Is the new 2021 Land Rover Defender worthy of the legendary name? We put the hottest off-roader on the market right now through its paces in the UAE desert to find out…
It took Land Rover 70 years to get around to making a new Defender. So just let that sink in for a second. Meanwhile, other iconic cars have gone through six or seven generations, but the old Solihull plant just kept on chugging, rolling out the most admired, and the most rudimentary, off-road machines on the planet. The Defender is a nameplate not to be messed with. It has a serious following across the world.
Over the years there have been a few upgrades to keep things current, or thereabouts, but nothing that could ever put the Defender up for comparison with its contemporaries. It was always totally analogue, which is no bad thing – that’s what earned the Defender its legions of fans.
However, if Land Rover wants the Defender name to be relevant into the future, the company needs this model to become a more commercial and accessible vehicle. Yes, we were worried it would fall off the edge into the crossover realm, too. Except, there it is, in the middle of the UAE desert feeling completely at home. Perhaps Land Rover hasn’t messed this up…
When it was first launched, the new Defender split the automotive community in half. One side screamed sacrilege, and the other welcomed the icon in its reimagined form catering to the masses. The word ‘lifestyle’ gets thrown about a lot here. The biggest complaint was that the new look wasn’t rugged enough and that the 2021 Defender can’t be disassembled with a size 14 wrench.
Finally standing in front of it in real life as opposed to a digital screen, the thing looks brilliant in its long-wheelbase Defender 110 form. The 110 means you get four doors and seating for five, six, or seven at a pinch depending on how you spec yours. The world has changed drastically in recent years and anything that a brand like Land Rover puts out today, has to sell in volume. A niche such as the one filled by the old Defender – farmers in Wales and a few yuppy urbanites – is just too small to make mass-production sense.
And anyway, you can definitely tell where the idea for the 2021 Defender came from. It’s loyal to its brand, and this can’t be anything other than a Land Rover. Best of all, you get to sit in it like a regular human being this time around, instead of the contortion act required in the original. You have to be a hard-core enthusiast to daily an old Defender, with its tractor-like ladder-frame ride and foot-long shift throws. The new one on the other hand makes it easy to relax, with a particularly comfortable, and optional, air-suspension fitted to our tester. You can raise the height of the vehicle or lower it as necessary, with a clearance of up to 291mm over the rough stuff. It’s during the highway cruise and manoeuvring around inner city environment where the Defender really cossets unlike any other serious off-roader, with a refined ride and comfortable driving position. And yet, most of our test route takes us away from the road and into the UAE desert, where the Defender plays another trick.
Even on road-biased low-profile tyres, the new Defender tackles everything in its path, with the driver merely having to choose the right electronic mode for the path ahead. With its boxy design, this Landy has short overhangs for an approach angle of 38 degrees, and a departure angle of 40 degrees, which is right about comparable to a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. Driving modes include snow, sand, gravel and rock, with clever chassis software that makes off-roading almost too effortless. You end up wondering where the fun is in all this.
At launch Land Rover offers the 4×4 with two petrol engine options – the Defender P300 comes with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder making 296 horsepower, and the P400 packs a 3.0-litre straight-six turbocharged to deliver 395 horsepower. The only ‘box available is an eight-speed unit from ZF couple with a two-speed transfer case. Our tester in Dubai is the Defender P400, which is more than pacey. You won’t be outrunning any AMGs, but nearly 400 horsepower still feels rather fast even in a 4×4 that weighs more than 2.2 tonnes.
Inside the new Defender, you do get a utilitarian and industrial feel which reminds you that off-roading really is at its core. Brand new digital display dominates the dash, and Land Rover offers plenty of personalisation options for the trim and finishes of the interior.
One stand out feature is called Pivi Pro, which is the Defender’s new infotainment system controlling all vehicle features including off-road systems.It comes with 4G and 5G connectivity, which means over-the-air updates. Gone are the days when you had to visit the dealer for a plug-in session.
Another interesting feature is the 360-degree surround vision, showing you precisely what is beneath the car and directly in front of the vehicle, an area normally obscured from view by the bonnet. In tight off-roading situations this is quite a bit of kit.
Another good move by Land Rover is the extensive accessories catalogue, which lets buyers kit out their Defender in just about any way imaginable. Everything from suspension, rims, tyres, materials, and camping gear is available. You want a waterproof awning? You want ladders? The factory offers 170 unique accessories – the biggest range ever produced for a Land Rover – so you won’t get bored with the options list. Naturally there is a whole aftermarket world out there supporting the Defender brand.
In conclusion, this 2021 Land Rover Defender is certainly worthy of the name. It’s a true off-roader that can also deal with anything a modern lifestyle throws at it. The only trouble is this 4×4 is not quite one for the masses – the cheapest new Defender starts from AED209,055, which gets you into a fully loaded Jeep Wrangler Unlimited while AED199,000 is already Nissan Patrol money. It’ll be tough out there…
Land Rover Defender
3.0-litre inline six-cylinder | eight-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive | 395 horsepower and 550Nm of torque | zero to 100km/h in 6.4 seconds and a top speed of 208km/h | AED209,055