2020 Land Rover Defender 110 SE Review - Charm Overcomes British Quirks

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
Fast Facts

2020 Land Rover Defender 110 SE Fast Facts

3.0-liter mild-hybrid turbocharged inline six-cylinder (395 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm; 406 lb-ft @ 2,000-5,000 rpm)
Eight-speed automatic; permanent four-wheel drive
17 city / 22 highway / 19 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
N/A city, N/A highway, N/A combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price
$62,250 (U.S) / $65,500 (Canada)
As Tested
$72,180 (U.S.) / $90,336 (Canada)
Prices include $1,350 destination charge in the United States and $2,395 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared. Canadian fuel-economy numbers were unavailable at press t

Like many folks, I was excited to hear that Land Rover was resurrecting the Defender nameplate. I grew up admiring the boxy go-anywhere Defenders of days gone by, and I was hoping Jaguar Land Rover could recreate that magic.

Imagine my consternation when instead the brand came up with an SUV that seemed to be quite the departure from the old-school Defender. Still, after seeing it up close at auto shows, I became cautiously optimistic about this modern-day interpretation of the Defender. After driving it, I came away mostly impressed – but the usual British reliability issues complicated things.

Let’s start with the oddest part of this Brit – its looks. While the idea of an odd-looking Brit is nothing new, this one is a strange beast, with slab-sided blockiness meeting curved fenders and a two-tone paint job. In pictures, it looks gawky as hell, in person, it actually looks pretty cool.

I think it helped that the available exterior lockboxes weren’t optioned on this test unit. While I don’t doubt those boxes provide utility while tramping around the boondocks, the trucklet looks cleaner without them.

The interior is also an odd mix of lines, with the occasional angle or curve thrown in, and the audio/climate controls are a bit of a mess of buttons. It’s not pretty, but it doesn’t take long to figure out where key controls are located. Functionality is acceptable.

I expected the Defender to be just dandy off-road, but the nearest off-road park was closed. I did subject it to some very light off-pavement driving at a relative’s farm and the Defender seemed right at home, but the terrain wouldn’t challenge most off-road vehicles, so I didn’t learn a heck of a lot. Hopefully, I’ll get another go at the boondocks in a Defender down the road.

A family member did pile up some rocks for a “rock crawl” for photos, and the available rock-crawl drive mode got to work, but again, the challenge was akin to an NFL lineman lifting a pair of brake rotors: No sweat. Still, I can say the electronic trickery does its job.

I also navigated some gravel farm roads and delighted in the Defender’s ability to go tail out, especially in the sand/gravel off-road drive mode.

On-road, though, was a revelation. No one expects a brick-like SUV to handle well, but the Defender was more fun on curvy roads than I’d have guessed it would be, and more competent, too. Long freeway jaunts were quite comfortable, with the off-road mission not compromising on-road ride at all. The average Defender buyer is going to be trawling Redondo Beach and not the Rubicon, and the vehicle is well-suited to suburbia.

Credit the fully-independent suspension, I suppose. My test unit had an air suspension that allowed for ride-height adjustment.

The 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder engine is part of a mild-hybrid setup, one that’s so seamless I actually forgot it was electrified. With 395 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque, there’s grunt a plenty for passing, merging, and presumably for off-roading.

I have to admit, I was starting to jive pretty well with this Land Rover. I could see it being my ride of choice if I made lawyer or doctor money instead of blogger money. Powerful engine, communicative electric-assisted power steering, surprisingly adept handling with mostly muted body roll, composed ride, luxury amenities – I could overlook the weird design.

Then Lucas’s ghost showed up. As it is wont to do.

It started with Apple CarPlay cutting out in the middle of a phone call while I sat in a drive-thru line. OK, CarPlay gets wonky sometimes, no matter what brand of car it’s paired with. No biggie.

Shortly thereafter, though, the radio itself said “good day, sir” in its finest British accent and decided it was going on vacation. Bewildered but not exactly surprised, I soldiered on. About 30 minutes later, the audio returned as if nothing had happened. Like your significant other the day after an argument, trying to put it behind them.

CarPlay came back, too, and the audio system never misbehaved again.

That was issue number one. Issue number two involved the driver’s side rear door – it seemed misaligned and needed a right proper shove to close.

Some things just don’t change, I suppose.

Standard features include terrain-response drive modes, hill-descent control, adaptive dynamics, 20-inch wheels, air suspension, fog lamps, navigation, LED headlights, leather seats, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and starting, Bluetooth, USB, premium audio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, blind-spot assist, roll stability control, lane-keep assist, driver-condition monitor, traffic-sign recognition, adaptive speed limiter, rear-traffic monitor, and clear-exit monitor.

Available features include adaptive cruise control with stop and go, heated steering wheel, an off-road package with more-advanced terrain response modes, a separate off-road package with off-road tires, electronic active differential, and a plug socket; panoramic sunroof, two-tone roof, Pangea green paint, tow hitch receiver, heated front seats, and satellite radio.

Overall, the Defender makes for a solid package for the well-heeled buyer – and on paper, it should perform just fine in the backwoods in addition to the suburbs. It’s not just an urban dilettante with off-road pretensions or an off-roader that demands on-road sacrifice. It can apparently do both well – certainly, it was enjoyable in around-town driving. Despite feeling a bit big and more than a bit thirsty.

But those paying over $80 large will find build-quality issues unacceptable, and the time is long past for JLR to try to pass these issues off as charming British quirks. “Oddball Brit with reliability issues” may work well when casting Hugh Grant in a movie, but not so much for a luxury vehicle that has serious off-road abilities.

I’m still excited by this new Defender and its charms, but odd styling and reliability concerns helped keep like from turning into love.

What’s New for 2020

The 2020 Land Rover is all-new, offered in two-door (90) and four-door (110) body styles, and with four-cylinder and six-cylinder engines.

Who Should Buy the 2020 Land Rover Defender 110

The Land-Rover-loving lawyer who might actually go off-road. Maybe. If he can find the just-right pair of hiking boots. And if the vehicle isn’t in the shop.

[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/Dietrich Rosenwinkel/TTAC]

Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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2 of 33 comments
  • Jkross22 Jkross22 on May 26, 2021

    Charm + Quirks = Unreliable It's 2021. Enough with the excuses.

  • Legacygt Legacygt on Jun 01, 2021

    Land Rover made a mint in the 90s selling brush guards to suburbanites and they're looking to clean up here with other ways to bolt $thousands in extras onto the outside of the vehicle for all the world to see. I drove next to one yesterday that had the panier thing (big enough to fit a pair of shoes) on one side and a fold up ladder on the other. You could put your muddy boots in a plastic bag and get a collapsible rubbermaid step stool and thrown both in the trunk. Save a hundreds and avoid the mileage/wind noise penalties of those exterior accessories. But then nobody would look at you as the guy who accessorizes his Land Rover so I guess that explains it.

  • Lou_BC Blows me away that the cars pictured are just 2 door vehicles. How much space do you need to fully open them?
  • Daniel J Isn't this sort of a bait and switch? I mean, many of these auto plants went to the south due to the lack of unions. I'd also be curious as how, at least in my own state, unions would work since the state is a right to work state, meaning employees can still work without being apart of the union.
  • EBFlex No they shouldn’t. It would be signing their death warrant. The UAW is steadfast in moving as much production out of this country as possible
  • Groza George The South is one of the few places in the U.S. where we still build cars. Unionizing Southern factories will speed up the move to Mexico.
  • FreedMike I'd say that question is up to the southern auto workers. If I were in their shoes, I probably wouldn't if the wages/benefits were at at some kind of parity with unionized shops. But let's be clear here: the only thing keeping those wages/benefits at par IS the threat of unionization.