MM Condensed-Review: 2020 Land-Rover Defender


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MM Condensed-Review: 2020 Land-Rover Defender

IN A NUTSHELL: The Un-Country-Club Land Rover.


During World War II, our British allies, who of course, had military vehicles of their own, were quite impressed with the American Kaiser/Bantam/Willys Jeep that had made so much contribution to the war was also manufactured by Ford, under license, in large quantities. After the war, the British decided to produce a "Jeep" of their own, and mated the American Jeep chassis to a British Rover power-plant, an enclosed metal body, and at least some crude amenities inside, and the result was the first 1948 Land-Rover. The Land-Rover quickly became the classic stereotype off-road/Third-World vehicle that symbolized motorized access and/or expeditions to the furthest desert/jungle/mountain reaches of the British Empire and former colonies. This was helped even more by the ability of the design to be quickly disassembled/reassembled and carried across rivers, canyons, and other obstacles that its remarkable mountain-goat abilities could not ford on their own.

The basic design continued for decades, until Land Rover decided, in 1970, to expand into a luxury-class (for the period) SUV design, and gave us the first Range Rover....which, of course, is still a status-symbol today, and sells quite well in my area (D.C. suburbs) despite its high price. One can easily spend six figures on a Range Rover, depending on model and options. What was the original no-nonsense Land Rover (and more-or-less the intention for it) gradually evolved, over the years, into what came to be known as the Defender...which has been both in and out of the U.S. market several times, over the years.

For 2020, the latest version of the Defender is back in the U.S. market. They are just beginning to arrive at local Jaguar/Land-Rover dealerships I write this. I checked one out today, and did enough of a test-drive to get a good idea of what the vehicle feels like, its road-manners, and what it is like to drive. During the coronavirus pandemic, of course, for the last several months, I have been strictly avoiding new-vehicle reviews/test-drives, and instead, doing write-ups on vehicles from the past....some of which either I, my family, or friends have owned. However, day-to-day operations at the dealerships in my area are (gradually) starting to get back to normal, I've survived the pandemic, so far, without any coronavirus infections or symptoms, although I did have some questionable angina-related issues a few weeks ago that turned not to be either heart or coronavirus-related, and have since abated). Since I am scrupulously careful with both masks, hand-washing/sanitizers, and social-distancing, I decided to go ahead, in response a forum-request for a Defender test-drive, to check one out.

Defenders are offered in both shorter 3-door and longer 5-door versions, starting at ($49,900), although the few currently in stock at the local dealerships are generally high-zoot 5-door models. A number of different trim-versions are are the details from another source, since the Land Rover USA web-site seems to be either partly-inoperative or still under revision.

I checked out and test-drove an Indus-Silver 5-door First-Edition model, with a base price of around 68K, that listed for around 77K. If that's not enough (and it is certainly not Chump-Change), the dealership had bumped the asking-price, on a second-sticker, up to 81K (Ouch!) with the addition of Lo-Jack (an anti-theft feature) and a $1295 Paint/Interior-Protection Package.


The new Defender's exterior continues the long tradition of its shoe-box styling, which, of course, is designed for maximum space-efficiency inside (I'll get to that below). Although the paint job, with the light-silver color, was not not particularly glossy, it was smooth and quite well-done. There is no chrome at all on the exterior of the First Edition is all silver paint, black-letter trim, black moldings, and brushed-metal trim on the lower-front, under the grille. No one will mistake this for a Cadillac Escalade in the chrome-bling department. On the right-rear window, on the passenger's side, near the D-pillar, is an exterior lock-compartment box for carrying is attached to, and hangs from, from a strap/brace covering on the roof. Handy, but it also blocks vision out the right rear quarter. The sheet metal appears to be fairly solid by today's standards (which often isn't saying much), and the doors, while clearly lacking the bank-vault thud of the Mercedes G-Wagen (Gelandewagen) shut reasonably solidly. On the rear hatch-lid, under a cover, was mounted a REAL spare tire and alloy-wheel......not a donut, temporary-spare, run-flat, or tire-inflation-bottle. This particular vehicle also had the optional off-road tire-package.


Although the lack of chrome on the exterior is one characteristic, it is the Defender's interior which sets it apart from virtually every other Land-Rover model. Even with its 2020/21st-century-grade features, it is nothing.....repeat, NOTHING like you would expect to see in a typical 75-80K luxury-grade SUV. Unlike the Range Rover at the other end of the showroom, the Defender was not designed to be driven to the Country Club to show off. (Remember its 1948 origin?). This is a no-nonsense off-roader, with (mostly) stark, plain plastic/vinyl parts inside, a minimum of leather trim, and surfaces that are apparently expected to get dirty in the mud of off-roading and be wiped clean. The interior of my test vehicle was all-black, which, of course, made it appear even more stark. It lacked even carpets on the entry-level work-trucks, it had an all-vinyl-covering on the floor that could be easily vacuumed and washed/wiped clean, although someone either at the factory or at the dealership had applied some kind of silicone-preservative to the floor-vinyl that made it rather slippery, so some care had to be taken getting in and out. In spite of the vehicle's quite-tall-stance, getting in and out was not particularly difficult for people my size. The button/control layout was rather simple and easy to use, and the video-screen, though tacked-on in the middle of the dash, looks less-tacked-on than on some of the designs where the screen actually sticks way up above the dash itself. Headroom and legroom, due mostly to the vehicle's conservative shoe-box design and tall roof, was ample even with the sunroof housing. One feature inside, though, I was somewhat concerned with.....hard-plastic hook-like assemblies jutting out of the upper-backs of the front seats, just in front of the rear-seat passengers, that look and feel like they could cause serious injury in a crash or sudden-deceleration. I tried to retract or fold them up, and simply couldn't do it. I'd strongly recommend rear-seat passengers wearing their belts as tight as possible to minimize the chances of that hard assembly smacking one in the face, head, or chest.


While there were some things on the road I didn't like and was not impressed with, there were also some very nice characteristics as well. Base Defenders have a 2.0L turbo-4 of 296 HP and .295 ft-lbs. of torque...the First Edition comes with a 3.0L in-line turbo-6 of 395 HP and 406 ft-lbs. of torque, which is obviously plenty for a vehicle of this size and weight (around 5000 lbs). In addition, the engine is well-refined (typical for in-line sixes), and there is not a lot of powertrain noise. The engine's electronic throttle-linkage-response, though, was very jumpy from rest (as was the brake-pedal)...both needed a lot of practice to drive smoothly, without lurches....I suspect the engineers will revise the electronics and sensors in the linkages next year (or maybe later this year)...after this vehicle is deliver to customers and they start complaining. Otherwise, no other complaints with the drivetrain...the 8-speed automatic transmission, with Sport/Manual shift feature, shifts smoothly and with refinement. The power-steering, though smooth, was quite limp and numb-feeling. Ride comfort, over bumps and broken pavement, was very good (this is one area where Land Rover products have excelled in for years). The vehicle's heavy 5000-lb. weight and soft suspension soak up bumps like a sponge, but the trade-off is a lot of body-roll on sharp curves, which is also partly from the very tall center of gravity. Anyhow, this is not a vehicle designed for sport-oriented driving (and most drivers don't corner that hard most of the time) so the lean and roll is not an issue. Where it does (and will) excel is in ride-comfort, and in off-road capability which I was not able to sample in my test-drive conditions. Wind noise was well-controlled, although, on pavement at least, there was some tire-noise, even on brand-new tires, from the Off-Toad tire package and its somewhat more-aggressive tread pattern. Deep snows aren't going to stop this vehicle, either...there is a superb 11.5 inches of ground clearance underneath. On the way back to the dealership, I had an odd thing happen on the road, when the vehicle suddenly, on acceleration in the low gears, would not exceed 15 MPH, and a green LIM light lit up on the dash. At first, I thought that it might be the transmission's Limp-Home Mode, which happens when there is a programing-failure in the transmission and it allows you to limp back to the repair shop at low speeds....Land Rover products, of course, even when new, are notorious for electric-system defects. However, after holding up some traffic, I found that it was the speed-regulator system activating...I had hit the tab on the steering wheel spoke that turns it on and adjusts it (with green lights and markings on the speedometer). It limits the speed to whatever you set it to (to help you keep from getting speeding-tickets) had been set on 15 MPH. A simple flick of it off solved the problem....and got me rolling again.


Especially in the upper-trim versions, this is an expensive (and perhaps unreliable) vehicle that, despite its excellent ride-comfort and space-efficiency inside, I would not really recommend for typical suburban driving, unless one lives in an area that gets a lot of really deep snow and/or is concerned about easy cleaning in a vehicle that will routinely get very dirty inside. While, yes, it is easy to clean, you are essentially getting a $20,000 interior (or less) in a $50,000-$80,000 vehicle....and that hook-assembly sticking out of the back of the front seats is a concern to rear-seat passengers. The low-speed throttle and brake-pedal linkages also, IMO, clearly need work. If it were my money, for most driving conditions, I'd look at a Range Rover, Range Rover Sport, or other Land Rover product with an interior more in line with the price....and the Range-Rover has excelled in comfort for years. Yes, it might cost somewhat more than a Defender, but, if one is going to spend this kind of money, might as well get something that at least looks the price. But, if it's an expensive Mountain-Goat that you want, regularly get your vehicle dirty off-road, are willing to give up some interior comfort/class, and are willing to roll the dice on Land-Rover reliability...well, here's your wheels. But, no matter which Land-Rover product you choose, I'd recommend either a lease or not keeping it past the 4/50 factory-warranty. In fact, the dealership I was at today offers leases with unlimited mileage....something I have not seen before.

And, as Always, Happy Vehicle-Shopping.





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I now see them driving around. They are not interesting cars too me, I don't see the appeal.