The Land Rover Defender 110 P400e Plug-in Hybrid is good to drive on the road, it’s extremely capable off-road, it has an electric range of up to 27 miles, and a towing capacity of up to 3,500kg.
The old Land Rover Defender was one of the most iconic vehicles in existence, so designing the new Defender was always going to be one of the most challenging jobs in the car industry. However there were also a number of ways to improve various aspects of it, such as the driving position and refinement, to mention just two, so has Land Rover succeeded with the new Defender?, and what’s it like with a plug-in hybrid powertrain?
Like the rest of the world, we were waiting to see what the new Defender looked like, and the jury was out upon sight of the first images, primarily because the old design was such a hard act to follow. However it does look impressive in the metal, both inside and outside. There’s very little on the exterior to say that this is a plug-in hybrid apart from a very small badge.
Inside, there’s lots of space in the wide centre console between the two front seats, with a large and deep storage compartment at the front next to the dashboard – ideal for storing tall objects such as flasks. There’s also 499 litres of boot space, or 1,946 litres with the seats down. Because the battery is under the slightly raised boot floor, you can’t have the seven-seat option with the P400e model.
Under the skin is a 4-cylinder, 2-litre petrol engine with an electric motor powered by a battery – producing 404 hp and 640 Nm of torque – with automatic transmission and an all-wheel drive system.
The first thing you’re likely to notice when driving the Defender is that it’s big – both wide and tall – to the extent that if you’re in traffic behind a Range Rover Evoque, it’s dwarfed by the Defender.
The next thing you’ll notice is – thankfully – the driving position has improved massively compared to the old Defender.
And then there’s the overall quality feel, refinement and comfort. Ride quality is also a big improvement on the old model. The following might seem a strange thing to say bearing in mind the size, high centre of gravity and the hefty 2,261 kg kerb weight, but if you have to make quick progress down country lanes, the Defender actually has decent handling, and this is aided by the steering, which is the opposite of the vague and wandering system of the old model.
There’s a stumpy automatic gear selector sticking out of the dashboard and this works well. For progressive driving on country roads, it’s best to select ‘S’, and you can also change gear manually with the selector; there are no steering-wheel mounted paddles, and no ‘B’ setting for increased brake regeneration.
And then there’s the performance. Despite the Defender being big and heavy, thanks to the 404 hp power output and the huge 640 Nm of torque, it manages to accelerate from 0-62 mph in 5.6 seconds – which is hot hatch territory. And another area of significant improvement is the Defender’s behaviour at motorway speeds – which is now very refined and comfortable.
The Defender isn’t really designed for use in urban areas, but if you do venture into the city, you can press the EV button (which also offers the options of Hybrid and Save) and you can theoretically drive up to 27 miles on electric power (and at up to 87mph, although not in an urban area…).
However the Defender is primarily designed for one thing: to be extremely capable off-road – therefore our test included a variety of off-road locations and challenges. The Defender has Terrain Response 2 which enables you to select drive modes for Ruts, Grass, Gravel, Snow, Mud, Sand and Rocks, and there’s even a Wading Mode (for up to 900mm of water). We encountered all of the above challenges, with the exception of snow and sand. Did the Defender struggle with any of the off-road tests that we threw at it? No; it continued to make forward progress with zero drama no matter how extreme the terrain was.
So what makes it so capable? Well, apart from the all-wheel drive and associated electronic drive modes trickery, the electronic air suspension means that you can raise the height of the suspension to give a huge 291mm of ground clearance. But of course one of the most important factors for off-road ability is the tyres – and the Defender had some pretty serious off-road and all-season Goodyear Wranglers.
What was the most impressive aspect of the off-road test? The fact that you could drive the Defender off-road in zero-tailpipe-emission, silent electric mode (note that you can’t do this with a Land Rover Discovery Sport or Range Rover Evoque PHEV, as their 3-cylinder, 1.5-litre PHEV powertrains only deliver rear-wheel drive when on electric power).
So off-road capability is very impressive, but what about the driver’s ability to choose off-road drive modes? Well, over recent years there have been Land Rover models with rotary dials that show graphics representing all the off-road drive modes, so you can see them at a glance. That’s not the case with the new Defender; instead there’s just one button that you need to press to access the drive modes menu, which pops up at the bottom of the touchscreen. You can select the required drive mode either by rotating the left-hand cabin temperature dial, or by pressing the touchscreen. But you need to be quick, because the drive mode menu only lasts on screen for a few seconds before it disappears.
It’s the same with the PHEV driving modes – there’s just one button marked ‘EV’ which you press, then you have to scroll through the options of Hybrid, EV or Save to make your selection.
And the buttons for the off-road driving modes and for the PHEV driving modes are tightly packed in a group of buttons for various other car functions such as heating and ventilation.
The infotainment system has improved since earlier JLR models and is now more user-friendly, with shortcut buttons on the touchscreen, including a home button, always visible. You can bring up a screen of additional buttons, including one that shows you the vehicle dimensions and one that shows you the wading depth. Interestingly, unlike many of the latest cars, there’s no screen for safety systems; it has a much better solution of having a button on the steering wheel for disengaging the lane departure warning system, making it very easy to do this.
So overall the Defender is excellent to drive, but we did have one issue: it started on petrol rather than on electric virtually every time. Plug-in hybrids should always start on electric so you minimise the use of fuel and associated emissions. If you drive off straight onto a motorway then there should be a button that you can press to make the vehicle drive on petrol. After much experimentation it appeared that if you completely switched off the heating system – by turning the fan to its ‘off’ setting – then the Defender would start on electric power, but this shouldn’t really be necessary.
When the vehicle was running on electric, most – but not all – of the time it generally stayed on electric rather than switching to petrol, which is good, but when on electric power, there’s not a huge amount of acceleration from the electric motor.
Setting off from standstill could also be quite a jerky affair, as though this was caused by the harsh way in which the electric handbrake auto-released itself.
And finally there was no heated steering wheel – which seems to be a strange omission in a car that you would expect to be used in all weather conditions.
The Land Rover Defender 110 P400e Plug-in Hybrid has an official WLTP combined EV driving range of 25-27 miles, and it actually achieved around 25 miles in the real-world.
So how about fuel economy? Hmmm. Official WLTP combined fuel economy is 72.4 – 85.6 mpg (with CO2 emissions of 74 – 88 g/km). Did we achieve anything close to that? No. Driving locally on electric power – once we’d learnt to switch the heating off – was obviously good for economy. However the best we achieved on a long journey in Hybrid mode was 31mpg. The Defender is big, heavy and not very aerodynamic, and 31mpg may be better than what you might achieve in a petrol Defender without a plug-in hybrid system, but compared to the average car, 31mpg isn’t particularly efficient.
You should be able to achieve a total real-life driving range on petrol and electric of around 450 miles.
The Land Rover Defender 110 P400e X-Dynamic S costs £65,915.
Compared to standard specification, X Dynamic S trim includes extra equipment such as 20-inch alloys, two rear recovery eyes, 14-way heated and cooled electric memory front seats, Head-up Display, Electronic Active Differential and Terrain Response 2.
In addition, our test car had the following options fitted: Gondwana Stone Metallic Paint (£895); Acorn/Lunar Windsor leather and Robustec seats with Lunar interior (£920); Sliding Panoramic Roof (£1,650); 20″ Style 5098, 5 split-spoke, Gloss Sparkle Silver alloy wheels (£1,575); Front Fog Lights (£205); Premium LED headlights with signature DRL (£350); Home Charging Cable (£220); Cabin Air Ionisation with PM2.5 filter (£225); ClearSight interior rear view mirror (£525); Electronic Active Differential with Torque Vectoring by Braking (£1,020); Off-Road Tyres (£255) – taking the total price as tested to £73,755.
Defender models include X-Dynamic, XS Edition and X with trim levels of S, SE and HSE.
The Defender 110 P400e has a massive towing capacity of 3,500 kg.
The Land Rover Defender 110 P400e Plug-in Hybrid is very desirable in many people’s eyes, it feels like a quality product, it’s excellent to drive on the road, and it’s amazingly capable off-road. Many people might say that it should tick all those boxes due to its price. It’s so big that it’s not ideal for use in urban areas, but if you do drive it in such environments, our main complaint is that it needs to be engineered to start in electric mode rather than on the petrol engine.
So is the Defender Plug-in Hybrid ‘green’? Well, let’s try and deal with this. So, we have increasing numbers of electric cars, however for people who genuinely need a vehicle that can ‘go anywhere’ – and our extensive off-road testing of the Defender suggests that it could in fact pretty much go anywhere – as well as tow up to 3,500kg – there still isn’t a wide choice of ‘green’ vehicles. So bearing in mind that the Defender could drive around 25 miles over any terrain on electric power, yes, it’s greener than many rivals. However we’d obviously prefer to see it being all-electric – but it looks like we’ll have to wait another few years for that. In the meantime the Land Rover Defender 110 P400e Plug-in Hybrid gains a Green Car Guide rating of 8/10.