Hybrid-engined Land Rover Defender a step in the right direction

Modest range on electric power rendered more practical by rapid charging

Land-Rover Defender
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Year: 2021
Fuel: Hybrid

Climate killer. Child murderer. Guilty of a public-order offence. Just some of the suggestions that have been hurled my way when I've dared to mention on social media that I've been driving a Land Rover Defender.

Okay, so the echo chamber of Twitter amplifies people’s stupidity and lends them a vehemence that they’d never express were they to meet you in person, but there’s little doubt that people – in general, not just on social media – are running out of patience with large SUVs and their owners.

Trying to stay relevant in a Cop26 world, Land Rover is working on the problem. Slowly, but it is working. In 2024, we'll see our first fully-electric Land Rover – an all-battery version of the incoming new Range Rover. The company already has a fleet of plug-in hybrids on sale, and now it's the turn of the mighty Defender to gain just such an engine option.

If any large SUV survives the doubtless inevitable culling of such machines, I hope it’s the Defender. Sure, it’s expensive as all get-out, but it also manages to be a classless thing. As adept at hauling felled trees up a muddy slope as it is pulling up outside a five-star hotel. More so, in fact. Unlike the overtly posh Range Rover and the more suburban Discovery, the Defender really is the keeper of the Land Rover flame.


To turn it into a plug-in hybrid, Land Rover takes its 2-litre, 300hp four-cylinder turbo petrol engine and bolts a 100hp electric motor to the back of it. That’s fed by a large 19.2kWh battery which, when it’s fully charged, can take you for a claimed 43km on electric power alone. More like 25km if we’re being honest, but hey – it’s a step in the right direction at least.

Rapid charging

From the outside, there’s no way of telling the PHEV Defender apart from its lesser brethren, save for a subtle P400e badge and the extra flap in the side that covers the electric charging port. Actually, the Defender is one of the growing number of PHEV models that can be charged rapidly, at public DC charging stations. In fact, it can take a 50kW charging speed, which can top up the battery in a mere 20 minutes, which is a sight better than leaving it trickle charging for hours from a domestic socket. Mind you, you’ll have to put up with stares of pure hatred from electric-car owners if they catch you using a fast charger. Some of them might explode from sheer rage.

The good news, though, is that the Defender is one of those rare PHEVs whose fuel economy doesn’t fall apart when you take it on a longer run. Despite weighing 2.6 tonnes in long-wheelbase 110 form (that’s still 100kg lighter than a diesel Discovery 3, mind you) and being hauled around by a peppy turbo petrol engine, the Defender actually records some very decent economy figures. Officially, it consumes 3.9 litres per 100km (or 72mpg) but obviously, that’s largely fictional. It will do 4.3 litres per 100km (65mpg) if driven in and around town and for short hops on main roads, if you start with a reasonably charged-up battery.

Take it on a longer motorway run, with a depleted battery, and of course that drops off again, but we still managed a creditable 8.0 litres per 100km (35mpg) which is about what you’d get from the conventional diesel model on a similar journey. And the diesel can’t do any electric mileage at all.

What’s great about the Defender is the sheer comfort and space within, though. Although Land Rover has kept the interior fairly utilitarian (lots of rugged powder-coated surfaces, upright dashboard, plain seats, etc) it’s hugely refined (save for some wind whistle around those big mirrors) and the ride quality, on the adjustable air suspension, is just sublime. It’s hard to credit just how smooth this Defender is when its forebear was such a rattly old tractor.

It’s not a handling champ, of course, but copes better with tighter and twistier roads than you might expect. Because the steering is quite light and quite slow, you find yourself slowing down a bit, taking your time, placing the car more precisely on the road. No joke – I reckon you’re a safer driver in a Defender simply because it’s not trying to be sporty, so you don’t bother either. It is properly quick, though. Forget the limited-edition V8 Defender, this PHEV has 640Nm of torque and so it will lunge from 0-100km/h in just 5.6 seconds if you get the petrol and electric bits spinning at the same time.


“Can you see a child from the driver’s seat?” questioned one outraged member of the Twitterati. Well, yes you can – and so can the car. There’s quite an impressive array of cameras, and an emergency braking system that would slam on the brakes if someone runs out in front of you. In fact, the Defender scores an impressive 71 per cent safety score in the ‘vulnerable road users’ category on the EuroNCAP crash tests, which is better than many smaller cars. Also, I don’t know about you but I tend to try and make sure my kids don’t run out in front of cars. . .

A climate criminal? Well, it's a matter of perspective. Of course, that 74-88g/km CO2 rating is as fictional as the fuel economy claim, and it requires you to plug in and charge up pretty religiously, using the Defender as an electric car as much as is humanly possible. Land Rover also has some slightly iffy form in the eco-innovation world. Such as the time it set up a carbon-offset programme, buying more efficient wood-burning stoves for villages in Africa, and to prove that it was working flew a planeload of journalists out from Europe and the US and drove out to said villages in petrol-engined Discoverys. . . Ahem.

On the other hand, the Defender is built and sold in relatively tiny numbers, and is made in a factory in Slovakia, rather than being shipped to Europe from China, so its actual, overall environmental impact is at the very least up for debate. If people want to get hot under the collar about SUVs, maybe they should take a look at how efficient their gas boiler is, instead?

What of the future? Land Rover is working on a prototype hydrogen-fuelled Defender. Maybe survival is on the cards, after all. The plug-in powertrain won’t stop people hating on me for driving around in a Defender, but at least it gives me something with which to defend myself, I suppose.

Lowdown: Land Rover Defender 110 2.0 Si4 PHEV SE

Power: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine with plug-in hybrid assistance putting out 404hp and 640Nm of torque with an eight-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive.

CO2 emissions (annual motor tax): 74-88g/km (€150).

Fuel consumption: 3.9l/100km.

0-100km/h: 5.6sec.

Price: €82,490 as tested; Defender starts at €73,230

Our rating: 4/5.

Verdict: People will still hate, but this is a brilliantly-executed vehicle.

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe, a contributor to The Irish Times, specialises in motoring