2020 Land Rover Defender First Drive: An Icon Reimagined for the 21st Century

although awash with all-new design cues inside and out, the land rover defender still retained its iconic boxy silhouette upon its highly anticipated reveal at IAA 2019. a year on, designboom finally gets behind the wheel of the reimagined SUV. it has four decades of history to build upon – not replace – pushing the british brand’s designers and engineers to go above and beyond yet again. through its development, the model overcame a supposed 62,000 different tests on the toughest terrain across the world. it excelled in the soft sand of the desert and the frozen ice fields of the arctic, but how about the rain-washed woodlands of the british midlands? we travel to the cotswolds with the short wheelbase model – the 90 – to test out.

the exterior design of the 2020 land rover defender appears familiar yet new. it, once again, builds upon the iconic model’s boxed proportions with signature elements like the short front and rear overhangs as well as the wraparound glasshouse as seen across the land and range rover portfolio. its all-purpose, utility-driven aesthetic looks tough yet there is an intriguing sculpture to its form. defiant chamfers smooth the lips of its edges at all corners and on the wheel arches, not hiding its bold lines but adding a finesse. these details are emboldened with the new satin protective film, which makes the paintwork even more durable as well as creating an elegant glow in changing light. our indus silver model looked great clean and when naturally painted in mud, as we found out throughout our drive.

the resulting design builds upon neoclassicism. it is old but new, toy-like but elegant; it is all about utility but that doesn’t mean it can’t look stylish at the same time. the SUV will be greatly loved by hardcore off-roaders and suburban parents alike. this is all thanks to the purity of its design. every detail, from the refined chamfering of its box proportions to its short overhangs, is reimagined for the modern day. the rear design completes its perfect aesthetic: an externally-mounted spare wheel is fitted to the side-hinged tailgate and a trail of rounded square tail-lights line the edges.

the purity of design does feel a little forced inside the 2020 land rover defender. fixings that are usually hidden from view have been left exposed to create a stripped-back personality. the result, however, is just a couple of large bolts visible on the door panels or center console, finished in either a metal or timber depending on your trim package. the rest of the cabin does find a more harmonious balance between utility, comfort and glamor. all surfaces support this stylish utility, with the flooring lined with durable rubber and brush-to-clean materials upholstered elsewhere.

for simplicity and practicality, the dashboard is a key refinement in the new model. two upholstered rail-like bars stretch across the width the of the cabin. the negative space in between can be used to hold utensils, from water bottles and maps to even your smartphone thanks to integrated charging ports. in the middle of the dashboard sits the infotainment system, which includes their all-new user-friendly and intuitive pivi pro software. below that, a mounted gear shifter not only makes all controls within easy reach and eyesight for the driver, but it also accommodates for an optional center front ‘jump’ seat – a neat nod to the early land rover. our 90 model sits six occupants whereas the long wheelbase model – the 110 – offers a five, six or 5+2 configuration

from the winding country roads of the cotswolds to the fast motorways of southern england, the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine of the new defender perfectly balances both worlds. 304hp (300PS) combines with 400Nm of torque to race from 0 to 60mph in 6.7seconds and to a top speed of 119mph (191km/h). it is so comfortable on the road that you might excuse the driver for not looking at what they have, so quickly, passed by. as another nod to its predecessor, its externally-mounted spare wheel together with the middle rear headrest blocks most of the driver’s view behind. land rover have fitted a ‘clearsight rear-view mirror’ that transforms the mirror into an unobstructed video screen, as seen in the range rover evoque.

as well as this surprising on-road comfort, the defender raises the threshold for off-road ruggedness during our tests through the mud puddles and slopes of the cotswolds woodlands. its new purpose-engineered D7x architecture – a lightweight aluminum monocoque construction – creates their stiffest body structure to date. it is the perfect foundation for the fully independent air or coil spring suspension. permanent all-wheel drive and a twin-speed automatic gearbox, center differential and optional active locking rear differential pushes it above and beyond the capabilities of any SUV we have driven. ‘clearsight’ can be used again to provide views on the touchscreen of the ground that usually the driver cannot see. this was extremely helpful when navigating the deep mud ruts and cornering round rocks and trees on our trails.

from its refined, neoclassic design to its fine-tuned, all-conquering performance, the 2020 land rover defender proves more than a toy – although it is still great fun. it is your everyday car. the model, a reimagined icon for the 21st century, is utilitarian in its practicality but it is stylish. 40 years on from its predecessor, the 2020 edition was worth the wait.

Article Credit: Tim Spears
Photo Credits: Land Rover
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