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Rebirth of a Legend

Land Rover Defender

Designing new vehicles has always been a challenge for a major automaker. The task is perilous, creating a complex machine that has buyer appeal and needs to last at least a half dozen years or more with minor changes, just to pay off the breathtaking investment. Then add the challenge of reimagining a brand icon, vehicles like Rolls-Royce Phantom, Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Corvette come to mind, and you can imagine the stress level.

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Post War Machine

Land Rover’s brand legacy goes back nearly as far as Jeep’s, creating a rugged off-road vehicle just after WW II to tour the outback of the British Empire. These machines had the characteristics of upholstered farm implements and of course, that became an important part of the charm. Later, the royal family and other titled subjects prowled their estates with these go-anywhere vehicles.

Over the decades, Land Rover has expanded its model lineup from the rugged little rock crawlers to include high luxury SUVs and firmly established a premium brand image. But the heritage of the Defender model really cements Land Rover’s off-road persona. So when the Defender model ended production in 2016, prices of old models went through the roof and companies have sprung up to restore and refit them with new gear.

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21st Century Rugged

Land Rover’s chief designer Gerry McGovern has done his best to retain the rugged charm of the previous Defender editions, short of bolting the spare tire on the hood. The full-size spare does ride properly on the exterior, a location that’s easily accessible when you’re out in the wild. Also attached to the side of our Defender was a small white box where medical supplies like snakebite remedy might be found.

Although I didn’t have an opportunity to venture into the nearby wooded trails during my Defender review time, I have every confidence that it’s more that capable off the beaten path. That’s true with every Land Rover and I’ve experienced all the other offerings in water, sand, mud, snow and rock environments. The difference with the Defender is even more off-road capability without the slightest bit of punishment. Between its solid chassis and air suspension, controlled comfort reigns.

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Powerful Choices

The new Defender is available in a two-door 90 version or four-door 110 and the bit larger model can be equipped with a third row with two added seats for small occupants. A turbocharged 296 HP four-cylinder gas engine is standard and while I’m sure that’s adequate, the smooth, 395 HP inline turbo six is what most buyers will opt for. The same is true of the $46,100 base price, an attribute that few will ever encounter.

The Land Rover website displays specifications that include top speed and 0-to-60 time (our six was a respectable 5.7-seconds) but the important numbers in my book are 11.5-inch ground clearance, 38-inch approach and 40-inch departure angles and 35.4-inch wading depth. That’s what separates real off-road from crossover SUVs and gets you back out of the woods.

THE FINE PRINT

2021 Land Rover Defender SE

TYPE:  Front-engine, all-wheel-drive

ENGINE:  3.0-liter Turbocharged I-6

HORSEPOWER:  395 @ 5,500 RPM

TORQUE:  406 lb.ft. @ 2,000-5000 RPM

BASE PRICE: $62,250

AS TESTED:  $72,180

FUEL CONSUMPTION:  17-city, 22-highway, 19-combined