Back in June '20 I had the lucky opportunity to join Steve Burt, GM of Land Rover Denver, on Chinaman's trail with their pre-release D110. I had come out with my '98 Range Rover, my friend Chris with his '94 D90, and Steve's son with his Jeep Wrangler. It was during this trip that Steve allowed me some seat time in the Defender and I was impressed with its layout and seating space, being 6'4" and about 230lbs headroom and visibility is often a challenge in most vehicles. I had been considering purchasing the new Defender before this trip, but now knowing I had good headroom, seating position, and visibility cinched it for me.
I took some time thinking about the options and color choices and finally placed my order in early July for the model X with the rear locker in Pangea green. Now the wait was on, and I was updated about a month later with an ETA of October 30th. My next update came in early October stating everything was on schedule, then I got the call that the D110 was scheduled for delivery to the dealer on Oct 26th with pre-purchase inspection scheduled that week for my Oct 30th delivery.
Now to get used to the truck, I wanted to evaluate how natural the layout and functions were so I ignored the owner's manual (like most people do anyway). I was quickly able to figure out pretty much every function, and only one had me a bit perplexed and that was because it was laid out differently on the demo unit I had been in a few months prior. In the demo, the terrain response modes were accessed through the touch screen, at least from what I remembered, yet in this consumer release model, it was much easier to access with a simple touch of a button next to the climate control knobs. In fact, the climate control knobs are multi-function, from the normal HVAC heat setting and fan speeds to controlling the heated & cooled seats and even controlling the terrain response options. This layout works well to keep the dash uncluttered yet still easy to use.
The central touch screen interface works well though I somehow feel it could be better. Not having experienced other brands' layout and functions I can't really comment here and being a simple touch screen interface it wouldn't be unexpected to see updates to the layout and functionality with either factory software updates or even something from the aftermarket.
The instrument pack on the model X is a full digital display that can be configured a few different ways. the original layout was the typical two primary gauge layout of tach and speedometer, but a single central speedometer with integrated tach could be chosen and another layout that I don't remember. The music player and navigation are shown in the central background of the gauges, and the navigation info can also be added to the heads up display. Speaking of the heads up display, the information it shows changes depending on various inputs. With the transmission in sport mode a small tach bar display is added and a gear indicator as well, in off-road modes pitch and yaw indicators are added. I've found the display to be useful while keeping it basic enough to not be distracting. BTW, the location of the HUD on the windshield can be adjusted up and down to match your height or preferred viewing location.
My first trip off the pavement was about a week after picking up the truck, now showing roughly 250 miles on the clock, we took a short trip from our home through Sadalia on Hwy 67 over to Twin cedars then north back to Hwy 285 and back home. This was our first trip into the hills and gave us a feel for the handling and shifting points on the windy mountain roads, the dirt road section are normally traveled and maintained roads so no off-road testing this time. The only issue I noted was some interior cabin resonance on the washboard sections, perhaps this will lessen over time as the tires and suspension break-in.
My next off-road trip was only a few short weeks later and was a much more robust test of the vehicle. I joined a few other members of my off-road club and headed out for the Hacket and Longwater gulch trails in Teller County, CO. I wanted to really see what the Defender could do in stock form, my only adjustment was lowering the tire pressure down to about 35 psi (stock street pressure is close to 50psi), I didn't want to go lower as I hadn't brought a compressor or air tank to reinflate and knew this would be a safe pressure to drive home on. As we drove I played around with the various controls; trying out the off-road speed control for the 1st time was a strange experience. It will hold your vehicle at a set speed whether climbing or descending and can do so in a range of about 1 - 20mph and keeps that spot on with what appeared to be less than a 1mph variation. I even tried it on an obstacle later on the trail and while the truck did come to a stop momentarily, it applied power smoothly and continued progress on its own. While I'm not the type of driver to use this feature, I can see it being handy when overlanding or trying to maintain even distance between members of a convoy. Perhaps I'm missing its real intention but it seems a bit unnecessary in that form, though what I did find useful was when it was set as an off-road speed limiter, where it would automatically start braking to your preset speed when off the throttle. I found the Defender to have a firm yet comfortable ride off-road, it felt very stable at all times helping to inspire confidence in its capabilities. As expected from Land Rover, the traction control systems worked well given the limited traction we had in the wet and icy granite, while the rear locker added the additional traction and control to help minimize any un-necessary wheel spin.
Watch my trail video here: https://youtu.be/YYKal1-6R1s
It's been a little over a week since running the trail and I'm now approaching 1k miles on the Defender. I'm truly enjoying the truck and find it fits me extremely well. I've confirmed there is headroom for me in both the front and rear seats, the visibility for a tall driver past/under the rearview mirror is better than any vehicle I've been in. NOTE: I've removed the rearview from most of my other vehicles for just that issue! And I can report that I'm averaging almost 19mpg over this first month.
I've tried to be impartial in my review while keeping a positive light on what I would expect from the New Defender, I don't think it should be compared to the previous Defender as they are really totally different vehicles. If anything I see the new Defender as a replacement for the LR3/4 as it's an all a rounder, good for a daily driver, good for an off-roader, good for hauling kids or a load of gear, etc. I have grown to love Land Rover as a brand, not for its status or popularity, but for its functionality and how well it suites me.
I know there will be teething pains and issues with the Defender, as there are with most first-year releases of a new model, and I hope that future iterations of the Defender will continue to offer even better enhancements and options to better suite the owner's lifestyle. I've heard that a V8 is in the works, but what I'd like to see is a dedicated off-road edition to go after the Wrangler Rubicon and Ford Bronco, perhaps now that Land Rover has acquired Bowler Motorsports this will be something to look forward to!