Very first thing I noticed upon picking it up was the keyless entry door handles. They have an actual button to press that locks and unlocks the vehicle. I didn't notice when test driving or checking them out prior to ordering because the vehicles were always unlocked already, so it didn't cross my mind. This caught me off guard because Mercedes hasn't used actual buttons there since maybe 2011 at the latest. Our stuff is all capacitive touch and actually works extremely well for that application. There's nothing wrong with actual buttons, assuming they remain water tight over time, it's just a reminder that this isn't a Benz. Just something for me to get used to.
As far as capacitive touch goes, this has literally nothing like that aside from the center screen. I love that. Capacitive touch buttons make me want to use the Defender for one of its original purposes and go to war against whatever engineer decided to put them everywhere in newer Benzes. This was a not-insignificant deciding factor in buying this, sans employee discount, versus buying a new Benz with an employee discount.
As for the interior features and controls the Defender does actually have, there are real buttons and dials on the center console for everything except media controls (minus volume, there is a rotary knob for that on the console, and a scroll wheel on the steering wheel). Driver and passenger each have physical dials for temperature controls, seat heating and cooling, blower speed; all of which cleverly utilize the same dials. They do it by having you press another button first, or the knob itself, which changes its usage. Yes, it adds an extra step, but it really de-clutters the dashboard and adds to the utilitarian feel. The terrain response system is controlled the same way, press button, rotate knob. It didn't take me long to get used to the controls, but if you don't know how it works it could definitely be frustrating. I could see somebody buying one of these and missing out on multiple features just because they were never told and never read the manual. Steering wheel has all the standard controls, again, no capacitive crap! Heated steering wheel, heated seats, and AC seats are all wonderful.
Touchscreen, its menus, Android auto, and apple carplay all work as they should and are easy to navigate/control. My biggest issue here is that the shifter slightly blocks my hand from getting to the screen, not my view of it, just my hand. But only slightly, and two days with the vehicle I was already subconsciously adjusting for it. No more problem.
One thing I really love is the interior design. It really looks and feels like a descendent, an evolution, of a classic Defender. I've spent a ton of time working on and driving the old ones on road and even off. The new one really hits the mark for me. I can see arguments for this not being a Defender because no straight axles, but after living with it, I don't care anymore. It's like arguing about whether coca-cola is still even coca-cola without cocaine. Who cares. We can't have the old anymore because the world has moved on. That doesn't mean the new isn't following the footsteps of old, that caffeine still gets me going.
I went with the upgraded meridian audio system. Which honestly, I don't love. Don't get me wrong, it sounds good and has solid bass, but for the money mid-range needs to be a lot stronger, and the equalizer controls should be more than just treble, bass, and subwoofer. A three band equalizer, plus sub, with a few preset maps should be the bare minimum at this price point. Treble is clear and bass is strong, but there's not much in between. Another thing, I can't honestly tell if this has speed compensating volume. I find myself adjusting volume a lot more than in any Benz made in the last 15 years. Road noise is at worst only a few decibels worse than my R-class. But that's to be expected, wedge versus brick, carpet interior versus no carpet, luxury family hauler versus high end off-roader. None of these things actually bother me, but they are worth mentioning in a review.
I also upgraded to premium LED headlights, which are awesome. They are perfectly aimed, the cut line almost never illuminates the interiors of other vehicles, but just up to the bottom of windows at most. Everything below that is a nice, even, bright white. Then there's the puddle lights, which I've gushed over already
I also opted to get the optional activity key, which is actually a wearable that looks like a smart watch. It even functions like a smart watch. It has a basic touchscreen display that lets you lock, unlock, and start the engine, shows date and time, and let's you put the device into a water mode that makes the screen much less sensitive and requires multiple very deliberate presses to unlock it. It is waterproof and shockproof, intended for things like rafting, kayaking, mountain biking, etc. All things I like doing. And at $200, it's cheaper than my cost on a Benz key. And trust me, standard smart keys do not like getting wet and getting a new one can be a real big hassle on some vehicles. When I checked that box on my build, the activity key was actually the old design, basically an NFC wearable that has to be activated each use and could only lock/unlock. So what I got was a pleasant surprise and much more user friendly.
On road driving is exactly what I wanted. Firm suspension, but still very comfortable, because air. Excellent handling for it's size and height, minimal body roll at speed. Excellent power delivery (almost 400hp) and smooth throttle response. Well, mostly smooth. This is the P400 inline 6 cylinder 48v mild hybrid. Things like this, just by their nature, sometimes feel a little jerky when transitioning between engine acceleration, electric motor power, deceleration, and regen. Benz and others have this problem as well. I only notice it when stuck in heavy traffic below 10mph, and it really isn't bad. I've mostly just been commuting in it, in nasty traffic, but averaging 20mpg is a huge improvement over what the R--class gets in the same conditions, which is about 13-14mpg, at an average speed of 15-20mph.
And now for the fun part! On Saturday we went hiking. Easy, right? Well this is the description of the road leading up to the trailhead: "Both options finish with 2.6 miles on Forest Road 4109, which is extremely rutted and rough, with deep potholes and trenches, and getting worse every year. High clearance is required and 4WD is STRONGLY recommended."
No it isn't actually off-roading, but I'm working my way up so I don't dive in too deep and get in trouble. The being said, my R-class would have had a very hard time making it up this without taking severe damage. I would not have attempted it on my old Monster either, which is saying something I think. I will do this road again on the Honda (or Desert X), but only if I'm not alone. There were deep washouts and ruts, steep approach and departure angles, mud, snow, and loose gravel.
The Defender only lost traction for a microsecond one time when some gravel slipped under a rear tire. At one point I had to pull off track to let a another vehicle get by, and at that point scraped under the front slightly on a gravel pile. No damage done though. There was also an optional water crossing that I tried on the way back down. Unfortunately I forgot to turn on wade sensing prior to going through, but if I had to guess, I would say it was 18-20" at its deepest point, and VERY soft ground under all that water. But not even that slowed the truck down. I got nervous at the water depth, and didn't want to stop to fiddle with turning on wade sensing, but the truck just politely thanked me for not just parking it with one wheel on a curb at the mall, and continued on its way.
The ride quality off-road is next level. Better than anything else I've been in. Raised height mode gets a little stiffer and bouncier, but it's still excellent. Old Defenders beat you up and exhaust you. This doesn't. It's basically cheating. It's almost too easy. That could end up getting me in trouble at point!
Others have complained about the P400 having too touchy a throttle for off-roading. I think they're full of it. It was very controllable in comfort mode, and only got better when choosing the correct terrain response setting. That being said, those complaints were all early 2020's, first year, mine is 2022. LR may have fixed that issue, if it ever really existed.
Unfortunately I was having too much fun to get out and take more pictures, but these snowy shots are nowhere near the worst of it and don't even do those exact spots justice.
I had been thinking about a custom plate that says "disco 5" because at first it seems a better successor to the disco line than to the Defender line, and certainly more so than the giant mind-boggling design choice that is the actual D5. But as I said earlier, after living with it, I don't care anymore. It would be an insult to this truck's abilities and conscientious design. And quite frankly, this will wipe the floor with all but the most heavily modified old Defenders, in every category. This is better.