Mountain Wheels: Aggressive tires help reinvented Land Rover Defender thrive
Today’s coverage of the highly anticipated 2020 (now 2021) Land Rover Defender — the uber-stylized, virtually unstoppable, retro-futuristic reinvention of Land Rover’s classic-looking off-roader — comes also as a message about the value of appropriate tires for driving conditions.
I had a joyous experience in the $71,025 Defender 110 SE model not only because it’s an awesome, weather-beating machine, but also because it rode on ultra-massive Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac off-road tires.
The kind of Colorado State Patrol-approved traction, stopping power and control you need for your more ordinary vehicle — especially on a Traction Law driving day — is also found in a related set of Goodyear WinterCommand Ultra winter tires we’ve installed on a Subaru Legacy of moderately recent vintage. They are, by the way, the tires the State Patrol uses on their vehicles.
They have been invaluable in accessing a Breckenridge property with a gravel driveway that is pretty much always an icy, snow-packed mess, with people relying on a sand bucket to get themselves unstuck with even all-wheel drive vehicles (the UPS guy has given up trying). Before the WinterCommands, the Subaru would fishtail and slide into stops on snow and ice. Now, stopping, turning and maintaining control is normal, even in the worst conditions.
And unlike Blizzaks or other more aggressive winter tires, these drive smoothly and comfortably on dry pavement and will certainly make ski trips or voyages to Denver 100% more confident until the moment we upgrade to a new Defender.
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I am now working on that, having seen the strange magic at work in this very distinctive Land Rover. You hardcore, old-school Land Rover fanatics will either love or recoil in horror from the new, Slovakian-built Defender’s very striking mix of futuristic design and super-classic elements. And if you think it’s outlandish on the outside, wait until you see the amazing, multicolored and multisurfaced interior, with a dash and control panel and open dash bins that look more like a Lego moon buggy than a regular automobile. We haven’t seen a Defender in North America since 1997, owing to domestic safety rules, so this is indeed a big reintroduction.
Like those original Land Rovers going back to the late 1940s, this model has decided that boxy is better, and the rear cabin of the 119-inch extended-wheelbase 110 model integrates that retro, safari-proven style with functional side skylights and an optional, ultra-classic white contrast roof. There’s also a peculiar, body-colored panel inserted in the otherwise black-on-black windows in the rear; side mirrors are tiny boxes, and the rear brake lamps look like they come out of a Minecraft session.
The 110 model can be ordered in five- or seven-passenger seating arrangements, so that boxy rear cabin will turn into a well-appointed people-hauler. Later this year, you will be able to order the shorter Defender 90 model. They can all be customized with a kajillion accessories or four complete accessory packs, with more roof racks, gear carriers, spare wheel covers, portable rinse systems and scuff plates than you can imagine.
I literally beat the hell out the Defender 110 on an old mine site just up from Central City, engaging all of its ultra-sophisticated electronic off-road controls and easing up and down steep, rocky, sandy and snow-covered slopes without a single problem. They’re all controlled by a new, fantastic center console (featuring an upright gear lever kind of like a joystick) that is entirely dark with the power off, but lights up to allow you access to easily control everything from terrain and throttle/braking response to the vehicle’s self-guided crawl mode — you focus on the boulders, and the Defender holds a steady speed, adjustable via thumb input. A broad video screen offers feedback on 4×4 settings with innovative around-view cameras to help with safer navigation in sketchy spots. It’s also got a new wading mode to safely take you through up to 34 inches of water in the summer.
There are two choices of power for those various models, including a 296-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder and the very impressive 395-horsepower mild hybrid-electric vehicle inline-six cylinder engine. Mine had the latter and its 48-volt integrated supercharger turns what is a lot of metal into a box that will hit 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and absolutely gallop up mountain passes. A very slow cruise got me mileage in the mid-20s, but I would expect the 19 combined mpg the EPA sticker suggests.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Golden. Contact him at email@example.com.
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