Unless you’re a die-hard off-roader, a global adventurer or serious Anglophile, you might not be familiar with the Land Rover Defender. The brand stopped selling the iconic off-roader in the U.S. market 22 years ago, so a whole generation has grown up without new models gracing our shores. Not that they ever sold in big numbers here to begin with, as they were expensive and primitive, and built more for utility than comfort with ergonomics that were reflective of their 1960s origins. That’s all about to change with the arrival of the new 2020 Defender 90 (two-door) and Defender 110 (four-door). With a release date of spring 2020 for the Defender 110 and late 2020 for the 90, I predict that these two models will become Land Rover’s best-selling models, in Southern California anyway.
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The look of the 2020 Defender is inspired by the classic versions but not enslaved by them like other iconic vehicles including the Porsche 911 or Jeep Wrangler. The look is thoroughly modern inside and out; these new Defenders look like what you assumed they’d look like if you were watching a futuristic sci-fi movie from 20 years ago. Land Rover has truly delivered on some unique styling: These models are instantly identifiable as Land Rovers from a distance but with significantly better aerodynamics than their predecessors and plenty of cues that resonate with the model’s heritage, like the roof windows, round headlights, an optional fabric roof and slick hood details.
The Defender’s interior has more room than you might imagine in front or in back. Up front, visibility is good to the front and sides, but the rear-three-quarter visibility is compromised by the styling details of those solid accent panels. Legroom is plentiful in the four-door 110 in front or back, but the shorter wheelbase of the two-door Defender 90 means that backseat passengers won’t be quite as comfortable. But know who’s really not going to be comfortable? Anyone stuck in the front seat’s optional jump seat between the driver and front passenger. I didn’t even attempt to position my ample frame into that spot and can’t imagine that anyone other than a teenager whose growth has somehow been stunted would fit there. It’s certainly not suitable for children, as any kids who would fit there should be secured in child-safety seats in back. At the Defender’s L.A. launch debut party ahead of the 2019 Los Angeles Auto Show, Land Rover design chief Gerry McGovern suggested that the spot would be good for a small dog, and he’s actually not wrong (provided you harness and belt Fido in place).
What’s great about the new Defender is that Land Rover hasn’t swung all the way from “practical” to “luxury” for this model. You can still get 18-inch painted steel wheels if you plan on doing some rock crawling, or you can opt for urban-themed 22-inch rollers if you plan on only doing some mall crawling. You might not be able to hose out the interior like you can on a Wrangler, but you can get the Defender with rubber flooring if you plan on getting messy. It’s available with more than 170 accessories ranging from off-road equipment to storage gear to functional adventure apparel. Land Rover also claims that it has done a significant amount of work to make the Defender excellent to drive on-road as well as off-road, which would immediately give it a leg up on its competition, as nobody would call a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon pleasant to drive on pavement (it’s better than it used to be, but it’s certainly not great).
And to top it all off, Land Rover didn’t go nuts on the pricing. Yes, it’s expensive — more than $50,000 to start for either model — but the level of refinement, technology and style that you get for that money puts it in a very competitive position versus a Wrangler at the same price. Even if you load up a 110 model with everything, it still comes in nearly $40,000 less than a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen’s starting price, and offers far more customizability and uniqueness than the top off-road Benz. If it drives as good as it should, Land Rover will have scored a massive win with the reinvention of the new Defender.
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