The 2020 Land Rover Defender is going off-road, and upmarket

2020 Land Rover Defender (Image credit: Land Rover)
The moment has come when die-hard Land Rover fans have been demanding for years - the Defender is back.
After 22 years of absence from the US, the return of the model has sparked off-charts anticipation and hype in the car world.
The brand new 2020 Defender definitely looks great, with an updated look and feel that still includes many of the elements that make it unique. This includes the traditional look of the two-door model “90” with a white roof and steelie wheels.
I'm one of those old school Defender fans and I finally got the chance to drive the new one (both on and off road) over a weekend. But the price is not exactly as high as the everyday objects of the old days - it is upscale.
Form follows function
2020 Land Rover Defender (Image credit: Land Rover)
According to Land Rover, the Defender reflects what it describes as overarching brand features such as “design”, “performance” and “durability”. The main features that designers and engineers focused on when developing the latest model.
The Defender's design undoubtedly reflects the ability and durability that are obvious from a superficial standpoint. The refinement, however - another Land Rover feature - is saved for the high-end Range Rover.
The first thing you notice is that the Defender has a high stance and not much of the chassis or suspension components sticking out from underneath. The neat packaging at the bottom and the short overhangs front and rear give the car a 30-degree approach angle (and a 40-degree offset), plus 45-degree inclines and impressive water wading 35 inches deep. These numbers are the same for the Defender 110 (4-door) and 90 (2-door).
I was surprised to hear that the Defender is not an SUV with a body on the frame (as many hardcore off-roaders are), but a unibody or monocoque chassis construction made of aluminum. This gives the car more rigidity, stronger sheet metal and generally better safety and crash test values.
While the design gives the Defender some notable perks (approach angle, fording depth, etc.), much of the Defender's capabilities come from inside - namely, the two engines offered in the US.
The base engine of the standard Defender and Defender S models is an inline 4-cylinder turbocharged engine that delivers 296 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. The upgraded engine, available on the taller Defender fairings (SE, HSE, X, and First Edition), puts out a healthy 395 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque. This enables the Defender to pull an impressive 8,200 pounds.
Most impressive, however, is that this power can be transferred to the wheels: the transmission and all-wheel drive. And this is where the test drive comes in.
What is inside?
2020 Land Rover Defender (Image credit: Pras Subramanian)
The Defender X I test drive from New Jersey to Manchester to Vermont was tricked with dark gray wheels, black contrast roof, black hood and smoked taillights. There were also some great off-road features like a configurable off-road response that I'll get into later.
The impressive exterior is also complemented by a great interior. Land Rover really emphasized durability and design elements; Here the defender shows his uniqueness.
A very clean and sparse dashboard is highlighted by two digital displays: one under the instrument panel and the other in the center stack. For the most part, that's pretty much it, and that's the minimalist vibe that Land Rover is aiming for here.
The materials in the cabin are all made up of a range of "durable interior pads" or materials that can be wiped off and are tough enough for weekend adventures. Even the floor is a tough rubberized material that seems to withstand abuse.
Don't get me wrong - it's still a nice place to be, especially in Defender X moldings with open-pore walnut veneer and comfortable seats wrapped in Windsor leather. But you won't confuse the Defender with a Range Rover.
2020 Land Rover Defender (Image credit: Land Rover)
The gear knob is located below the center stack's touchscreen, along with a clever set of two digital buttons that cover everything from climate control to heating and cooling the seat to driving modes.
With no running boards or bars, getting into the Defender is a small step. Once on board, you have a clear, impressive view through the large windshield.
The initial acceleration is reasonable for an SUV, but even with the turbocharged 6-cylinder, you won't blow the truck's doors. Shifting the gear selector to sport mode gives you more aggressive shifts and accelerations. The steering is a little numb and a little too strong for my liking, but it makes maneuvering relatively painless.
2020 Land Rover Defender (Image credit: Land Rover)
With my Defender X with air suspension, the ride was surprisingly smooth for such a capable off-roader, and with those comfy seats and high seating position, I devoured the highway miles on the way to Manchester with ease.
Buyers might like the ability, but what they really care about is whether they can run errands and commute to work rather than feel like they're driving a tractor on 33-inch tires. The Defender is also well suited for suburbs and can accommodate up to seven passengers - depending on whether you use the middle seat in the first row, which doubles as a console.
Leave the street
2020 Land Rover Defender (Image credit: Land Rover)
After a three-hour drive, mostly on the motorway, we reached the adventure center, where the fun really began.
Land Rover knew at its core that the Defender had to be a capable off-road beast. So they threw the sink on it. And that starts with all-wheel drive.
A configurable version of Land Rover's Terrain Response System is introduced in the new Defender (standard on X-fairings and optional on others). You can select modes that are appropriate for specific terrain conditions, similar to other competing driving modes.
The Defender system is much more than just driving modes, however, and the off-road modes are fully adjustable. In typical off-road vehicles, drivers can manually lock (or unlock) the differentials and use low gears to control power and grip.
However, in the Defender, drivers can keep it from slipping by using either option on the touchscreen controller to manually enter how much slip differential you want. It is continuously adjustable and, according to Land Rover, this is the world's first application of this technology.
2020 Land Rover Defender (Image credit: Land Rover)
If that sounds like a lot and you just want to focus on the drive ahead and don't want to make any differences, Land Rover's Terrain Response 2 system can do all of this automatically - the system detects the driving surface and configures the vehicle for optimal setup without any input of the driver. The system continuously and variably unlocks and locks the differentials, adjusting traction and power to get you through virtually anything.
And to be very clear, we faced a variety of obstacles and uneven terrain on Land Rover's off-road circuit. The Defender came through deep ruts, uneven and muddy terrain and hard boulders (even in difficult places), which really surprised me.
2020 Land Rover Defender (Image credit: Land Rover)
The air suspension helped a lot and gave the Defender more space and the ability to really squeeze the corners together if necessary. And as we drove over slippery mud and rocks as smooth as porcelain, the tires grabbed and I could see the differences. They were presented on the center screen, going from unlocked to fully locked when the system deemed it necessary.
Really remarkable stuff and very cool technology. The vehicle is going through steep uphill slopes, downhill slopes, what you call 45 degree angular length paths. And the Defender delivered and then took us straight from the off-road course back to Main Street without a rattle of a chassis.
The final result
2020 Land Rover Defender (Image credit: Pras Subramanian)
Land Rover went to great lengths to ensure that the Defender - which packs serious hardware - carries on its legacy of over-abilities but updates it for the modern day. The only downside is one that comes as no surprise and that is the price.
The two-door, 4-cylinder, turbo-powered Defender starts at $ 49,900. There are no options, not even the cool side-mounted gearbox or the foldable stepladder.
You definitely get a ton of options for the price, albeit in a spartan looking package. Add in higher trim levels and features like a bigger engine and the advanced terrain response system and you top the price rubicon for $ 80,000 like the Defender X I tested.
2020 Land Rover Defender (Image credit: Land Rover)
It's a lot of money, but the Defender name is legendary and one that fans are willing to pay for to get into the latest and greatest version. The extreme performance and durability are all packaged in a rather unique design. There is nothing like it in this segment.
Price fluctuations aside, as older versions of the Defender see massive values ​​in the used market and buyers become increasingly interested in socially distant outdoor activities, the price tag for the brand new, adventurous Defender may really reflect the market bear.
2020 Land Rover Defender (Image credit: Land Rover)
Pras Subramanian is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
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