Is Land Rover’s New Defender Too Luxurious to be an Off-Roader?

August marks the much-anticipated reboot of the Land Rover Defender officially arriving on Australian roads. Four years on from ceasing production, the polarising redesign has nearly sold out but the jury is still out on Land Rover’s complete overhaul of their prodigal son. For decades, the Land Rover Defender has coalesced a cult-like following for its stoic design and herculean engine. Whilst the state of the art reboot could be similarly described, it’s unveiling left the most ardent followers wanting something different – perhaps something a little less. From our perspective, it was a step in the right direction.

The 2021 Land Rover manages to acknowledge its utilitarian heritage, with a few technological updates thrown in for good measure. To understand just how much the 2021 Defender differs from past incarnation, you have to slip behind the wheel of this new-age beast, which we were lucky enough to do earlier this week. Venturing deep to the heart of the Blue Mountains, we found ourselves firmly in true Land Rover territory. Here’s what we found.

First Impressions

On approach, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the Defender for some fancy new Range Rover. The boxy lines have been softened and the front grille has been broken up to look more affable. It’s got a lot of character. Assertive, yet friendly enough to not look too menacing at school drop off. It’s clear Land Rover wanted the 2021 Defender to be at home on the leafy streets of Double Bay and not just the mud ruts of Marangaroo.

But that being said, the car is anything but sleek, and rightfully so. The optional external locker compartments that hang off the side manage to augment the huge silhouette, with the ‘110’ bonnet detailing adding a nice touch of class that contrasts well with the addition of a bullbar and winch at the front. If there is one thing to mention here it’s that all black is the way to go.

Inside, the Defender is unrecognisable. Besides for the exposed bolts on the doors and military-esque dash, the interior is luxury at every turn. From the driver’s seat, you’re at the head of the command centre and it speaks to the market the Defender is trying to break into. The huge central touchscreen intuitively connects with Apple CarPlay and we love the handy wireless charging spot in the centre console.

On-Road

Seasoned off-roaders may gawk at the AUD$95,335 price-tag, but therein lies the motives. It’s not hard to see this Land Rover Defender is likely to spend more time driving around the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney than out in the bush, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What’s more, Land Rover hasn’t skimped on power to make that point, either. The 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder turbo-petrol engine is a beast and will have you from standstill to 100kmph in under 7 seconds. A feat that becomes all the more impressive when you remember that you’re sitting inside a 3.5-tonne steel box. We loved the command driving position that allows for maximum visibility. You’ll also be assisted by a plethora of cameras and sensors making every inch of the car visible from the central touch screen.

If comfort is what you’re going on, it’s by far the best suspension setup we’ve ever driven on. You’ll happily cruise along at 70kmph on an unsealed road and not feel a thing. Its turning circle is surprisingly tight, however, you’ll still want to avoid going the wrong way down Sydney side streets. Cruise control is good. The lane assist is present but negligible. Long story cut short, it’s got all the bells and whistles you’d expect on the modern SUV and then some.

It comes as no surprise, but the 2021 Defender has a fuel economy that would make Gautam Adani blush. Our, admittedly exuberant, off-road test read around 32L per 100km. On-road, a more modest 22L per 100km. Land Rover stated that it averages around 9.9L to 14L/100km on an average drive and that’s fine. No one’s buying a Defender to save on fuel.

Off-Road

As far as the overall driver goes, this could quite possibly be the best Off-Roader on the market right now. That said, if you’re passionate about 4WDing, it probably isn’t the car for you.

Extremely capable, with the push of a button the Defender will chow down on literally any terrain you throw at it. Snow, sand, rivers, mud… All you’ve got to do is sit back, a little steering and enjoy wading through 80cm worth of river water. But, it’s here we find the root of the issue. When you’re off-roading in a 2021 Defender you’re more of a passenger than a driver. It’s a piece of cake. So easy, my 86-year-old grandmother could do it without having to turn down the radio. The onboard computer and preset configurations are ludicrously capable. There’s no skill, expertise or knowledge needed to negotiate even the hardest of rock climbs.

For some, this will be music to your ears. Others, the disconnect between you and what your doing will detract from the off-roading experience. From braking and accelerating, the Defender will pretty much do it all. The technology under the hood is mind-boggling. After an hour and a half of slogging through the bush, I feel like we were had barely scratched the surface of what this beast can do.

At the end of the day, if it’s off-road ability you’re looking for, the Defender can throw hands with any of the Toyota Land Cruisers and Jeep Wranglers out there now. But what really sets it apart is its ability to combine luxury and durability.

Verdict

On or off the road, 80 per cent of people will be astonished at how far ahead of the competition the 2021 Defender actually is. Land Rover has seamlessly integrated luxury into the performance without getting dragged down by the inertia of the past. We can only assume the remaining 20 per cent of people are more disappointed by nostalgia and their inability to afford the new model than anything else. It’s a far cry from Land Rover’s troop-carrying roots but that doesn’t mean that its a bad car. In fact, it’s almost impossible to compare them.

Fact is, the Defender overhaul was long overdue and this update has left the model in good stead for the decades to come. The nay-sayers, well, they can rest easy knowing that there’s a healthy market for second-hand Defenders. The 2021 Defender shows that it’s still possible to lug six burly army commandos + gear through some of the toughest terrains on earth, only now, you’re each able to do it with individualised climate control and a panoramic sunroof.

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