I hope you have some eyedrops to hand, or remember to blink frequently because this is going to be a long post. :-)
I have ridden in Land Rover Defenders hundreds of times (mostly in the very back without even a seat, never mind a seatbelt) during my youth. My dad was the deputy footpaths officer for the county of Northumberland in England for about 20 years. I say "deputy", but in reality there were actually only two of them.
Still, when he retired there were 900+ applicants for his job. He got to drive and hike around northern England for months on end, annoy wealthy farmers who put up fences where they shouldn't, have a gang of burly ex-convicts build bridges and clear brush whenever he wanted them to, and have a couple of pints for lunch every day. Nice job!
Most of the time he had one of his friends drive him around in a SWB Land Rover (beer lunch, remember), so whenever I went with him on days off during the summer, I got to bounce along on the hard floor of the LR's cargo area. It was amazing how tough they made those things! They were originally military vehicles (like the Willy's) and when they became civilian... almost nothing changed. I like that!
Ever since those kinds of experiences I've been a huge Land Rover fan (see profile). The Defender is utterly unavailable in the US, except as a vastly overpriced used vehicle. Nevertheless, they look gorgeously square but the JKU isn't far off in looks.
In terms of capability, I think a Defender 90 and a Wrangler Rubicon would be an interesting comparison... that the Land Rover would definitely lose. Now, don't take that as hyperbole - I have researched the heck out of this exact question, and found many supporting details.
Exhibit 1: manufacturing. The Defender is based on a very stable, long-serving platform. Unfortunately, it is one of the few vehicles in the world that is almost
entirely made by hand. In a Rolls Royce, that's a good thing. In a Land Rover it tends to create build inconsistencies - not my typification, but that of the head of Jaguar Land Rover group in a recent article in the Telegraph article about the Defender. November or December 2011 - my mom sent me a clipping from the paper, but it should be available online: try Telegraph.co.uk
and look for the Motoring section, then try reviews and filter for Land Rover.
The funny thing is that it compared the Defender 110 to a Wrangler, declaring that the Wrangler was ideal for "A winter war in the Ardennes", but not the "Daily school run". I think they got it wrong, considering that they were comparing a diesel Defender with the diesel Wrangler that's available in the UK (I think it's a 2.4 L). We now have the 3.6 L Pentastar V6: a vastly superior engine, and one that appears in most of Chrysler's products. Tried and tested, and replicated by machines. Oh, and assembly happens here in the US - in Toledo, Ohio.
Exhibit 2: economics. Land Rovers are known as virtually indestructible workhorses - and it's true. When they work
, they are indestructible! Sadly, they are extremely unreliable - a charge that has also been levied at Jeeps. That's worth thinking about! They are both offroad vehicles, and offroad vehicles take a heck of a beating - more so than most family sedans, yet sedans and other vehicles go into creating the 'norms' that magazines and companies use to measure reliability. Personally,I have never seen a Defender break down, nor a Jeep Wrangler.
I remember one time when my family got snowed in while camping at Kielder Dam during a freak snowstorm, that the only vehicles moving on the road were Land Rovers. Everything else just broke and shut down due to the cold. My dad's Fiat suffered a broken distributor cap due to the cold. Two Land Rovers came to rescue us. LOVE those cars!
The most reliable vehicle I've ever owned was a Jeep Wrangler, and I've owned several VWs, a Pontiac, a Mercury, four Hondas, and one Jeep before this current one. Nothing else has compared to my last Jeep. OK, that's just anecdotal evidence, but every vehicle has problems, and while the difference between brands is a matter of aggregate data and an expression of probability, each vehicle is different. Nobody can say for sure (with a straight face) that you'll have a good ownership experience, or a bad one, based solely on the data. The undeniable fact is that SOMETHING will inevitably happen, and then you'll have to turn to someone to fix it. Would you rather it be someone who is using locally-sourced parts and is familiar with the vehicle (due to sales volume, rather than frequency of faults), or someone who's winging it with knock-off parts from an aftermarket supplier (remember the hand-built LRs)?
Exhibit 3: capability. A lot has been made of the offroad capabilities of both the LR Defender 90/110 and the Wrangler (especially the Rubicon edition). I think they are both pretty comparable... or t least used to be. Back in the days when you could lift up the hood of an English car and see the word "Lucas" on anything electronic, you knew you were doomed to a life of sitting on the forecourt of your local garage while they hunted down the squirrely electronic glitch that has dogged your vehicle for months... that was a good time to have simple mechanical components.
Today, life is different. Electronic is the way to go. Forget Lucas. Heck, forget Bosch. Now, we have UConnect, GPS satnav, trip computers, DVD, LCDs, MP3, 40 GB hard drives, voice recognition, Bluetooth, heated pleather seats, cruise control, automatic everything
Well, the Wrangler does. The Land Rover Defender generally still ships with crank windows and no airbags. But, at least the Def has offroad chops, right? Indeed, it does, but while it has chops, the Wrangler has entire STEAKS! Put all that electronic stuff together with ultra-high-end mechanicals, and you get the Rubi.
For example - 6-speed manual transmission (which the Federally-required sales sticker says is made in Germany - probably a ZF unit, if I had to guess: that's your MB Gelandewagen comparison), which is actually a 14-speed when you consider reverse and the low-range transfer case (a 4:1 ratio, BTW - I can't think of any other vehicle that makes a rock-crawling low-range a stock choice).
...But that's not all! Order now, and you can get this nice set of Dana 44 live axles as well
l. (sorry, being silly). Still, the hits just keep on coming - OK, Dana 44s: I've only seen one in my life, on the back end of my last Jeep Wrangler Sport. I plan on seeing two more next week (I'm putting it up on a lift at school, so I can salivate while examining all the components). They come with torque-sensing limited-slip differentials, which are pretty good, but what makes them excellent is that they can - at the push of a button
- selectively lock the front, rear, or both differentials.
... AND then you can electronically disconnect the front sway bar.
All that cool, adrenaline-flowing, heart-pumping stuff? You can't do any of that in a Land Rover. Yeah, it has good ramp break-over angles, especially over the 116" wheelbase JKU (compare to 90" or 110", hence the nomenclature), better approach angles, but worse departure angles, fording depth, HP, TQ, gear ratios, durability, towing, and comfort.
If you want the technical specs go to landrover.com/gb/en/lr/defender/
. You won't get them on the US market site.