The 2020 Land Rover Defender has a tough job: It has to live up to the expectations of the snootiest car buyers on Earth while serving as the future-facing halo car for the company that basically invented the luxury 4x4. As such it’s loaded with tech and toys, which are pretty fun to play with.
(Full Disclosure: The amount of money Land Rover must have spent to get myself and dozens of other journalists from all over the world to Opuwo, Namibia for eight waves of three-day fully-supported off-road expeditions for the Defender launch... I mean, I can’t imagine. I’m sure it was a whole lot more than I make in a year. The event was quite something, though. You’ll read about it soon, I promise.)
I had to agree to hold off on publishing Defender driving impressions until the end of March in exchange for being among the first to take the vehicle on an earnest overland expedition. My thoughts of how it performs on and off the road aside, Jaguar Land Rover’s PR people told me everything else was fair game to write about, so let’s do a rundown of my favorite features!
All of these came in handy on our African safari–that doesn’t count as a “driving impression” does it?–but I have a feeling you’ll be able to put them to work in your neighborhood, too. I mean, why the hell not.
The new Defender’s most-pointed-at-by-car-journalists gimmick so far has got to be the optional jump seat. This is a third front seat, mounted between the driver and passenger seats. It is at this point that any Buick Roadmaster owners reading this blog will be leaping for joy and screaming at their phones. Bless them.
When it’s in “chair mode,” flipped up, it elevates the center passenger a bit so their legs aren’t quite so scrunched by the transmission tunnel bump. It’s a cute idea, made practically possible by the electronic shifter and digital rear-view mirror. Since the rear-view can be activated as a camera-fed screen (it also works as a regular-old mirror if you prefer that) you don’t have to worry about somebody’s face blocking the driver’s rear view. And of course, since the shifter doesn’t need to be mechanically connected to the transmission, Land Rover’s designers were able to put it up and out of the way.
It’d be a little tight to seat three adult men abreast up there, but I think it could be done. More importantly, if you wanted to cuddle with your partner while underway, this seating configuration would make that possible.
Have you ever seen a couple sitting right next to each other on a truck bench seat truck? It’s adorable.
Of course, if you’re riding with someone you don’t necessarily want to touch, you can flip the center seat down and it becomes a console that’s both useful and comfortable. Nice big cupholders in the middle, four power points at the rear. Lovely. Or, yank it out altogether and drop in a fridge, as Overland Journal’s Scott Brady suggested to me.
The Defender’s windshield wipers look pretty standard–until you pull the squirt/wipe lever and see cleaning fluid spray out from nozzles on the wipers themselves, rather than those little frog faces most cars have mounted on the hood.
The result is that the wipers could clear off heavy mud, or, presumably salt-saturated snow, or whatever, off the glass with extreme prejudice. Perfect for plowing through the worst precipitation you dare drive through.
I didn’t even realize that the Defender’s optional roof-access ladder folded out until I started messing with it. But, it does, and the mechanism actually works really well even when it’s dirty.
It’s a wee bit wobbly as a full-sized human ascends it, but it didn’t feel close to snapping or collapsing even as I test-twerked on it to get a feel for its resilience.
I would personally spec a big sunroof instead of a roof rack on a Defender if I had the coin and desire to order one, but if you like lugging things around on top of your car it’s going to be hard for the aftermarket to make a ladder that’s as elegantly integrated to the Defender’s design as this one is.
A legit Warn winch is among the optional extras you can order for the Defender at your friendly neighborhood Land Rover store. Can’t say I’m wild about this vehicle’s front styling in general, but I do appreciate how it fits the winch. It’s mounted in such a way that’s tidy and hidden but visible enough for an operator to keep an eye on while it’s working.
Fully concealed winches are nice looking, but if you’re really going to be using it, you want to be able to look at the line to make sure it’s not getting crossed up or bound in any weird way while it’s retracting. The Defender’s winch bumper lets you do that.
There are few things I enjoy more than gauges and readouts providing specific, seldom-relevant off-road related information and the Defender delivers in spades.
Not only is there a pitch-and-roll inclinometer, but there are also measurement displays you can call up which show the vehicle’s dimensions, approach angles, and, these change when you adjust the vehicle’s ride height with the multi-mode air suspension! Delightful, and particularly useful when facing the toughest SUV-killing rocks your local parking lot can deliver.
Almost every inch of the Defender’s cab gets put to work, as you can see in this well lived-in unit here. The infotainment screen, while readable and prominent, barely takes up any space. But there’s plenty of room to stash whatever in and around the passenger area.
And, bless it, there’s a volume knob.
The factory optional snorkel, seen in Land Rover’s catalog as a “raised air intake” very smartly has its snout facing rearward. This way, the engine’s not force-fed dust and dirt as the heavier air particulates stay lower and most would just blow around this intake altogether.
There’s no fender cutting required to install it, either. The snorkel feeds into a fender vent that’s present on all Defenders.
We’re going to have to wait a few more weeks to talk about how the Defender actually drives and what the limits of its cross-country capabilities really are, due to the agreement mentioned at the beginning of this post, but if you have more questions I’ll be scanning this comment section as I write up my review. And, of course, I’ll be looking for more blogs to blog that don’t break the embargo in the meantime.