Why the Land Rover Defender won: No other SUV can claim to be as versatile across such a wide price spectrum, nor as capable on the road as off it.
The Defender is just one of the winners in this year’s Britain’s Best Car Awards – see the full list here.
As follow-ups go, replacing the Land Rover Defender was a Herculean task. The original, on sale in various forms for nearly 70 years, was an off-road institution and a British motoring icon. And yet its 2020 successor manages to blend the go-anywhere capability we’ve come to expect with the kind of interior refinement for which Land Rover has recently become known.
It can legitimately claim to rival the Jeep Wrangler, Mercedes-Benz G-Class and Ford Ranger Raptor over the rough stuff, as we’ve discovered both here in the UK and in the deserts of Namibia, while its on-road manners and interior technology can compete with the best SUVs from premium brands like Audi, BMW and Mercedes.
Gaydon’s decision to move from a traditional separate-chassis construction to a unitary one and replace articulating axles with independent suspension was controversial, but it has in no way hindered the Defender’s ability to go just about anywhere off road.
Simple yet functional electronic assistance allows 4×4 novices to keep pace with expert trail runners, while external cameras and sensors help drivers make short work of the trickiest terrain. Then, on returning to the asphalt, it’s able to deal with the daily grind in a relaxed manner that compares favourably with solely road-going SUVs. Air suspension and a composed ride let it eat up motorway miles, its rugged yet good-looking interior can take family abuse from morning till night and its infotainment – previously a stumbling block for Land Rover – competes with the class’s best for usability and responsiveness.
The Defender is also nothing if not versatile. Available in three-door 90 and five-door 110 forms, it can be equipped with your choice of five, six or seven seats, courtesy of a front jump seat or optional third row. The engine line-up extends from 2.0-litre diesels through mild hybrids and a straight-six plug-in hybrid approaching 400bhp. There’s a Hard Top version for tradespeople and businesses, and don’t forget the extensive trim line-up and options list, which cover an enormous price range. This is an SUV that can cater for basic needs, family life and the Chelsea tractor set as well as to those who want to be prepared for anything.
It’s easy to spot the family resemblance, with elements tastefully translated from the original Defender without making it a pastiche of old meets new. Land Rover has managed to bring it up to date, yet somehow it can look equally at home in a farm yard, waiting at the school gates or cruising along London’s Sloane Street.