My personal relationship with Land Rover involves a brief six-month fling with one of their best, the “L322” full-sized Range Rover. In 2017, I was looking to move much closer to Washington, D.C.-proper than where I was living at the time, and that required (in my mind) two things – an enclosed trailer to serve as a “garage on wheels” and a large SUV to tow it. I was driving a 2011 Ford F-150 and deemed it too large for city living.
After a bit of research, I ended up with a 2010 Range Rover Supercharged. It was a fabulous vehicle, with excessive power and the aerodynamics of a pole barn. It towed my open trailer very well, but struggled significantly with the 20′ enclosed trailer I purchased later that year. So, after putting 10,000 miles on the Range Rover in six months, I traded it for a 2018 Ford F-150 and picked an apartment based on the parking garage’s clearance height.
After falling in love with that L322, I was excited when Land Rover unveiled the 2020 Defender. Being the first Defender since 1997, it seemed to be a mix of old-Defender capability and L322-era luxury, as the current “L405” Range Rover seems to have moved to more of an on-road-focused model. Called the L663, the 2020 Defender had two stand-out features in my mind – a wheelbase six inches longer than my old L322, and an even higher tow capacity of 8,201 pounds. Could this 2020 Land Rover Defender do what my 2010 Range Rover couldn’t? Could the new 2020 Land Rover Defender safely tow a small-ish enclosed trailer? The nice folks at Land Rover sent one over so I could find out the answer to that exact question.
What Is It?
The 2020 Land Rover Defender is the reboot of Land Rover’s cult classic, the “O.G.” Defender that was last sold here in 1997. While the old Defender was built as, more or less, a British version of the Jeep Wrangler, the new Defender fits in line with modern Land Rover products. Land Rover built the 2020 Defender with capability at the forefront, though every Land Rover is also positioned as a bit of a luxury vehicle, and the Defender is no exception.
The old Defender was a body on frame truck, whereas the 2020 Land Rover Defender is a unibody design (code named D7x) based loosely on the “D7u” platform that underpins the Land Rover Discovery. According to Land Rover, though, the 2020 Defender is 95% new compared to the Discovery, and is ultimately the stiffest Land Rover vehicle ever.
Suspension is independent, front and rear. Every four-door Defender 110 includes standard four-corner air suspension, which provides up to 11.5” ground clearance. Wheels are spun by a full-time all-wheel drive setup with two-speed low/high transfer case. My fully loaded “X” trim loaner had an electronically-locking rear differential, adding to its off-road chops that much more. Land Rover claims the Defender is able to go through nearly three feet of standing water, too. It is a seriously capable vehicle.
Powering my 2020 Land Rover Defender 110 was Jaguar Land Rover’s ‘Ingenium’ 3.0 liter inline six cylinder. The straight six is turbocharged alongside a 48 volt mild hybrid setup with electric supercharger and electric motor. This is very similar to what’s in the Mercedes-AMG E53 we had last year, basically helping shove the engine into the powerband and eliminating turbo lag. This forced-induction inline-six produces 395 horsepower and 405 lb ft of torque, paired to an eight-speed automatic.
Dissecting the 2020 Defender’s 8,201 Pound Tow Rating
As with any tow vehicle, stated weight capacity is but one element of “safe towing.” While Land Rover claims the 2020 Defender can pull up to 8,201 pounds of trailer, there are some compromises involved in putting so much weight out back.
Towing 8,201 pounds is only achieved by selecting the 3.0 liter six cylinder engine, for starters. Defenders with the standard 2.0 liter turbo four are still rated highly (7,716 pounds), but trust me… get the six. The Defender faces the same challenge as other European SUVs, in that it cannot handle 10% tongue weight of the maximum hitch weight. The rated maximum tongue weight of the Defender is only 771 pounds. This is important to consider before you drop that camper or enclosed car hauler on the hitch. Can you shift your load to ensure you’re not overloading the tongue?
Additionally, Land Rover states that a weight distributing hitch is not recommended. Typically, a weight distributing hitch would help transfer some tongue weight to the front axle of the tow vehicle – helpful if your rated tongue weight is low, as with the Defender. But, these hitches can also transmit quite a bit of twisting force, which is often not compatible with unibody vehicles.
Land Rover does not offer a factory trailer brake controller, but did confirm a wiring pigtail is present under the dashboard for easy installation of an aftermarket controller. Four- and seven-pin trailer connections are included out back for lighting and brake control. They’re tucked up high to preserve the Defender’s 40° departure angle, but are easily accessible regardless. I appreciated the careful design balance here, compared to the impossibly-high connections behind the bumper of the Lexus LX I tested last December.
Towing an Enclosed Trailer with the 2020 Land Rover Defender
I backed up to my trailer and almost immediately encountered a problem. The “eyes” for the trailer’s safety chains are impossibly small, far too small for the safety chain hooks on my trailer. I suspect anyone with a trailer approaching the 8,201 pound capacity of the Defender would encounter this challenge. I’m not sure if the appropriate fix is to install smaller hooks on the chains, or to have the hitch eyes drilled out to accommodate.
After studying the Defender’s hitch for a bit, I hooked up the trailer and decided to attach my safety chains, un-crossed, to the rear recovery hooks. This is an unsafe way to attach the chains and we are not recommending you do this. As such, my towing test was shorter than I’d prefer, though it still provided good first impressions of how the Defender can handle the aerodynamics of an enclosed.
While Land Rover includes wiring for a trailer brake controller, I simply plugged in my Tekonsha Prodigy RF, which goes in-line between tow vehicle and trailer to actuate the trailer brakes. It worked as well as it has on other tow vehicles, though wiring something under-dash would provide smoother low-speed trailer braking.
As for general towing behavior of the 2020 Land Rover Defender, it was competent. Crosswinds were handled better than those of my old L322 Range Rover (which was far too soft to handle them… at all) though I did get some minor, easily-controlled lateral movement once or twice. Wind wake was generally not an issue when passing large vehicles like dump trucks and box trucks. Though the air suspension “optimizes damping” on the fly, I longed for a tow mode that proactively set it to the correct damping, as I had no idea what, if anything, was being changed to handle the trailer load.
The inline-six powering my Defender offered strong power and torque delivery, aided by the turbocharger, supercharger, and electric motor. I’d likely skip the four-cylinder if towing was a priority. The eight-speed transmission shifted smartly, though response was much improved in Sport mode. There is no “tow mode” for the transmission, as with the suspension, which feels like a miss.
Land Rover has implemented some clever camera technology for the sake of towing. Using the door-mounted cameras, which traditionally work to show a 360° view of the vehicle while parking, the Defender can show live feeds of the view down both sides of the truck and trailer. The feed can stay on the center infotainment screen at any road speed, and while it’s not a mirror replacement, it’s certainly helpful as another set of eyes.
Speaking of mirrors, they were a bit narrow with an enclosed trailer or camper attached, though they’d be fine with an open trailer. Thankfully, they are shaped in a way that would allow extensions to be clipped on with ease.
Land Rover has built a supremely capable vehicle with the 2020 Defender, and it handled my enclosed trailer better than I thought it would given my experiences with the (much older) L322 Range Rover of my past. With a few improvements, I’d eagerly recommend the Defender as a tow vehicle for many folks.
As it stands today, I can’t quite recommend the Defender for owners of larger trailers given the safety concern around attaching chains. It’ll work just fine for owners of open trailers with traditionally-smaller safety chain hooks. Some minor changes to the hitch, alongside software changes to add a dedicated “tow mode,” would make the Defender an excellent option for many buyers looking to tow larger, heavier trailers with a reasonably-sized, off-road-friendly SUV.