Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: November 28, 2021
The Land Rover Defender is one of our favourite new SUVs, not just for its charming looks and clever off-road packages, but also for its on-road mannerisms, calm and collected handling, and silky inline-six powertrain that’s paired with a mild-hybrid system. We’ve tested both the two-door 90-variant, as well as the four-door 110. There’s even a V8-powered Defender and we hear it’s a riot. But now we’re making our way down the trim ladder, and taking a look at the entry-level model, the Defender S P300.
The P300 badge denotes the smaller engine and output. Instead of a beefy six-cylinder (P400), it’s equipped with a petite 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that puts out 296 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. That’s a 99 hp and 111 lb-ft deficit to the P400. Yes, the it weighs 221 kg less, but it also takes much longer to accelerate from 0-100 km/h, 7.4 seconds compared to the P400’s 6.1 seconds. Its entrance price is much lower though, starting at just $65,500, making it a clear alternative to a BMW X5 and Audi Q7 for those cross-shopping with premium SUVs. But is the four-cylinder enough for this sizable Defender? It is, but also isn’t. Let me explain.
The four-cylinder is quite reactive and jumpy at low speeds, so it kicks off the line quite well. That’s because the max 295 lb-ft of torque comes on at just 1,500 rpm, and the flawless 8-speed automatic ensures quick, polished, and gentle shifts - you will never hear or feel it flexing its magic. But once you get past 60 km/h, you really start to feel the penalties of the small-engine-large-SUV combination. It’s not gasping for breath like it’s drowning in polluted air, but it’s definitely pushing towards its mechanical limits. And it just takes a while for any kind of significant forward movement. Turbo lag isn’t terrible but when you are cruising along the highway at 100 km/h and need to overtake, you will be let down by its lethargic top-end. You have to be patient with the P300 and set your expectations correctly. That, or just don’t bother test driving the more powerful P400. Ignorance is bliss.
The P300 isn’t even more fuel-efficient either. We averaged 14.9 L/100km over an equal mix of both city and highway driving, while the P400 we drove gave us 15.1 L/100km, probably due to the latter’s mild hybrid system adding to its efficiency.
When it comes to road comfort, the P300 rides just as well as the P400 - ours was loaded with the optional air suspension ($1,620) so that’s not a surprise. But the smaller engine has made the front end lighter and more agile. It’s more manageable and eager to turn, and doesn’t feel as cumbersome when wrestling the wheel. There’s polish in its movements, suppleness in the way it graces undulations, and a skilled gearbox to harmonize it all together. Forgoing the live axles drastically improved its road manners and as a result, the Defender is exceptionally comfortable. It’s a bit rougher around the edges than the Range Rover when negotiating pockmarked roads, but compared to a Jeep Wrangler or Gladiator, it is like riding on a magic carpet. Looks mega in Santorini Black too.
Most Defenders we’ve driven have been decently spec’d out with all the bells and whistles of the SE and HSE trims, but with the lower S model, we see a more humble interior with fewer creature comforts. Brings us back down to Earth, you know? Hence, it lacks a sunroof, though there are still sky light windows behind the C pillar, and it doesn’t come with the fancy Explorer or Urban Packs that equip it with storage boxes, mud flaps, and its off-roading paraphernalia. While more than just aesthetics, the Defender doesn’t really need them.
That’s because the cabin is nicely laid out, ergonomic, and spacious enough for five tall adults and their luggage. There’s certainly more flair in here than any Wrangler or 4Runner could hope for. The way the shifter and HVAC controls are mounted on an angle below the dashboard remind me of the Fiat 500 and ergonomically, it works well. A magnesium alloy beam runs the width, accentuating the interior’s expansive borders, and the cleverly integrated grab handles make for a streamlined look. There’s inherent sensibility in this design, and the recessed dashboard creates a wide array of storage options. They have also cleverly brought some of that ruggedness inside with the exposed screws, powder-coated ceramic-like surfaces, and the car’s paint showing through on the inside door panels, just like how Wranglers and Mazda Miatas do it.
The four-cylinder P300 has its drawbacks, but those who are patient enough to forgive its horsepower deficits will find value in this offering. The more agile front end does make a difference in daily driving when snaking through tight city corners, the lower price tag certainly makes it an appealing alternative to the more traditional SUV alternatives, and it retains that beautiful ride quality that made us really enjoy driving the Defender in the first place. Granted, if it was our own money, we would still be opting for the stronger and equally efficient P400 motor instead, but we would be just as happy and content with two less cylinders, and put that extra change towards some nifty off-road packages.
Model: 2022 Land Rover Defender 110 P300 S
Paint Type: Santorini Black
Base Price: $65,500
Price as Tested: $74,420
Length/Width/Height (mm): 5,018 (with spare wheel) / 2,008 (mirrors folded) / 1,967
Curb weight (kg): 2,140
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
Horsepower: 296 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 295 lb-ft @ 1,500 - 4,500 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, 4WD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 14.9