First Drive: 2021 Land Rover Defender 110 Review

The new Land Rover Defender has a lot resting on its shoulders...
29th July 2020
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel


Perhaps predictably and certainly understandably, now that a few reviews of the new Land Rover Defender have trickled out, its fans and detractors divide into roughly two categories. The former congratulate Land Rover on producing an SUV with daily driver qualities of ride, refinement, comfort and connection combined with probably unsurpassed off-road ability, while the latter group hate it because it’s not the old Defender. Or, indeed, anything like it.

Truth is it was never going to be like an old Defender – could never be like an old Defender. You couldn’t build a car with such a shambolic approach to the open road and hope it to find customers; and even if you could, you would never get it to pass the same legislative tests that killed the original. Apart from a dwindling number of NGOs, the old Defender sold only on nostalgia, something upon which the new one could not rely.

We like

  • Can go pretty much anywhere
  • Incredible off-road traction control system
  • Adds some rugged off-road credibility to a model line-up of SUVs

We don't like

  • Quite an expensive machine
  • Predictably has lost some of the old Defender’s charm
  • Much larger than the previous Defender



It had to be a modern car and it is. That its ‘character’ was therefore also going to take a hit was inevitable. As I have said in this space in the past, such character is most often found in a car’s deficiencies, which is great in a recreational toy but a pain in the backside in your do everything, go everywhere workhorse.

I speak not as a Defender owner, but as the owner of an even older, more rubbish Land Rover, the Series III in which I passed my test. It is unbelievably characterful which is really just another way of saying it is unbelievably useless, except at the very narrowly defined jobs with which it is tasked, chiefly ensuring we don’t get cut off when the snow comes, which until recently was every year. And yes, in that regard, it is brilliant: indeed it’s not been stopped yet.

What cannot be denied is that the new Defender not only still has character but that it is entirely distinct from that of any other Land or Range Rover on sale. It is anything but a restyled Discovery with rubber floor mats.

Performance and Handling


I like that its ruggedness is not just perceived, but real. At Eastnor Castle where I took it off-roading there were paths strewn with the most horrendous ruts that I was advised by my instructor not to avoid but tackle head on and at speed because ‘it’ll take a lot more than that to bother it’. Under the Defender lies the stiffest, strongest structure Land Rover has ever built one that feels it would survive a thermo-nuclear device going off underneath it.

But Land Rover could have gone further too. It could have allowed low range to be engaged by a large lever, not a small button. Why not allow all its off-road modes to be accessed by a big, bespoke dial with a chunky mechanical feel, rather than making you twiddle the same control used to adjust the cabin temperature? Little details, maybe, but they count.



I won’t dwell on the looks because they are entirely subjective, but I really like the interior ambience which is far more utilitarian than that of any other Land Rover. I like the fact you can choose to seat three across the front too, just like my old SIII.

Technology and Features


While my antiquated Series III may be perfect for those snowy days, a new Defender would be better still, not least because it has electronically locking differentials and the best off-road traction control system I have ever used. But were you to tell me I was spending the first six months after lockdown driving a new Defender and nothing else, I’d look forward to it immensely. If you told me it would be my Series III, I’d probably stay in bed.



At the end of the day, the Defender remains a very well-judged car. It’s expensive, with prices starting at around £40,000 for a base spec short wheelbase car, rising to twice that amount for a top of the range long wheelbase model, but I’d say it was worth it.

Such cars have an importance far beyond their sales statistics. This Defender will add authenticity and credibility to all of Land Rover's ranges, in exactly the same way as the 911 has been doing for Porsche all these decades. It is, therefore not just an important car to get right, but a critical one. No, it does not exceed my wildest dreams for the car, but it is right at the upper end of my hopes for it. Long may it prosper.



2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel


243PS (177kW) @ 4,000rpm


430Nm (318lb ft) @ 1,400rpm


Eight-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive

Kerb weight


0-62mph 9.1 seconds
Top speed 117mph
Fuel economy


C02 emissions 234-236g/km

£51,750 (£62,065 as tested)

Our score

4 / 5

This score is an average based on aggregated reviews from trusted and verified sources.

  • Evo
    4 out of 5
  • TopGear
    4.5 out of 5
  • Autocar
    4.5 out of 5