It’s finally here. After all the drama, all the teasers, all the leaked images and suspected spec sheets and armchair conjecture — the all-new 2020 Land Rover Defender has been revealed in all its glory.
Visually speaking, it’s hard not to see it as a significant break from the Defenders of yore. Then again, given the myriad challenges facing designers today that were still decades in the future when the first version was penned back around the turn of the ’80s — fuel efficiency requirements and crash test standards foremost among them — the changes aren’t all that surprising.
The basic proportions of the two launch models — as suspected, a two-door model called the Defender 90 and a four-door one dubbed Defender 110, though their actual wheelbases are 101.9 and 119 inches, respectively — are unmistakably Land Rover, but the curved bow and squared-off headlamps are distinctly new to the Defender. We’ll reserve our final judgement until we can see it in person, but considering how well Mercedes-Benz managed to update the G-Class for the modern era without sacrificing the SUV’s iconic boxy style, we can’t help wishing Land Rover had hewed a little closer to tradition.
Land Rover is making sure buyers will have plenty of ways to tweak and tune the looks of their Defenders to their personal tastes. Seven metallic paints and 12 different wheels are available, including sweet-looking 18-inch steelies sure to be the choice of true off-roaders and 22-inch alloy rims sure to be the darling of the Rodeo Drive set. The Defender will also offer a factory-spec protective wrap that gives the metallic paint a satin finish, one that also provides an added layer of protection from scuffs and scratches.
If that’s not enough, the Defender offers a choice of four so-called Accessory Packs, which add features and details for different lifestyles. There’s the Urban Pack, which adds exterior brightwork (and seems likely to result in having insults hurled your way from other Defender owners); there’s the Explorer Pack, which adds a roof rack and side-mounted gear carrier, spare tire cover, wheel arch protection and matte black hood decal; there’s the Adventure Pack, which also includes the side-mounted gear carrier but adds on a 1.7-gallon pressurized water reservoir and a trunk-mounted air compressor; and there’s the Country Pack, which mixes and matches from the above by including the wheel arch protectors, rinse system and shiny rear scuff plate, while also bringing a trunk partition to the mix to cordon off the 34 cubic feet of cargo space found on the 110.
Luckily, everything else about the new Defender seems like exactly what we wanted, especially in the all-important realm of off-road capability. Every 2020 Land Rover Defender comes with full-time four-wheel-drive with low range as standard, creating a solid base from which to build on. Center and rear differentials can be locked as needed, while the standard Terrain Response and optional Terrain Response 2 systems optimize the vehicle for different types of surfaces, from mud to sand to snow.
With the suspension set to off-road height, the Defender offers 11.5 inches of ground clearance, an approach angle of 38 degrees, a departure angle of 40 degrees, a breakover angle of 31 degrees and a maximum fording depth of 35.4 inches sans snorkel. (It’s even smart enough to drag the brakes and vaporize the water off them when clambering out of the depths.) Those specs mean the Defender should prove a worthy opponent to the likes of the Jeep Wrangler and Toyota Land Cruiser off-road. You can even add an integrated front winch or a snorkel as an accessory.
Here in the United States, we’ll have a choice of two engines at launch. Lower-level versions will come with the 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four found in the Discovery Sport and Range Rover Evoque, here making 296 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque; that’s enough power to launch it from 0 to 60 miles per hour in a claimed 7.7 seconds, should you be the odd duck who cares about the 0-60 time of a base-model Defender. Uplevel trims score the mild hybrid turbocharged inline-six found in the newest Range Rover Sport, here dialing out 395 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque and delivering a 5.8-second 0-60 time.
Either way, all the power heads to all four wheels through the same ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic found across most of the Jaguar Land Rover lineup, as well as practically half the other new cars on sale today. The drivetrain is strong enough to tow up to 8,201 pounds, whether it’s driving a D90 or a D110.
Inside, the Defender offers an unexpected amount of room, thanks to a standard front-row bench seat on the Defender 90 that theoretically provides room for six people to cram themselves into the cabin. (The Defender 110 offers five-, six- and five-plus-two seating configurations, the latter including a teeny jump seat in back.) Three types of tri, are available: one textile, one leather and one the combines the two for added toughness. Open-pore wood is an option for the parts that aren’t covered by upholstery, as are powder-coated or white-painted metal.
The controls and tech bits primarily lie within the magnesium cross-car frame that stretches the width of the dash and helps make the Defender the stiffest Land Rover ever made. Central to it is a new infotainment system called “PIVI Pro” that’s based around a 10-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability. Land Rover claims it’s simpler and easier to use than the company’s previous ones — admittedly, not a high bar to clear, considering past JLR infotainment systems have been among the most frustrating in the industry. There’s also a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel and an optional full-color head-up display, both of which serve information up to the driver in a fashion that keeps his or her eyes closer to the road.
The new Defender is also set up to receive over-the-air software updates using a cellular data link, much like a smartphone (or a Tesla). That same connection also enables built-in wifi capabilities for the occupants (assuming they buy up a data plan). The SUV’s new electrical architecture enables those updates to flow to 14 different modules, helping keep the vehicle’s brains sharp without having to dive into a dealership.
The Defender’s new electronics suite also helps it unleash a host of new active safety features — including some perfect for off-roading, like the ClearSight Ground View system that uses a front-mounted camera to make the hood seem invisible (at least, on the infotainment screen) and the ClearSight Rear View that uses an aft-mounted camera to provide a wider perspective of what’s behind the vehicle, virtually deleting the spare tire and back pillars from the driver’s view.
The new Defender will go on sale in America this spring in four-door Defender 110 form. Prices for the new Landie range from $49,900 for a base model with the four-cylinder to $80,900 for the loaded six-cylinder X version. We’ll let you know what it’s like to drive as soon as we have a chance to lay our hands on it. Which, hopefully, will be really freakin’ soon.
Will Sabel Courtney is Gear Patrol’s Motoring Editor, formerly of The Drive and RIDES Magazine. You can often find him test-driving new cars in New York City, cursing the slow-moving traffic surrounding him.
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