The Land Rover Defender, in one form or another, has been seen traveling highways, fording rivers, roaming savannahs and climbing steep hills all over the world for 48 years with the 2021 version achieving the pinnacle of a luxurious off-road conqueror.
The vehicle was launched all-new in 2020, and is built in the town of Nitra, Slovakia, but retains its British roots. The 2021 Defender full-size SUV has earned the prestigious SUV of the Year award from Motor Trend magazine and World Car Design of Year among 30 global awards.
Our test vehicle was an aluminum unibody boxy Fuji white Land Rover Defender 110 SE. As the latest iteration of this legendary vehicle, our tester was adorned with contrast black body-surround cladding, rimmed lights, rubber hood patches, air vents and roof rails.
Gray plastic bumpers and rear windows pasted with body color-matching shields completed the look. Our five-passenger Defender (it can be outfitted for six or seven) is third trim among six. A smaller, compact new for 2021, Defender 90 model offers five trims.
Typically, many Land Rover owners avoid taking their high-end vehicle off-road, but Defender’s off-road credibility may change minds. It now boasts top-notch off-road prowess paired with improved on-road performance – enough versatility to challenge competitors like Jeep Wrangler and Grand Cherokee, which cost less but can’t compete against both on and off-road capabilities.
We enjoyed cushioned highway riding using Defender’s updated adaptive electronic air suspension system and power responses from the powerful 3.0-liter, 6-cylinder engine with a mild hybrid powertrain using an electric supercharger to reduce turbo lag for acceleration under six seconds to 60 mph with all-wheel drive. Mileage remains low – only 19-mph average – but Defender weighs 2.5 tons and can tow 8,201-lbs when equipped.
Off-road, Defender can navigate 45-degree side slopes, traverse streams 35.4-inches deep with wade-depth sensing, use hill descent and adjust to 11.5 inches of ground clearance with terrain off-road drive modes.
High vehicle access can be challenging.
Inside, the stylish cabin offers spacious occupant seating and ample storage spaces. Tan, black and gray upscale materials create a pleasant ambiance and purposely exposed screw heads hint ruggedness.
A new infotainment system on the 10-inch touchscreen includes excellent navigation, can be updated remotely and is rich with information but initially challenging to use.
Driver safety features are strong with cutting-edge features like wireless phone charging and phone apps. Total cargo capacity is 78.5-cubic feet and a side-hinged rear door accesses cargo area and spare tire.
At a Glance
LIKES: On-road/off-road prowess, versatility, attractive cabin, tech features
DISLIKES: Challenging access, touch screen complexity
BOTTOM LINE: Land Rover Defender wears performance, luxury crown
Fact File: 2021 Land Rover Defender 110 SE
3.0 liter, turbo, inline six cylinder, DOHC
395-hp at 5,500 rpm
395-ft.-lbs. at 2,000 rpm
6-speed automatic, manual slide-shift
17 mpg city/22/mpg hwy
23.8 gallons, premium
0 to 60 in 5.8 seconds
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Tom Crosby has written more than 1,000 automotive reviews and is a retired Vice President of Communications for AAA Carolinas. He has seen dramatic changes in the automotive industry over the past 25 years and ponders the advent of self-driving vehicles, electric-only vehicles, sophisticated in-car telematics, and the financial challenges facing automotive manufacturers in an increasingly congested worldwide market.