When I last reviewed a Land Rover Defender I commented on how much I enjoyed its driving experience despite some very British electrical faults such as the radio going off for half an hour .
I expected the same from the two-door version, and to my pleasant surprise, I got the correct parts with no real gremlins or bugs.
Land Rover Defender 90 First Edition 2021 Highlights
3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline-six with mild-hybrid configuration with 48-volt electric supercharger and 48-volt starter/generator (395 horsepower at 5,500 rpm, 406 lb-ft at 2,000-5,000 rpm /min)
Eight-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive
Fuel economy, MPG
17 city / 22 highway / 19 combined (EPA rating)
Fuel Economy, L/100km
13.2 city/11.3 highway/12.3 combined. (NRCan ranking)
$64,100 (US) / $82,750 (Canada)
US$66,475) / $93,316 (Canada)
Prices include destination charges of $1,350 in the United States and $2,545 for freight, preparation and air conditioning tax in Canada and, due to differences in cross-border equipment, cannot be directly compared.
I even had a chance to go off-roading and found the two-door Defender quite capable in the woods of an Indiana off-road park.
Not that the experience was perfect – after all, nothing is. I came back from the wood with scratched paint. More on that in a second.
This Defender had a 3.0-liter straight-six underhood – and it’s a mild-hybrid setup. Here, the six has a turbocharger and a 48-volt electric compressor, and a belt-mounted starter replaces the alternator. A 48-volt lithium-ion stores the energy which is captured under braking. An eight-speed automatic transmission with a two-speed transfer case sends power to the wheels – the Defender has a permanent four-wheel-drive system.
The mild-hybrid setup was so seamless I forgot the Defender had a mild hybrid until later perusing the spec sheet. With 395 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque, there’s enough power to feel good about passing and merging.
Like the four-door big brother, this Defender also had surprisingly well-tuned on-road steering and rarely offended road handling. The shorter wheelbase made the ride a little worse at times, as expected, but not much. I credit the air suspension here – although I recognize that Land Rover air suspensions have a reputation for breaking and being expensive to repair – such an expensive failure naturally only occurring after the warranty expires.
Then again, if you’re brave enough to buy Land Rovers, paying for these repairs might not cause you too much stress.
The real fun came in the boonies. The Defender has a system that can sense the terrain and adjust accordingly, a central locking differential (a rear locker is available) and required drive modes. All of these factors combined to help me navigate tight trails with relative ease. I also managed to get through a muddy wood without getting stuck or hitting a tree – although some moments were tense – to get to an open field where I could put the gas on and clear the rear a bit.
I also managed to easily climb a bunch of medium sized and somewhat difficult rocks.
No pantyhose? No bent sheet? Success, right? Well, as I left the park, I found pretty Pangea Green to be quite easily pockmarked by thin tree branches that bend over the trails and brush against any passing vehicle. Those same tree branches left no evidence of their existence on the Wrangler I’d tested, or the Bronco Sport (which doesn’t wear such high-end paint), so it was a shame to see a off-road ready vehicle with cosmetic damage. I’m told the fix was easy – it actually got better – but I’m warning all defenders to think about paint protection before going into the backcountry.
Indeed, Land Rover makes a big deal of the Defender’s ability to traverse up to 34.5 inches of water and its maximum suspension articulation of 19.7 inches. Too bad the paint is so easily damaged.
Just like with the four-door version, I generally found the interior attractive with a decent user experience, although pressing buttons to switch between controls for various functions does get annoying and sometimes frustrates trying to do something quickly. . I also shudder how expensive it will be to replace out-of-warranty digital displays. At least Land Rover’s haptic touch controls are about as good as haptic touch can get – and yes, it’s damning with low praise.
My test rig was based at $64,100 and came with 20-inch wheels, front jump seat, front fog lights, LED headlights, rear-view camera, navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, radio via satellite, a blind spot assistant, a lane keeping assistant, high-end audio, rubber interior materials for easy cleaning after off-road driving and traffic sign recognition. Options were limited to a tow hitch receiver and off-road tires which surely helped the Badlands a bit.
Total as tested? $66,475.
I can’t help myself – I dig the Defender, no matter how many doors. That’s not to say it’s perfect – the electric gremlins from the first one I tested are fresh in my mind almost two years later. The UX of the interior is chic for fun – the brand could have easily avoided the haptic touch and kept things simple. But overall, the packaging here is good, the off-road chops legit, and the on-road ride surprisingly excellent.
Perhaps the good Brit – flawed but charming, and able to take on challenges without complaining too much.
What’s new for 2021?
The Defender returned to the market for the 2021 model year, and except for the First Edition packaging, it continues into 2022 and 2023 with only minor changes.
who should buy it
The well-heeled adventurer who wants an SUV with good on-road manners and strong off-road capabilities.