Land Rover Defender wins Best Luxury Off-Road SUV under $150K

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Car Of The Year

For the fourth year in a row, the Land Rover Defender takes the Drive Car of the Year award for the Best Luxury Off-Road SUV under $150K


If you want a true do-it-all family car that has a broad range of practicality with a big dose of luxury and prestige – then you’re going to need to spend a fair chunk of cash.

And if you’re spending big money, you’re also going to have big expectations. 

Think about it this way: something that can traverse rough and remote terrain confidently and cuts a fine figure out the front of a school or hotel. Two different ends of the spectrum that can play into each other with size, presence, practicality and capability, all rolled into one.

In the current climate of the Australian car buyer’s psyche – which has certainly picked up an adventurous edge in recent years – a big family four-wheel drive is as appealing as ever.

It’s a part of the world where the usual suspects continue to fight for supremacy of sales, technology and capability: Toyota, Nissan and Land Rover being three particular amigos. 

Being a big, simple and lumbering off-road beast doesn’t cut it any more. Along with providing plenty of space for family and gear, the modern-day large four-wheel drive also needs to provide plenty of comfort and refinement, as well as a big dose of technology and safety. 

Of course, these contenders still need to pack a punch in terms of towing ability, payloads and off-road capability. A lot of this comes from old-fashioned engineering of suspension, chassis and mechanical traction aids, but there’s also an increasing focus on off-road technology, including different driving modes, cameras, and electronically controlled driveline components. 

Ownership costs and fuel economy are less important here than in other new car segments, but value for money is still big. In this world, space, technology, refinement, practicality, off-road ability and the overall driving experience are non-negotiable.

Winner: Land Rover Defender

Drive’s pick: Land Rover Defender 110 D300 X-Dynamic SE from $126,670 MSRP

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Land Rover Defender key facts:

  • Priced from $88,870 to $240,270 (range)
  • 5-year warranty
  • 3.4-12.8L/100km consumption (claimed)

Why the Land Rover Defender won:

  • Best-in-class ground clearance and off-road traction control
  • Classy, quality interior execution
  • Impressively refined and enjoyable on-road, as well

If you’ve got any doubts about whether the Land Rover Defender is the real deal, back-to-back segment wins at Drive Car of the Year should put your fears to bed.

Since debuting as a brand new model in 2020, the Land Rover Defender is nothing short of a technological off-road powerhouse. Going utterly against the grain of its ancestor, the current Land Rover Defender uses computer-controlled air suspension, active differentials and a sophisticated aluminium platform.

The result is a vehicle that rides beautifully on rough tarred roads, is confidence-inspiring on dirt, and is impressively capable when it comes to crossing technical and tough terrain. 

Mechanically speaking, the Defender is one of the most complex and advanced out there, and you might get a frosty reception from an Outback mechanic. But the advantages of electronically controlled air suspension are obvious after only a few minutes behind the wheel. 

Considering a buyer’s expectations at this relatively high price point, the high levels of refinement and quality throughout the Defender puts it in a great position. Not just for the driver, but for all occupants. 

At the same time, the combination of highly advanced powertrain options, sharp off-road traction control systems and loads of ground clearance means the Defender packs a mean punch off-road.

The simplified yet luxurious interior is another standout, which has plenty of storage solutions for your (and everyone else’s) gear. Infotainment has also been recently upgraded as well, with a curved 11.4-inch display. 

Defender buyers will need to sit down with a big ol’ cup of Earl Grey, because there is a huge variety of body styles, specification packages, powertrains and optional equipment to choose between. While dizzying and sometimes confounding, the wide array of price points, sizes and applications help to underpin the appeal of the Defender for a variety of tastes and budgets.

Firstly, there is the overall size to consider. There is a three-door Defender 90 on a shorter 2587mm wheelbase (but still with five seats), while the most popular variant of Defender is the five-door 110 model. The wheelbase grows considerably to 3022mm, and more interior space allows for a much larger boot (or an optional compact third row).

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Those who want a true seven- or eight-seat vehicle will want to look at the Defender 130 which keeps the same wheelbase but grows at the rear for a proper three-row interior. 

Now, consider your selection of powertrains, all of which hold appeal. While there used to be a broader range of diesel engines available, it has been whittled down to only two versions of a 3.0-litre six-cylinder unit. The Defender 110 and 130 get the 221kW/650Nm D300 unit, while the 90 and two-seat 110 Hardtop get access to the 183kW/570Nm D250 variant. 

Those who prefer petrol can look at turbocharged four (221kW/400Nm) and six (294kW/550Nm) cylinder units. There’s also a 297kW plug-in hybrid, and while it goes well beyond our cap of $150,000 in this test, it would be remiss not to mention the glorious supercharged 5.0-litre V8, which offers p to 386kW of power available.

Regardless of the spec level we have tested, the inherent engineering brilliance of the Defender is evident through the driving experience, ride quality, interior design, and off-road capability. Our pick in the range is the Defender 110 D300 X-Dynamic SE, which has silky six-cylinder diesel power, excellent air suspension, and a good level of standard equipment, but also keeps pricing somewhat in check at $106,720 plus on-road costs.

The biggest thorn in the side for us is the 20-inch wheels on this spec, which don’t offer a lot of wriggle room for tyre pressures off-road. However, less powerful engine options can get 19-inch or 18-inch steel wheels, depending on the specification. 

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Sam Purcell has been writing about cars, four-wheel driving and camping since 2013, and obsessed with anything that goes brum-brum longer than he can remember. Sam joined the team at CarAdvice/Drive as the off-road Editor in 2018, after cutting his teeth at Unsealed 4X4 and Pat Callinan’s 4X4 Adventures.

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