Defender knows its clientele. For all its off-road chops, Land Rovers are show horses. They spend their time ferrying its occupants to country clubs, not ORV parks.
Roll out onto the Holly Oaks battlefield and Rover intuitively recognizes the incongruity of the task at hand.
"Um, do you really know what you're doing? I'll take it from here."
What ensues is a heavily managed trip around the grounds, the 90's electronics always present to ensure you don't get too far over your skis. For clearance over rocks Defender's air suspension rises to 11.5 inches.
The big rotary dial on the dash allows easy access to Defender's multiple modes: AUTO, GRASS/GRAVEL/SNOW, MUD, SAND, ROCK CRAWL. But no matter the mode, Defender won't let you tune the nannies off. As our friends at Car and Driver put it: "Non-defeatable stability control occasionally stifles off-roading."
The Bronco wants you to push the envelope. Four exposed tow hooks come standard — on the Rover, exposed tow hooks are optional. That tells you something.
Bronco achieves its 11.5" ride height the old-fashioned way — by slapping on huge 35-inch Goodyear Territory tires, part of a Sasquatch package that includes dual-locking differentials and performance shocks.
The heck with air suspension, these balloons with teeth not only jack up the car, they can claw up Rushmore's face. Ford encourages its drivers to play with the firepower on hand. High on the dash are buttons to turn off stability control, disconnect sway bars, turn on lockers, even toggle Turn Assist for extra-tight turning radius.
The Ford swaggered up to Holly Oaks' intimidating, snowy, slick Mt. Magna rock face. With 43-degree approach angle, lockers on and sway bar disconnected, I waltzed up Magna as easy as Gretzky stuffing a power-play goal.
The Defender struggled. Never mind its lack of suspension articulation (the Defender doesn't offer sway bar disconnect), traction control forced multiple attempts to find grip. Its 37.5-degree approach angle and 32-inch Goodyear Wrangler tires also were relatively limited.