Land Rover Defender Makes Every Drive an Adventure

The Defender’s interior is not for everyone, but it earns a Wards 10 Best Interiors trophy by harnessing the original Defender’s spirit of boundless adventure and instilling enormous confidence at the beginning of every drive.

Drew Winter, Contributing Editor

October 12, 2021

4 Min Read
2021 Land Rover Defender pass Bpillar - Copy
Defender’s cabin is punctuated by a big fat magnesium grab bar that runs across the instrument panel.Tom Murphy

The 2021 Wards 10 Best Interiors are being revealed in random, non-alphabetical order one per day until Oct. 15. This is the seventh winner profile. Winners will receive their trophies Nov. 16 during Automotive TechWeek in Novi, MI.

Like Beauty, luxury is in the eye of the beholder. Lobster once was considered barely edible and fit only for prison food.

Concrete walls and exposed ductwork once were appropriate only for factories, not expensive restaurants and apartments.

2021 Land Rover Defender front driver side - Copy.jpg

2021 Land Rover Defender front driver side - Copy

In the right context, simplicity and functionality have their own special beauty. The 2-door Land Rover Defender 90 First Edition (pictured, left) stands out in this regard.

It also stands out as a vehicle that can safely wade through almost 36 ins. (91 cm) of water and offer an excellent depiction of water depth on the center display; features no one thought we needed until the summer of 2021.

The stripped-down personality of the new 2-door Defender (pictured below) embraces a utilitarian philosophy with what designers call “constructivist modular interior architecture.”

Recalling the iconic original Defender dating back 70 years, it communicates a highly functional nature, underpinned by a practical layout and minimalist design.  

It also mimics fancy New York City apartments, where structural elements usually hidden from view are exposed, with an emphasis on simplicity and practicality.

2021 Land Rover Defender driver seats trees - Copy.jpg

2021 Land Rover Defender driver seats trees - Copy

“We strived to harness the Defender vehicle’s profound spirit of boundless adventure. A comfortable interior which is at once impeccably handsome for the discerning, shrewd in functionality and prudently qualified in anticipation of any adversity,” says Alan Sheppard, Land Rover’s director-Interior Design.

The Defender’s cabin is punctuated by a big fat magnesium grab bar that runs across the instrument panel. Immediately, you get a feeling of adventure. The vehicle lets you know it means business and you’d better hang on.

The relatively small but upright cabin seems incredibly roomy with astonishing headroom (for more than one 10-gallon-hat), the most of any vehicle we can remember. The rear seats also offer a surprising amount of leg room, although getting back there without a rear door requires practice.

“It keeps enough of the old Defender to please the enthusiasts while upgrading to the 21st century for the rest of the populous in search of an outdoorsy vehicle,” writes judge Bob Gritzinger on his scoresheet.

Overall, the seats (pictured above and below) are extremely supportive and comfortable, and the upholstery – a handsome blend of leather and sturdy textile fabric – is attractive, simple and can be washed out with a hose.

Jaguar Land Rover has developed several interior materials for this vehicle that are innovative for both their sustainability and durability.

2021 Land Rover Defender 2nd row pano - Copy.jpg

2021 Land Rover Defender 2nd row pano - Copy_0

Amy Frascella, the automaker’s director-Color and Materials, says innovative interior materials are essentially more tools in the Defender’s ample toolbox. “Obtaining this balance of tactility, softness and durability was key to create a modern premium aesthetic for both the interior and exterior materials.

“We have enabled innovation of materials by creating new approaches to development, challenging conventions of traditional methods and modifying existing technologies,” Frascella says.

Our $66,000 test vehicle also came with an unusual front jump seat option that allows a sixth passenger in a pinch.

Jurors found it a bit quirky, but we later discovered it was yet another feature we never thought we’d need until the summer of 2021, when we saw people, stranded by flooding, that we could have picked up had we been driving a Defender.

Clearly the Defender’s interior is not for everyone, but it wins a 10 Best Interiors award because it’s proud to be different, instills enormous confidence and makes the beginning of every drive feel like an adventure.

“From the design standpoint, it fits the objective and plays well for the part,” sums up judge Dave Zoia.

2021 Land Rover Defender wade sensing - Copy.jpg

2021 Land Rover Defender wade sensing - Copy

Read more about:

2021 10 Best Interiors

About the Author(s)

Drew Winter

Contributing Editor, WardsAuto

Drew Winter is a former longtime editor and analyst for Wards. He writes about a wide range of topics including emerging cockpit technology, new materials and supply chain business strategies. He also serves as a judge in both the Wards 10 Best Engines and Propulsion Systems awards and the Wards 10 Best Interiors & UX awards and as a juror for the North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year awards.

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