Image of the 2021 Land Rover Defender.
Photo: Jaguar Land Rover

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.

Base price:

US $47,450

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.

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