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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New SUV Review

2021 Ford Bronco review: Return of a legend

Several of the Bronco's body panels are removable.

Ford

Ford says its 2021 Bronco is 'Built Wild' like its wild-horse namesake and, as this iconic model returns to the U.S. market after a 25-year hiatus, it's ready to gallop to glory once again. Released from the Ford stables in 1965, the Bronco was America's first-ever "sport ute" and heralded as the first "4WD sports car" with both off-road capability and on-road competency; it was also dubbed the "G.O.A.T." (goes over any terrain). The all-new model is reincarnated as a modern-day midsize SUV with heritage-inspired styling; rugged engineering; and a collection of smart technologies for the backcountry and four-wheeling, as well as for a smoothish ride around town and on the highway. It marries the tough attributes of Ford's F-Series trucks with a fully-boxed steel-ladder frame and advanced 4WD systems to the performance spirit of the Mustang—and, once again, is nicknamed G.O.A.T! Larger than its stablemate, the Bronco Sport competes with vehicles like the Jeep Cherokee, while the Bronco is a direct competitor to the Jeep Wrangler. It goes on sale this summer starting at $29,995

Bronco Trims and Configurations


2021 Ford Bronco Two- and four-door versions of the Bronco are available.Ford


The new Bronco comes in 4WD only, and is available in a two-door version that seats four people or a four-door model with room for five, plus hard-top and soft-top options. There are two engine choices: A turbocharged 2.3-liter I-4 that offers up to 300 horsepower and 325 lb.-ft. of torque (best-in-class) is standard. It pairs with either a 10-speed auto or a 7-speed manual. The optional engine is a 2.7-liter V6 with a twin turbo that produces 330 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque, which is also best-in-class. The V6 is available only with the ten-speed automatic transmission.

The manual transmission has six traditional gears, plus a "crawler gear" that has a best-in-class gear ratio of 94.75:1. There are seven Bronco models that include Base, Big Bend, Black Diamond, Outer Banks, Badlands, Wildtrak and a limited First Edition that quickly sold out when order banks opened.

Bronco Features and Styling

The Bronco comes in a staggering number of exclusive color combinations that vary between models. The highly configurable off-roader is designed for both novice and hard-core 4WD experts, with easily removable roof panels, bumper sections and doors that can be stored in the trunk.

Though all-new, the latest Bronco takes its design cues from the proportions, square, boxy looks and flat sides of the original model. Large, open wheel wells are amplified by removeable bolt-on front and rear fenders, while the Bronco's fender flares sport quick-release fasteners to help with customization. Interior appointments vary by model but are designed to appeal to the heart and lifestyle of weekend warriors and 4WD adventurers with durable, with waterproof surfaces, an off-road performance app, and an available 12-inch LCD touchscreen paired with Ford's SYNC4 system touchscreen (an 8-inch is standard), among other communication and audio features. A 12-volt hook-up and USB power connections are at-the-ready to mount cameras, navigation units, phones or other devices.

Bronco First Drive Impressions


2021 Ford Bronco Several color combinations are available with various Bronco trims.Ford


We tried out 5 different models during our test drive that began in the urban environment of Austin, TX and took us to Ford's first Off Roadeo 4WD playground in Marble Falls. Our road-going drive was in a 2-door Outer Banks model with the manual transmission. On the plus side, the manual shifts smoothly, and we had the opportunity to use the crawler gear at a local boat launch. On a steep uphill over loose-surface terrain-we found it suitably impressive.

In general, there was good power, plenty of torque, and competent steering that carved the twisty roads with ease. The Bronco offers surprisingly smooth braking, although we'd like the brakes to be a bit "taller" for more aggressive stopping. Notable is the quietness of the cabin and comfort of the seats. Our only complaints were seatbelts that are not height-adjustable and a couple of ergonomics complaints for our 5'2" driver (although Ford is looking into making changes for both!).

We navigated our way through three off-road courses designed by 4WD experts that included rocky terrain, muddy motoring and dirt two-track with up and downhill climbs. We were impressed with Ford's Terrain Management System with G.O.A.T. (goes over any terrain) modes, which allow up to seven driver-selectable settings (Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Sand, plus Baja, Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl for off-roading). Two 4WD systems include a two-speed electronic shift-on-the-fly transfer case and an optional two-speed electromechanical transfer case with an auto mode for on-demand selection between 2H and 4H. A Dana 44 solid rear axle and Dana independent front differential unit are both available, as electronic locking differentials-provide more grunt. Bead-lock 17-inch wheels compliment aggressive off-road tires.

We also tested the Bronco's Trail Toolbox, which is a suite of off-road technologies that includes Trail Control (cruise control for low-speed trail driving), class-exclusive Trail Turn Assist (tightens off-road turning radiuses through torque vectoring), and Trail One-Pedal Drive (aids in acceleration/braking control for precise and confident low-speed rock crawling).

The Bronco's four-wheel-drive attributes include:

  • Up to 11.5-inches of ground clearance
  • 43.2-degree approach, 26.3-degree breakover and 37.0-degree departure angles
  • Best-in-class water fording of up to 33.5 inches (w/ optional 35-inch tires that are available on every series)
  • Steel underbody armor to protect vulnerable parts and an available front bash plate
  • Heavy-duty modular steel front bumper w/ an integrated accessory winch mount
  • Side rock rails
  • Standard front and rear tow hooks
  • Sway bar disconnect
  • A 360-degree camera system with class-exclusive off-road spotter views for additional visibility in technical off-road terrain
  • Trail sites (a styling cue from the first Broncos) on the front fenders that also serve as tie-downs with a 150-lb. capacity for securing longer items, such as canoes.

The Bronco moves with ease at both slow- and high-speeds as a result of its class-leading front and rear suspension travel with a high-performance off-road stability suspension system (HOSS). Up front is an independent front suspension set-up with a solid rear axle with long-travel coil springs; suspension systems vary by model-for instance, the Sasquatch off-road package (available on all models) and standard on Badlands is long-travel position-sensitive Bilstein dampers, with end-stop control valves that allow more articulation, reduce harshness and bring durability.


2021 Ford Bronco The Bronco can be ordered with either a hard or soft top.Ford


After years of buildup and speculation, the Ford Bronco had to be good, and for the most part it accomplishes that goal. The combination of technology and off-road prowess, combined with a mostly reasonable price tag, should be enough for the Ford to put up serious competition against the Jeep Wrangler and other off-road SUVs.

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The Nissan Pathfinder is just at home on the trial as it is on the road.

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

One of my favorite poems is Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken". The message is about making choices and, how the road taken made all the difference. Often in life and on the road, we have to make one choice. Take one road. No turning back. I thought of this poem on my recent test drive in the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder in the hinterlands of Montana, when I could take two different roads—paved and dirt—and that made all the difference!

Nissan has redesigned and retooled its fifth-generation Pathfinder instilling greater latitude for buyers who want to travel both types of roads and expand their adventure footprint. After seven decades of off-road development, 35 years in the business of selling Pathfinders, and with more than 1.8 million sold in the U.S., this Japanese automaker has moved the needle with a ground-up revision of the previous-gen model.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is a capable off-roader.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The full-sized sport utility is available in four trims (S, SV, SL and Platinum) and two- and four-wheel drive versions; Nissan expects that nearly 60 percent of buyers will choose four-wheel drive. The Pathfinder is in a segment that has grown larger each year as more families want a vehicle for around-town, school and playdate runs and for weekend getaways with traction technology that allows travel in the backcountry and good towing capability. Direct competitors are the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, and Ford Explorer.

A day-long drive of approximately 150 miles on tarmac and over a variety of dirt roads and tracks provided the opportunity to assess the Pathfinder's updates. A late-spring snowstorm added slickness to all the road surfaces in the region and allowed the Pathfinder to show off its traction capabilities at both slow and higher speeds and with lane change and emergency-braking maneuvers, when towing. I concentrated my evaluation on the augmented hardware and software designed to enhance the crossover's capabilities for backcountry travel and towing.

What I found most notable over every road surface was the comfortable ride and responsive handling that come from a collection of upgrades—and, in particular, as a result of the following: the gearing on the new nine-speed transmission, with paddle shifters for personal and more precise shifting for sport driving and slowing over rough terrain; the new terrain mode system that's engineered for different driving conditions; the four-wheel drive system that moves torque more quickly to avoid wheel slip; the improved suspension system; and new tires with a larger contact patch and more aggressive tread pattern, among other changes.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder Pathfinder's drive modes are designed to inspire confidence. Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The Pathfinder provided sure-footed motoring and comfort over uneven surfaces. Its 7.1 inches of ground clearance easily maneuvered over the small obstacles on the trail and hill descent control took the reigns without hesitation for steeper and longer downhills on traction-compromised surfaces.

I was also impressed with the Pathfinder's towing competence and appreciated the standard trailer sway control onboard all trims. It offered notably strong, mannered acceleration from a standing start and excellent straight-line braking without porpoising for either exercise.

The new 2022 Pathfinder brings off-road and towing attributes that are important to families who are seeking to spend time in the backcountry for days trips and longer and for overlanding in terrain that doesn't require a true off-road vehicle with a low range. It's will appeal to buyers who want don't want to have to choose only one road.

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