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In-depth reviews

Land Rover Defender - Engines, performance and drive

The Land Rover Defender comes equipped with a strong range of petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid engines

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.5 out of 5

Engines, performance and drive Rating

4.3 out of 5

Price
£48,695 to £117,215
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Land Rover’s engineers were tasked with ensuring the Defender could cope with everything expected off-road, before focusing on its on-road dynamics. With that in mind, they’ve nailed the brief, because it feels like it’ll keep even the keenest 4x4 driver happy.

The Defender features either a coil or air suspension system depending on the spec, but all come with a low-ratio gearbox for greater control of the engine’s power over tricky obstacles, a locking centre differential to make sure that the engine’s power is split evenly between the front and rear wheels to improve traction, and the manufacturer’s latest Terrain Response tech. The latter includes various driving modes that automatically adjust various driving parameters to make it a doddle to drive across whatever terrain you point it at.

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The steering of the Defender is very slow in comparison to more road-biased SUVs like the BMW X5, or Volvo XC90. It’s a trait shared with the Ineos Grenadier, so the steering wheel isn’t wrenched from your hands while going over obstacles off-road. However, the Defender gets the balance right by being easier to use on the road thanks to retaining the self-centring action of a road car. This means the Defender automatically winds off the steering lock for you when pulling out of a junction. In contrast, you have to do all that yourself in the Grenadier – something which becomes annoying and potentially dangerous if you don’t do it fast enough when emerging from a 90-degree junction onto a fast-moving 60mph country road. You may end up steering into the other lane as you wrestle the vehicle back under control.  

The Defender has soft, long travel suspension, which ensures all wheels maintain grip with the ground even when the suspension is articulated over an obstacle. This means that when pushed through corners at speed, the Defender will lean over more than a BMW X5 would. The way it leans over is predictable, though, and you quickly get used to it, adopting a more relaxed driving style. We’ve found that its softer suspension also pays off in terms of ride comfort, because the Defender is remarkably supple even over rough sections of Tarmac.

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There are a couple of caveats, though. Anyone buying a Defender with 22-inch wheels (optional on most trims and standard on X trim and V8 models) will find that they give the ride a firmer edge, making it less comfortable than more sensibly sized 19 or 20-inch wheel options. Also, anyone riding in the back of a shorter 90 will find things a touch bouncy because you’re sat directly over the rear wheels. If you’re purchasing this as a family car you should consider the longer 110 or 130 instead.  In either case, ride comfort and on-road driving manners are still light years ahead of the previous Defender, and the current Defender still holds a sizable lead over rivals like the Grenadier, Jeep Wrangler, or Mercedes G-Class.

Our pick of the engine range would be the impressive D250 diesel. It’s relatively efficient in the real world, and still provides effortless performance combined with impressive levels of refinement.

The plug-in hybrid offers just enough all-electric range in day-to-day driving around town, but hit the open road, it’ll struggle to get close to its claimed 30 miles of electric range (we only managed about 25 miles from our long-term Land Rover Defender test car), meaning you’ll quickly have to rely on its engine. When you do, the extra weight of its battery pack means its 2.0-litre petrol has to work hard to motivate over 2,700kg of vehicle, and won’t be any more economical than a diesel. 

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The V8 Defender has received some handling tweaks to deal with the extra power, but in our experience, it doesn’t feel much different compared with the standard model. The short-wheelbase 90 feels hectic and bouncy to drive, while the bigger Defender 130 P500 V8 is simply too big to be described as fun. If thrills are what you’re after, plenty of better-handling V8 SUV options exist, including Land Rover’s Range Rover Sport.

0-62mph acceleration and top speed

As well as being proficient off-road, the Defender brings decent straight-line performance. The base 245bhp D250 3.0-litre diesel engine will propel the Defender from 0-62mph in about eight seconds, while the more powerful 296bhp D300 version will do the job in around seven seconds. The 296bhp P300 petrol sits somewhere in the middle, and is potent enough for a circa-7 second 0-62mph time.

Those wanting a Defender that can compete with hot hatches away from the lights should look towards the 394bhp P400, with its six-second 0-62mph dash, or the even more powerful 398bhp P400e plug-in hybrid, which completes the same dash in 5.6 seconds.

The ultimate performance option is the supercharged Defender V8, which pumps out 518bhp and 625Nm of torque in 90 and 110 forms, while the bigger 130 has to make do with a slightly less potent version of the same engine with 493bhp and 610Nm of torque. The former promises a 0-62mph time of 5.2 seconds, while the latter takes a little longer, at 5.7 seconds. Both reach a top speed of 149mph, though.

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News reporter

As our news reporter, Ellis is responsible for covering everything new and exciting in the motoring world, from quirky quadricycles to luxury MPVs. He was previously the content editor for DrivingElectric and won the Newspress Automotive Journalist Rising Star award in 2022.

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