The 2021 Land Rover Defender is a roomier, more civilized alternative to a Jeep Wrangler. The new Defender is a unibody SUV built to take on body-on-frame off-roaders like the Jeep Wrangler, Toyota 4Runner, and upcoming Ford Bronco.
The 2021 Land Rover Defender works as an adventure seeker and daily driver. It has Jeep Wrangler off-road capability and the controlled road manners of a crossover SUV, though with a taller stance.
The Defender returned for the 2020 model year as the four-door 110 body style after a 22-year hiatus in the U.S. For 2021, Land Rover adds the shorter, two-door 90 body style and the X-Dynamic trim level that sits just above the base trim.
In addition to the two body styles, Land Rover offers the Defender in base, X-Dynamic, First Edition, and X trim levels. Base models start at $47,450 for the 90 and $51,850 for the 110. They come standard with cloth upholstery, rubber flooring, a 10.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and 18-inch steel wheels. Higher-line models range past $80,000, and Land Rover offers a wide variety of options and accessories to outfit the Defender for off-road adventure and overlanding.
The Defender also comes with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, active lane control, and a surround-view camera system. The cameras aid off-roading as well as safety.
Land Rover doesn’t go full retro with the storied Defender nameplate like fans might expect. Instead, it’s a modern SUV with a tall, blocky look. Cues like the externally mounted spare tire, an available contrast black or white roof, and the overall proportions recall the original.
Under the hood, Land Rover offers a 296-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo-4 or a 395-hp 3.0-liter turbo inline-6. We’ve only driven the turbo-6, which is assisted by a 48-volt mild-hybrid system, and it delivers ready power and quick shifts through its 8-speed automatic transmission.
The Defender’s unibody structure works with available adaptive dampers and air suspension to give the vehicle the smooth ride and control of a crossover, albeit a high-set, heavy one. That air suspension and tall ride height work with standard terrain control modes, low-range gearing, knobby tires, and generous approach, breakover, and departure angles to help get the Defender through any off-road terrain.
Inside, the Defender can seat five to seven people thanks to an available front jump seat and a two-passenger rear bench that isn’t fit for man or beast. The first two rows are spacious, though, and the cargo area has good space, especially in the 110.
The sturdy interior materials match the Defender’s mission and create a high-quality but not high-luxury environment. Two standard screens, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a 10.0-inch center touchscreen, add a tech flavor that provides infotainment and enhanced off-roading information.
The 2021 Land Rover Defender had some incredibly large shoes to fill. By changing course from a utilitarian body-on-frame to a much more refined unibody design, Land Rover has imbued modern day comfort while still maintaining its off-road prowess. Plus by moving to a new platform, Land Rover was able to bake it all the modern technological goodies we’ve become accustomed to. In the end the 2021 Land Rover Defender lives up to its nameplate, and then some. It works, admirably.