The original Land Rover changed little, at least fundamentally, from 1948 until its brand-defining Defender series went extinct in 2016. Now its long-awaited return reveals a whole new animal.
We recently drove the 2020 Land Rover Defender 110 SE, starting at $62,250, with its 3.0-liter inline-six developing 395 hp and 406 ft lbs of torque. Like the original, the all-new model is less aerodynamic than a Galápagos tortoise, though unlike previous models, this modern Defender exhibits little wind noise at speed and is a surprisingly quiet and comfortable freeway flier. It’s also deceptively compact and nimble, considering its 8,201-pound towing capacity and ability to carry nearly one ton of payload. Configurable Terrain Response air suspension offers a wide variety of settings, from Sand to Comfort. It can also ford up to nearly three feet of water—unnecessary during our scorching drive in the Southern California desert, where temperatures climbed to 116 degrees and the only moisture resided in the cupholder, but needs vary. And that’s the beauty of Defenders old and new: They can do it all.
Short overhangs and a foot of ground clearance make the Defender unflappable off-road. Negotiating a narrow, miniature canyon of eroded sandstone, the truck rocked deftly side to side, lifting opposing wheels like a pachyderm balancing at the command of its trainer. As it blasted across sand dunes, the all-terrain vehicle’s aptitude was thwarted only once; like a desert horned lizard wiggling backward out of an ant den, it extracted itself adroitly and, with a more vigorous application of throttle, easily crested the obstacle.
With its indefatigable character, honest design and about 170 available accessories, the 2020 Land Rover Defender is certainly a beast in the wild, but beautifully suited to the tamer environments in which it’s likely to reside.