roll, but the steering weights up nicely and the chassis feels well-balanced, as if both ends of the car are working equally to guide you through the corner.

Defender cornering on open road

Corners could be a nerve-wracking experience in the old Defender, but the new model handles with aplomb. - Credit: Nick Dimbleby

The optional air suspension gives the Defender 90 a supple yet controlled ride. Likewise, the six-cylinder mild-hybrid diesel engine is smooth and quiet while cruising, with a pleasingly cultured growl when you work it harder.

There’s a bit of wind and road noise, but overall, the comfort and refinement are close to luxury car levels, which is a remarkable achievement when you consider the Defender’s uncompromising off-road ability.

FINAL SAY

Some have compared the high-tech new Defender to the Land Rover Discovery, but at times it feels more like a Range Rover with a wipe-clean interior. Nothing else offers quite the same blend of rugged charm, go-anywhere ability and on-road refinement.

Front seats of Defender, shot through passenger door

The whole interior feels beautifully built and cleverly designed. - Credit: Nick Dimbleby

SPEC AND TECH

Price: Land Rover Defender 90 D250 SE £61,125 as tested (range from £45,675)

Engine: 2,996cc, 250PS, 6-cylinder diesel with 8-speed automatic transmission

Performance: 0 to 60mph in 7.6 seconds; top speed 117mph

Fuel economy: 32.8mpg

CO2 emissions: 226g/km