First Drive

First Drive Review: 2020 Land Rover Defender is a premium, off-road capable delight

The Land Rover Defender holds up when compared to the Defenders of the past.

Photo courtesy of Land Rover

If you know anything about extreme off-road expeditions and four-wheel-drive icons, you know the Land Rover Defender. If you have an imprint in your head of vehicles that have roamed the wilds of Africa or the outback of Australia, you'll likely conjure up an image of these stalwart, boxy and tall-legged utilitarian models kicking up dust across the savannah. You might even have a memory of Defenders ferrying British royals around their castle grounds or on hunting and fishing forays.

Since the 80s, this legendary SUV has garnered a fervent fan-following. It has been a workhorse and conqueror of jungles around the globe, but unavailable in the U.S. market since 1997 due to stiffened safety regulations. An all-new version has been reimagined for the 21st century; the five-door 2020 Land Rover Defender 110 is on sale now while its stablemate, the three-door 2021 Defender 90, goes on sale in the new year.

2020 Land Rover Defender The Defender is easy to drive, but steering is a bit heavy.Photo courtesy of Land Rover

The Defender has been engineered on a new all-aluminum unibody platform that is the stiffest Land Rover body ever created; it has short front and rear overhangs that aid in off-roading, with a rear-mounted spare tire. New is a fully-independent suspension, twin-speed transfer box and permanent four-wheel-drive. It has been crafted for personalization with four different Accessory Packs (Explorer, Adventure, Country, and Urban), and the greatest number of individual accessories ever offered by the brand.

I drove the 2020 Defender 110 X on a three-day test drive of more than 200 miles. The tester was set up with a number of options, including electronic air suspension, and retailed for $85,750. The X derivative is adorned with a Gloss Black inset contrast hood with Gloss Black claddings, along with front and rear skid pans and other trim elements that are coated in a Starlight Satin finish, while Windsor Leather and Steelcut Premium Textile accent the interior.

I am a "classic" Defender enthusiast and have driven these models on numerous extreme off-road journeys around the globe, so I approached my evaluation of the new model with a bit of mild trepidation fearing that I would favor the original and eschew the new. There were many pleasant surprises.

2020 Land Rover Defender A day of testing included on- and off-road driving.Photo courtesy of Land Rover

I found the emblematic upright, brick-shaped silhouette had morphed into a more contemporary expression penned with softened lines that will enhance fuel economy over the '97. Its looks are appealing and mesh well with other models in the Land Rover portfolio, with angles of approach and departure that speak to its off-road mission, and up-level styling cues and trim elements.

The interior was not only bright, roomy and ergonomically pleasing but laden with luxe-level comfort and convenience features, such as heated and cooled seats, wireless charging and heads-up display. I appreciated the lockable 1.5-gallon glovebox, deep door pockets and thoughtful array of stowage features.

Off-roading requires supplies and supplies require storage space. The Defender's second-row seatbacks split 40/20/40 for flexibility and loadspace rails on the floor of the rear cargo area come with load retention accessories to keep smaller items from moving around inside. A lockable, heavy-duty steel Security Box adds protection and secures to the loadspace rails; it can hold laptops, tablets and other valuables, while an exposed cross car beam serves as a shelf to hold 1.83 gallons of open storage. A clip-in, washable loadspace cover doubles as a ground mat for picnics or for changing mucky footwear on wet surfaces.

2020 Land Rover Defender The interior of the Defender is upscale with an intuitive infotainment system.Photo courtesy of Land Rover

The drive route took me on fast-moving highways and along slow, meandering byways providing two different opportunities to evaluate the vehicle's design prowess for serious four-wheeling and its intelligent off-road technologies. Defender's road manners were excellent, with a slightly heavy-handed feel to steering. Its responsive suspension brought confidence to navigating its mass of more than 5,000 pounds on tight and twisty tarmac with adaptive dampers monitoring body movements up to 500 times per second and responding almost instantly to optimize body control and comfort.

The Defender, as tested with the available 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine, provided an ample 395 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque, seamlessly runs through the gears for smooth up- and down-shifting and its stopping power comes in a measured manner. The engine features mild-hybrid technology which helps it get off the line more efficiently.

Our first foray into off-roading was at the Land Rover Experience Center, in Manchester, Vermont, where a lengthy, wooded off-road course with stretches of technical track provided an opportunity to try out the bevy of intelligent off-road tech, including Terrain Response 2 with its new Wade program (Defender has 35 inches of water fording capability) and Land Rover's new off-road Configurable Terrain Response system, which is designed to set up the Defender for precise conditions using the center touch screen controller. A choice of three settings for the throttle and gearbox response, steering and traction control, lets drivers tailor their Defender.

2020 Land Rover Defender The Defender has 35 inches of fording capability.Photo courtesy of Land Rover

Other cool tech includes advanced All-Terrain Progress Control (moves the vehicle independently at preset speeds) and ClearSight Ground View, a forward-facing camera which was developed for extreme off-road situations, and shows the hidden area directly in front of the vehicle using the central touchscreen.

That touch screen, a 10-inch Pivi Pro system comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility and over-the-air updates.

After trying out the 2020 Defender technologies on steep up and downhills, off-camber slopes and through water, we motored on a series of logging roads and dirt tracks to the top of Mt. Equinox, that sits at nearly 4,000 feet along the Green Mountain range, in southern Vermont.

2020 Land Rover Defender A two-tone paint scheme is available.Photo courtesy of Land Rover

Two days of off-roading and multiple miles of driving on paved roads brought confirmed insight. The legendary Defenders of the past will still appeal to purists and will always kick up dirt in the outbacks and savannahs of the world, and likely still ferry the Royals. The new Defender is laudable; it's designed and engineered to appeal to today's buyers and it will soon develop its own fan following.

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Honda is working with Verizon on self-driving cars technology.

Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co. Inc.

The Mcity campus was designed to be a proving ground for new technologies. Honda and Verizon are utilizing it as such as they partner to explore how Verizon's 5G Ultra Wideband and 5G Mobile Edge Compute (MEC) can be used to ensure quick and reliable communication between road infrastructure, vehicles, and pedestrians.

The 5G technology leverages cloud technology to deliver lower latency, a large amount of bandwidth, and improved communication. This communication includes the way that vehicles interact with ther cars, traffic lights, pedestrians and emergency vehicles to improve threat detection and avoid accidents when seconds matter most. That's where the "V2" in acronyms like "V2V" (vehicle-to-vehicle) and "V2X" (vehicle- to-everything).

Honda and Verizon Test How 5G Enhances Safety for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles www.youtube.com

Honda has been working since 2017 to develop a technology that will help to create a collision-free society. The technology, called Safe Swarm, uses V2X communication to enable vehicles to communicate with other road users and share key information such as location, speed, and vehicle sensor data.

There are some obstacles, not the least of which is the need to outfit each vehicle with onboard artificial intelligence capabilities. The use of 5G helps move the AI capabilities from the vehicle to the MEC, reducing the need for AI onboard each vehicle.

"The ability to move computing power to the edge of our 5G network is an essential building block for autonomous and connected vehicles, helping cars to communicate with each other in near real-time and with sensors and cameras installed in streets and traffic lights," said Sanyogita Shamsunder, vice president of Technology Development and 5G Labs at Verizon. "When you consider that roughly 42,000 people were killed in car accidents last year and 94% of accidents are caused by human error, our new technologies including 5G and MEC can help drivers 'see' things before the human eye can register and react helping to prevent collisions and save lives."

Three safety scenarios have been explored as part of the testing:

  • Pedestrian Scenario - A pedestrian is crossing a street at an intersection. An approaching driver cannot see the pedestrian due to a building obstructing the view. Smart cameras mounted in the intersection relay information to MEC using the 5G network. Verizon's MEC and V2X software platforms detect the pedestrian and vehicle and determine the precise location of road users assisted by Verizon's Hyper Precise Location services. A visual warning message is then sent alerting the driver of the potential danger.
  • Emergency Vehicle Warning Scenari - A driver cannot see an approaching emergency vehicle and cannot hear its siren due to the high volume of in-vehicle audio. Verizon's MEC and V2X software receive a safety message from the emergency vehicle and send a warning message to nearby vehicles. The driver receives a visual warning.
  • Red Light Runner Scenario - A vehicle fails to stop at a red light. Using data from the smart cameras, MEC and V2X software detect the vehicle and send a red-light-runner visual warning message to other vehicles approaching the intersection.

You can watch the video of Honda and Verizon's Mcity tests at http://honda.us/5GResearch.

Honda isn't the only company exploring what 5G communication can offer. Pirelli has installed the tech in its tires and BMW recently updated its My BMW app to make it compatible with the new technology. Audi is working on similar technology out on the road in Virginia and Georgia.

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