Off-Road Comparison: New Land Rover Defender vs Old Defender

25th May 2021

Battle of the icons

They may share the same name but how do they compare in terms of capability? After all, the classic Defender is iconic thanks to its off-roading performance. Whether you work the land or own the land, this is one of the only vehicles that is completely classless and really can be driven by anyone, anywhere.

We borrowed the new Land Rover Defender 90 from Stratstone Land Rover Nottingham to compare it with its predecessor, a 2008 Land Rover Defender Hard Top 90, on a dairy farm in Derbyshire.

Focusing on the key attributes of each vehicle, they went head-to-head so we could determine just how these vehicles compare. It is worth noting that there is a Commercial Hard Top version available of both the 90 and 110 bodystyle, but this article is referring to the the passenger version of the new 90.

Technical Specification 2008 Defender County Hard Top 2021 Defender 90 First Edition
Engine Puma/DuraTorq TDCI 2.4-litre
4-cylinder turbo diesel engine
D250 3.0-litre
6-cylinder turbo diesel engine
Horsepower 120bhp 246bhp
Torque 265lb ft 420lb ft
Transmission 6-speed manual 8-speed automatic
Wading depth 500mm 900mm
Maximum Towing 3,500kg 3,500kg
Approach Angle 47° 38°
Departure Angle 47° 40°
Suspension Coil Suspension Electronic Air Suspension
Ground Clearance 260mm 291mm


Defender 90 Off-Roading Defender Off-Roading
Defender 90 Off-Roading Defender Off-Roading

We may as well start with the most important aspect associated with the king of 4x4s, its ability to tackle rough terrain, deep water or muddy fields.

Since its birth in 1948, the legendary Land Rover Series I, later becoming the Defender, has earned the status of the ultimate off-roader and the go-to vehicle for the military, explorers and farmers thanks to their go-anywhere capability.

The 2008 Defender we used for the comparison is a talented workhorse for a local farmer and it has successfully coped with the soggy and hilly fields found in the Derbyshire countryside for a number of years.

Does the new Defender live up to its reputation? Well, prior to its launch, Land Rover rigorously pushed the vehicle to its limits around the world, from the Sahara desert to the Artic Circle, ensuring it was even more capable than the previous model.

Is the new Defender as capable as its predecessor?

Defender 90 Water Splash Defender 90 Tissington Ford
Defender 90 Water Splash Defender 90 Tissington Ford

Both vehicles managed to climb an undulating steep incline in a rough field, battling through boggy gateways. Yes, they both handled this with complete ease, however, they tackled the task in different ways.

The older model has a manual gearbox and is fitted with a central locking differential, which forces both axles to rotate at the same speed when off-roading. Drivers can manually engage or disengage the differential lock when the vehicle is stationary or in motion as long as you are travelling in a straight line on firm ground and without any wheels slipping.

Meanwhile, the new Defender utilises an 8-speed automatic transmission and the car is perfectly capable of deciding whether it needs to lock or unlock the differential without the driver's input. Simply select auto terrain response and the new Defender will figure out the best settings for the conditions and it will use its stability control to stop wheelspin.

Approach and departure angle of the new Defender may not be quite as good as the old Defender, however, compared to other modern off-roaders these figures are pretty impressive; 38 degrees approach and 40 degrees departure.

Another feature that is a saviour whilst off-roading in the new Defender is ClearSight Ground View, which displays a clear view of the front underside of the vehicle on the 10-inch central touchscreen, helping you know exactly how to place the vehicle's wheels.


Defender Comparison Electronically Deployable Tow Bar on New Defender Meridian Sound System New Defender New Defender Land Rover
Defender Comparison Electronically Deployable Tow Bar on New Defender Meridian Sound System New Defender New Defender Land Rover

Moving on to a point that is equally as important as off-roading capability, the design.

Land Rover have been very clever when designing the new Defender as they have modernised it so drivers can experience the luxury that is offered with a Land Rover SUV, yet they have managed to retain the iconic boxy proportions, making several nods to the old version's heritage.

In fact, all over the new Defender you will notice some classic design cues such as the spare wheel positioned on the tailgate, rounded headlights and there are exposed screws featuring throughout the interior, which are intentional and really add to the overall design.

Despite retaining some of its original looks there are plenty of modern features that make the vehicle easier to live with on a daily basis such as the soft-close tailgate, keyless entry and the electronically deployable tow bar.

Step inside the cabin and, no disrespect to the older Defender, you will be pleasantly surprised to find a much comfier seating position. There is room for your elbow without banging your funny bone on the door and you have plenty of technology and entertainment including a Meridian™ sound system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, heated seats and even a heated steering wheel.


Defender 90 Boot Defender Boot
Defender 90 Boot Defender Boot

Now, this section is difficult as we are comparing a commercial model with a passenger model so the winner of practicality depends on the job the vehicle is going to be doing.

If you are wanting the vehicle to ferry around passengers the new 90 happens to have the option of six seats. As this particular model is a First Edition, it does indeed have the extra jump seat in the front of the car.

The boot is relatively small so if you need to carry pushchairs or multiple dogs you would be better suited to the 110 with a massive loadspace of 857 litres. Thanks to air suspension, you can also lower the car using a button inside the boot to make loading and un-loading cumbersome items much easier.

Alternatively, if you are looking for a farm vehicle to lug around bags of corn and haybales the old version is triumphant on practicality in this comparison. Although, as aforementioned, there are 90 and 110 Hard Top models available that offer the same levels of practicality in terms of cargo space.


New Defender Driving New Defender Engine Defender Braking Defender Engine
New Defender Driving New Defender Engine Defender Braking Defender Engine

Both vehicles in this comparison are powered by a turbocharged diesel engine, however, they are quite different in terms of performance.

Powering the old model is the Puma/DuraTorq TDCI 2.4-litre 4-cylinder turbo diesel engine, which is actually a Ford engine (Land Rover were owned by Ford at the time of production). This engine had already proven itself in the Ford Transit so after an upgrade of lubrication and sealing it was used in the Defender and was ready to deal with extreme off-roading.

With a power output of 120bhp and 265lb ft of torque, this engine was one of the quietest engines to be used in a Defender. The engine is mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox and anti-stall was significantly improved, allowing the Defender to crawl over most terrains forwards or backwards without any acceleration from the driver.

The new Defender relies on the D250, which is a 3.0-litre 6-cylinder turbo diesel engine with mild hybrid (MHEV) technology. This engine is torquey, smooth and refined producing a total power output of 246bhp and 420lb ft of torque. It feels powerful and the MHEV assistance provides a noticeable boost when accelerating, meanwhile the grumbling sound is very satisfying to hear when picking up speed.


Pivi Pro Infotainment Defender Controls
Pivi Pro Infotainment Defender Controls

This section is where the vehicles are worlds apart. Comparing the infotainment systems is actually a little difficult as we are not sure you can really refer to the older model as having an infotainment system. On that basis we will start by covering what is on offer in the 2008 Defender.

The interior of the earlier model is pretty basic. As this is a County model, you do get access to a radio, AM or FM, as well as a CD player. That is pretty much it for in-car entertainment. There are some convenience features such as manual climate control, an analogue clock and a cigar lighter. You can also control the electric windows and lights from the central controls.

Now over to the new Defender, where do we start? The infotainment system is Land Rover's Pivi Pro, in this specification you also get an interactive driver display, both are simple to navigate.

Thanks to Apple Play and Android Auto you can seamlessly connect your smartphone, whilst being able to access useful features such as deploying the electronic tow bar, a 3D surround camera, a 360 degree parking aid and plenty of high-tech driver assistance systems that will enable complete novices to off-road like a professional.


New Defender Seats Defender Seats
New Defender Seats Defender Seats

Relax in 12-way heated, electric memory grained leather and Robust Woven Textile front seats with 2-way manual headrests, take hold of the heated leather steering wheel and enjoy the sounds of the music through the Meridian sound system. We are of course talking about driving the new Land Rover Defender 90 First Edition.

Even in the back of the 3-door vehicle, there is plenty of head and legroom for a 6ft adult to enjoy a long-distance journey on or off-road.

The quirky folding fabric roof adds to the overall comfort with plenty of fresh air and open-top views for all occupants.

Comfort has never been the key focus of the utilitarian off-roader until the modernised version was released at the end of 2019. Take a look at the 2008 Defender and it has plenty of character and ability but it does lack in comfort and convenience.

Seating position is very upright and you are likely to bash your elbow on the door when driving. Luxuries such as heated seats are actually available in some of the higher-specification models. The dashboard is also very upright and not at all ergonomic like the new Defender, however, some Land Rover enthusiasts really appreciate this unique driving position.

Is the new Defender better than the old?

That is for you to decide!

We are fans of both the old and new Defender for different reasons, but it is clear to see that, despite some doubts, the new Defender is even more capable than its predecessor when it comes to off-roading.

However, the new Defender is more up to the job of urban cruising and school runs than the earlier model, as you get a far more plush interior with technology to not only assist with the journey but to enhance the drive.

Safety has also been improved in the modernised vehicle as well as efficiency and performance. You can even go for the Defender P400e, which is a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) model utilising a combination of a petrol engine and an electric motor.

To really understand and appreciate the new Defender it is essential you book a test drive so you can explore the endless capabilities this iconic vehicle has to offer, please contact your nearest Stratstone Land Rover retailer to arrange this.