Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
The engine options start with a pair of 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesels – the 197bhp D200 and the 237bhp D240 – but it's worth knowing that both of these will be replaced by 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel engines in 2021. Then there is the P300, which is a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol with 296bhp, and a 3.0-litre mild hybrid with 396bhp, called the P400 MHEV.
The P300 certainly has plenty of power, but it needs to be revved harder than the diesels to produce its best. It’s a similar story with the P400, except performance steps up from pretty brisk to hot-hatch worryingly fast. The plug-in hybrid P400e will also be joining the range in the near future.
So far, the only diesel we’ve tried is the D240, and it suits the Defender’s slightly rugged character pretty well. Okay, on paper it's slower than many of its rivals, but it managed 0-60mph in a very respectable 7.6sec during our testing. It certainly has plenty of low-rev grunt and gains speed impressively enough when you need it. Every engine drives through an eight-speed automatic gearbox. There's a brief hesitation when you go to pull out of junctions or onto roundabouts, but on the move shifts are relatively smooth.
Suspension and ride comfort
Suspension options are refreshingly simple. The longer Defender 110 has air suspension as standard, while the shorter, three-door 90 model, uses conventional steel springs, with air suspension available as an option.
We’ve tested the Defender on the larger 19in and 20in alloy wheels (18s come as standard on the entry-level trim) and off-road tyres, and it does a reasonable job of taking the sting out of larger urban abrasions when so-equipped. In fact, it's more comfortable and shudders far less than the Volvo XC90. On steel-sprung suspension, the 90 certainly isn’t uncomfortable, but the optional air suspension brings a noticeable improvement. Even with it fitted, though, the 90 isn’t as settled over bumps as the longer 110.
Without a doubt, as far as off-road-biased SUVs go, it's more settled in town or on the motorway than the Jeep Wrangler and Toyota Land Cruiser, although anyone looking for a really plush-riding SUV should look to Audi; the Q5 and especially the Q7 are the benchmarks.
The Defender isn't as unwieldy on the road as its tall body might have you believe, but it still won't be rushed down a flowing country road like some road-biased SUVs, including the Audi Q7 and BMW X5, can be. The smaller, lighter 90 feels a little more nimble than the longer 110, but both sway around a fair bit through tighter bends, and there isn't a great deal of grip – even in the dry – when the optional off-road tyres are fitted. The slow steering doesn't give much sense of connection to the front wheels but, on the plus side, it’s light and reasonably accurate.
What about its prowess in the rough stuff? Well, the Defender’s ability to keep going when the going gets tough is impressive and easy to make the most of. Its Terrain Response system makes it simple to set the car up for different conditions and, with the car in its highest off-road suspension setting, the Defender powers over deep ruts and climbs up muddy hills with relative ease. Air sprung models can even jack themselves up automatically, by an extra 70mm, if it thinks it's about to scrape its underbelly. The shorter 90 has a tighter turning circle and better breakover angle which certainly helps on challenging terrain.
If you are planning on going off road, we’d definitely recommend the optional locking rear differential. It automatically switches on and off to generate far more traction in slippery conditions than the standard item. With it fitted, it gets close to the Jeep Wrangler for ultimate off-road ability.
Noise and vibration
Although the Defender looks like it has the aerodynamics of a brick, wind noise at motorway speeds isn't too bad. We noticed a little buffeting around the windscreen, but it's made more apparent by the relatively subdued levels of tyre roar.
In terms of engine noise, the D240 diesel engine is a bit vocal when you’re accelerating hard, but you don't hear much from it at a steady cruise, and it doesn’t transmit anywhere near as many vibrations through the steering wheel or the soles of your feet as you'd feel in from that of the Wrangler. True, the engines in most premium-badged SUVs are generally smoother, but the Defender's upcoming six-cylinder diesels could well narrow the gap to them.
The P300 and P400 petrol engines are less clattery than the D240, but the former sounds a little wheezy at high revs and the latter’s engine note is augmented rather unconvincingly through the stereo.
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