2021’s Top Ten Tech Cars: Land Rover Defender
It tells you when the river’s too deep to ford
The rebornLand Rover Defender grinds its way up Mount Equinox in Vermont, the tallest peak in the Taconic Range, showing off some techno-wizardry. As the front wheels roll into a stream, a water sensor sounds the depths ahead, assuring me I'm not exceeding the vehicle's 90-centimeter (35.4-inch) wading limit. A waterproof camera feeds imagery of obstacles below the vehicle, with animated overlays tracking the front wheels on the dashboard display. For ultimate, eye-rolling ease, we set our desired speed to 6 kilometers per hour (4 miles per hour), and the Rover's systems—including a height-adjustable air suspension, active electronic rear differential and selectable Terrain Response—sort it all out automatically, walking this stylish beast up and down slopes steep enough to make a 4x4 newbie cringe. A maximum 29-cm (11.5-inch) ground clearance tops even that of the mighty Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.
Honestly? The Rover's off-road chops are impressive yet unsurprising, basically a deluxe, digitized gloss on the abilities that made the post–World War II Defender a globe-trekking legend (those of a certain age may remember the 1966 film Born Free). What is surprising is the Defender's on-road comportment and performance. Forget your Wranglers, your Ford Broncos, even a six-figure Mercedes G-Wagen: Nothing in this burly class can match the Defender on a winding stretch of pavement.
Our mountain-man work accomplished, the Rover makes a hot run to a more likely natural habitat: Gather Greene, a rustic glamping spot near New York's Hudson River. Along the way, it takes advantage of a rigid, all-aluminum D7x architecture and 295-kilowatt (395-horsepower) Ingenium in-line six, a mild hybrid goosed with a 48-volt electric supercharger and a small lithium-ion battery. The sprint from 0–60 mph (97 km/h) is dispatched in 5.8 seconds, besting many comparable SUVs.
A modular, industrial-chic interior flaunts an exposed, powder-coated magnesium alloy beam connecting the dash and an off-road grab handle to keep a shotgun passenger in place. An optional, folding jump seat allows old-school, three-across seating up front. Skylights integrated into roof pillars are a first in a production car, and it was a challenge to engineer them to meet crash standards. Jaguar Land Rover's notoriously behind-the-curve infotainment systems are replaced with Pivi Pro, a smartphone-style touch screen with over-the-air software updates. The exceptional Meridian audio system includes a sparkling 700-watt, 15-speaker unit.
More than 170 adventure-grade accessories include an optional rooftop tent, inflatable waterproof awning, and integrated air compressor. Two seem a must: The Defender's signature, side-mounted gear carrier and Expedition roof rack—the latter ideal for tomb raiding. Or at least antique hauling.