Test Drive: Land Rover Defender Handles Treacherous Terrain

It’s one thing to win a Land Rover Defender 130, it’s another to learn how to use it.

That’s why the brand brings the winners of the Defender Service Awards to Asheville, North Carolina each February. After the customized vehicles are unveiled, the winners get a hands-on lesson in driving over an extremely demanding off-road course via the Land Rover Experience on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate. 

The purpose-driven course features ascents, descents, side tilts and challenging terrain, along with guidance from expert instructors. It is open to the public, and a full-day experience runs around $1,500. The automaker also has courses in Vermont and California. Owner’s Days experiences are offered throughout the year for $450. 

The automaker partners with Chase, Warner Bros. Discovery, Animal Planet, ei3, Pelican, Hearts & Science and Outside Interactive for the event, now in its third year.  Besides the vehicle, the six U.S. and Canada nonprofits winners also receive $25,000. 

A total of $395,000 was awarded to winners and finalists during the 2023 Defender Service Awards. As a presenting partner, Chase awarded $150,000 to the 30 category finalists. An additional $75,000 was awarded by the premier sponsor, Warner Bros. Discovery. 

Joe Eberhardt, president and CEO of JLR North America, personally hands over the vehicles each year.

He said the Defender is one of the most iconic vehicles in history. 

“I would say there's probably three cars that every person can name,” he said at the award event. “One is probably a Porsche 911, my other favorite car. And the Defender certainly is right up there. Everybody knows, recognizes what that vehicle is when they see it.”

But the Defender brand is also about its role in society -- which is what makes it a different vehicle, Eberhard said.

“Defender was always there to serve, whether it was in the military, whether it was in law enforcement, or whether it was just in community service,” he said. 

The automaker received over 2,200 entries this year. The winners and their category were: Manitoba Underdogs Rescue (Animal, Wildlife & Marine Mammal Welfare Award); Kairos Adventures (Community Service Award); Youth Sports Alliance (Outdoor Accessibility & Education Award); Squamish Search & Rescue Society (Search, Rescue & Emergency Services Award); Honour House Society (Veterans & Civil Servant Outreach Award) and Charleston Animal Society (Defender Service Awards Honoree Award). 

The winners were announced at Destination Defender, a weekend adventure festival that is open to the public and features activities such as off-roading courses, live musical performances, heritage displays of the vehicle and fitness challenges. 

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