TALES FROM THE ROAD – Land Rover Defender 110

Land Rover knows how to make an incredible luxury vehicle. But when people buy into the brand, they’re buying into a curated, idealized image of ultimate capability. As good as current Land Rovers are, they’re a far cry from the Land Rovers that have, quite literally, tamed some of the most inhospitable terrain ever discovered by man.  

That’s not a bad thing, exactly. The all-conquering vehicles were so successful because they were so simple. Just a bunch of beefy, robust parts that can be fixed with a hammer; a couple of cheap benches; and some flat, square-cut sheet metal to cover it all. We love the story of the original Land Rovers, but we, and most people we assume, prefer the brand’s current, more luxurious take on motoring. 

So it will be interesting to see how Land Rover’s newest vehicle, the Defender 110, will be received by the public. It’s a throwback to the great Land Rovers of yore, putting a priority on outright capability over any semblance of luxury. The motoring press already loves it, but as it still carries a luxury price tag, will the public love it as well?

Based on exterior design alone, the Defender is sure to be a hit – at least with those who abuse the #wanderlust and #overlanding hashtags. It’s a cyberpunk-ian take on the classic Defender 90 design, with the brutalism of the slab sides softened slightly by refined lighting front and rear. Unlike the old version, the modern Defender is a massive vehicle, unable to hide anywhere, which again, is sure to make it a hit with those chasing internet clout. 

Our tester gets the optional Cool Climate and Off-Road accessory packs to further push the new Defender’s image of toughness. First thing you notice is the snorkel that runs along the driver’s-side A-pillar, then you start to notice the details. A polymer non-slip diamond plate adorns the flat hood; up top is a massive roof rack, this one with a wind-cheating shape and matte finish to mark it as a piece of 21st-century design. And of course, there’s the now-iconic exterior-mounted gear carrier, looking more like a futuristic jerrycan than it does a place to stash your outdoor clothes. 

The interior looks just as purposeful, though it’s here where opinion on the new Defender will start to split. The cabin design is both contemporary and classic, with not much of – well, anything – to make the Defender feel like a product of its time. 

We love the design, and things look to be well-constructed. It’s just that the material choice is – how can we put this tactfully? – designed first and foremost to be durable. The luxury Land Rover is known for is completely absent here, and had we been given these same materials in a lesser-badged vehicle, we’d be trotting out those tired old “penalty box” clichés right around here. 

But somehow, in this Defender, it all just works. You may not be able to hose things out here, but you can come pretty darn close. It all works in harmony with the stated function of the Defender: to be the ultimate off-road vehicle. And if you’re buying this Land Rover to play in the dirty stuff, you’ll welcome the fact that you don’t have to be gentle getting in and out of the thing. And besides, you still get the heated and cooled seats, some real buttons (for once), and a massive panoramic moonroof if you need to see where your money is going. 

But the stuff that really counts here is the stuff you can’t see: the mechanical bits. Power is okay, with a mild hybrid/turbocharged inline-6 providing the motivation here. With 395 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque on tap, things don’t feel fast, but you’re never wanting for power. Power delivery is smooth, as is ride quality. The transmission and 4-wheel-drive system are computer controlled to deliver power where needed, as needed. It’s pretty standard stuff for Land Rover, so it’s all proven tech. 

Further enhancing the Defender’s off-road prowess is its increased ride height (compared to other vehicles in the Land Rover portfolio), leading to 19.7-inches of suspension travel, a 38-degree approach angle, a 40-degree departure angle, and a 28-degree breakover angle. Components under the vehicle are beefy, having been designed specifically to withstand the shocks and direct impacts that come with off-road travel. 

The Land Rover Defender does use a monocoque body, so we have yet to see if this Defender can be fixed with just a hammer. But it does help with on-road performance, making this the most compliant dedicated off-roader we’ve ever driven. If you don’t mind the durable material selection, the Defender will make for a great everyday cruiser. 

So for us, we love the Land Rover Defender. It offers the right amount of style, more than enough capability, and has an interior that’s tough enough to shrug off whatever you can throw at it. What it isn’t, though, is luxurious. So you’ll have to be the one to decide if that interior is worth the price tag. 

Justin Kaehler
Justin Kaehler is a Los Angeles-based writer, photographer, and auto enthusiast who has been sharing his passion for cars for over 15 years.