The latest-generation Land Rover Defender has managed to impress newcomers to the brand and, more importantly, calm the rattled nerves of Landie lovers everywhere who feared the new Defender would be a shadow of its former self.
Well, thankfully for all of us, the new Defender may look all modern and sleek compared to the boxy Defenders of old, but it’s lost none of the beloved Landie spirit.
And perhaps the most appealing option in the Defender range, especially to the more adventurous off-roaders among us, is the Defender 90. It’s cheaper than its longer wheelbase Defender 110 stablemates, but just as comfortable and as capable, and, more impressively, it’s quite possibly better suited to an action-packed outdoorsy lifestyle.
Is this Defender, in fact, the pick of the pack? Read on.
A 22MY Land Rover Defender 90 S P300 in standard guise has a manufacturer suggested retail price of $87,073. (image: Glen Sullivan)
Our test vehicle, however, has a stack of options fitted so its price as tested was $95,172, excluding on-road costs. Those options were folding fabric roof ($4810), Clearsight interior rear-view mirror ($1274 ), leisure activity key ($910), electronic active differential with torque vectoring by braking ($806), cross car beam finish-white ($299), 18-inch 10-spoke style Sparkle White steel wheels (no cost option), and Pangea Green metallic paint (no cost option).
Our 90 also has an onboard air compressor in the rear cargo area, which makes it convenient to adjust tyre pressures to suit the terrain.
As standard this variant has a well-stocked features list that includes a 10.0-inch Pivi Pro touchscreen multimedia system. (image: Glen Sullivan)
So, it's pretty bloody pricey, but not as expensive as higher-specced variants in the new Defender range and because of that it retains its appeal if you’re considering one of this mob as your next off-roader.
It’s worth noting here that, in true Land Rover tradition, Defender buyers can option up their vehicle with a multitude of accessories and Packs, which include grouped accessories to suit your particular bent, i.e. Adventure, Explorer, Country or Urban.
Is there anything interesting about its design?
At first sight, the Defender has a distinctive style, shape, and presence – all complemented nicely by the Pangea Green exterior.
You have to really give credit to the designers who took on the mammoth task of rebuilding and reformatting the original beloved Defender from the ground up and bringing it well and truly into the 21st Century, while retaining the Defender’s heart and soul.
There’s no mistaking that this is an all-new rebooted version; it’s a Defender, for sure, but it’s barely recognisable as such. It has much softer edges than the previous generation and a strong modern flavour about it.
At first sight, the Defender has a distinctive style, shape, and presence. (image: Glen Sullivan)
It looks good inside and out with its sculpted grille, raised bonnet, alpine windows and side-opening tailgate.
The optional 18-inch white steel wheels, a not-so-subtle homage to past Defenders, are a nice touch.
The fact you can tailor-design your Landie with accessories and packs gives it even more appeal – but you obviously pay for that privilege.
The Defender’s monocoque body-frame is said to be three times stronger than traditional body-on-frame set-ups and that, combined with its tech-boosted or mechanical-based off-road capabilities, leave no doubt as to why this new line-up has been marketed as the toughest Land Rover ever built.
It has much softer edges than the previous generation and a strong modern flavour about it. (image: Glen Sullivan)
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
The Defender 90 S P300 has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine (producing 221kW at 5500rpm and 400Nm at 1500-4500rpm), matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission.
It has permanent all-wheel drive and a dual-range transfer case with high- and low-range 4WD. It also has a bunch of driver-assist tech aimed at making your life much easier as you traverse sand/mud/snow/water, but we’ll get stuck into that later – scroll down to ‘What's it like for touring?’ if you can’t wait.
The Defender 90 S P300 has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission. (image: Glen Sullivan)
The Defender is claimed to be able to do the 0-100km/h sprint in 7.1 seconds, and, while I never tested that claim, I can confirm that this has plenty of punch off the mark and when required to overtake on open roads.
Defenders have always had a decent rep as being real-world functional inside and nothing’s changed, except the interior is now better designed, better equipped, much more modern and much more comfortable than it ever was in the old Defenders.
The interior of our test vehicle is described as “Acorn Grained Leather and Robust Textile Seat Facings with Lunar Interior”. I don’t know what that all means but I like this Defender’s interior because it’s a pleasant and functional space.
This is an impressive blend of durable materials – rubber mats, carpet and soft-touch surfaces – and classy, classic touches, such as a Defender-stamped metal section and grab handle in front of the front passenger.
The interior is now better designed, better equipped, and much more modern and comfortable. (image: Glen Sullivan)
Storage spaces include centre console, glovebox, twin cup holders in between driver and passenger, sunglass storage, narrow door pockets, and shallow spaces here and there for all of the gear you have in your pockets.
Charge points in the front of the cabin include sites for USBs and a 12V.
Up-front and in the second row, there is plenty of room, and the seats are quite supportive and comfortable.
The second row is a 40:20:40 folding configuration with a centre armrest. Second-row passengers have air-vent controls and USB charge points in the rear of the centre console. Side windows do not open, but the distinctive Defender alpine windows either side at least allow light to stream in from above giving the space back here an open, airy feel.
The second row is a 40:20:40 folding configuration with a centre armrest. (image: Glen Sullivan)
The rear cargo area is small, offering a claimed 397 litres. With the second row folded down there is a listed 1563 litres of space available. Unfortunately, the second row does not fold anywhere near flat to the floor, which is annoying if you’re looking to pack gear in here.
The S-spec cabin has rubber flooring and rubber flooring in the rear cargo area.
The rear cargo space has a 12V plug, cargo hooks, tie-down points and a loadspace cover.
The rear cargo area is small, offering a claimed 397 litres. (image: Glen Sullivan)
With the second row folded down there is a listed 1563 litres of space available. (image: Glen Sullivan)
What's it like as a daily driver?
Prior to this test, I’d only ever driven the 110 version and always came away from the experience impressed with its sheer drivability on- and off-road. The good news is that the Defender 90 is just as good, if not better.
Firstly, let’s get some dimensions out of the way for those of you who love a good set of numbers: the 90 is 4583mm long, 2008mm wide, 1972mm high, and has a 2587mm wheelbase, making it not such a short wheelbase, especially when that length is more than 10 inches over the 90-inch mark referred to by the ‘Defender 90’ designation*. (* Thanks to my CarsGuide colleague, Mal Flynn, for reminding me of that.)
It has a listed kerb weight of 2073kg and a turning circle of 11.3m.
On the road it is nothing short of a revelation – especially considering the spine-cracking punishment that went hand in hand with driving or riding in a Defender of old.
The Defender is quiet and refined, with noise, vibration and harshness levels effectively sorted out. (image: Glen Sullivan)
The new-generation 90 is composed and very comfortable at all times.
Steering is well-balanced and this Defender always feels highly manoeuvrable.
Throttle response is smooth, and the 2.0-litre petrol’s 221kW and 400Nm is on tap whenever you need it – for a zippy standing-start or to safely overtake another vehicle on the highway.
The eight-speed automatic transmission is cluey and smooth, but the small shifter is a bit fiddly to work.
Road-holding is very impressive and there’s only ever a hint of body-roll when you get particularly energetic with it.
The Defender has a listed kerb weight of 2073kg and a turning circle of 11.3m. (image: Glen Sullivan)
The Defender is quiet and refined, with noise, vibration and harshness levels effectively sorted out. There is some wind rush around its big wing mirrors, but that noise is not intrusive.
This Defender is not equipped with the variable air suspension that some other more expensive Defender variants have, but its coil spring set-up performs well to contribute to a general sense of controlled ride and handling. Bonus: comfort levels for all inside the vehicle remain consistently high, no matter what.
A bit of a niggle: the Clearsight interior rear-view mirror, the goal of which is to mitigate the driver's compromised vision to the rear (blocked by the second-row centre head-rest and the rear-mounted spare wheel) is a nice idea but the reality is that, when you flip a mirror-mounted switch to activate it, this smart rear-view mirror depicts a slightly warped, out-of-focus version of what’s behind the Defender via a camera and, as such, tends to strain my eyes even after brief periods of use. Great in theory, less so during real use – or maybe my eyes are to blame? I’ll let you know…
On the road, the Defender is nothing short of a revelation. (image: Glen Sullivan)
What's it like for touring?
It’s very impressive; the 90 actually feels better suited to difficult 4WDing than the 110, some of which has to do with its restrained dimensions in comparison. It’s rather nimble out in the bush and a lot of fun to drive.
The new Defender offers such high levels of comfort and refinement on even the bumpiest of tracks that it’s a dramatic change.
It consistently feels strong and planted on any track, and ride and handling at speed over washed-out and chewed-up sections of dirt road is so composed, you’d never guess in a million bloody years that you were in a Defender.
And when you move into low-range territory the new Defender further cements its reputation as a real goer in the rough stuff.
The new Defender offers such high levels of comfort and refinement on even the bumpiest of tracks. (image: Glen Sullivan)
There’s ample torque from the petrol engine and during low-speed 4WDing that’s evenly applied. You also have the added bonus of a pretty decent off-road traction control system, and diff locks, which, set to auto, will activate when required.
Steering is light and responsive and that's always a welcome characteristic when moving from driving at speed on gravel tracks to slower, more technical off-roading, especially when the tracks become narrow and twisty.
This 90’s suspension – a combination of independent double wishbones and coil springs at the front, and a multi-link set-up and coil springs at the rear – works supremely well to smooth out most track-surface imperfections at all speeds.
It’s rather nimble out in the bush and a lot of fun to drive. (image: Glen Sullivan)
But there are some downsides to going without the active air suspension that is available on variants of a higher spec/price. This Defender has a listed 227mm of ground clearance and a maximum wading depth of 850mm, that’s 50mm less wading depth than a Defender equipped with the air-suspension set-up. But while this coil-sprung 90 lacks some of the off-road flexibility and wheel-stretch of its air-suspension stablemates, it does pretty well without that high-tech boost. It does, however, feel a bit more prone to belly scrapes on undulating terrain and it’s ultimately not quite as comfortably capable as Defenders equipped with active air suspension.
This is a shorter vehicle than some 4WD wagons so you’d assume its approach, ramp-over and departure angles check out and, at 31 degrees, 25 degrees, and 37.9 degrees respectively, they’re fine.
In terms of off-road tech wizardry, the 90 packs a lot in, including a comprehensive Terrain Response system (which has drive modes to suit the terrain you’re on at the time, including sand, mud, rocks etc) and the driver can use the Pivi touchscreen system, essentially the command hub, to operate and monitor most drive systems including traction control, diff locks, tyre pressure and more.
In terms of off-road tech wizardry, the 90 packs a lot in. (image: Glen Sullivan)
A slight niggle though is the fact that the driver-assist tech, especially terrain response, is so effective that it almost feels a little too clinical in its execution. Driving the Defender off-road doesn't feel anywhere near as hands-on as it did in the Defenders of old, or even as it still does in the Suzuki Jimny or Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.
Or maybe I’m just a grumpy old codger with a heartbreaking hankering for “the good old days”.
Our test vehicle was on the optional eye-catching 18-inch steel rims and Goodyear Wrangler All Terrain tyres (255/70R18 116H), which is decent enough rubber for a variety of unsealed surfaces.
In terms of towing and load-carrying ability, the Defender has a claimed maximum unbraked capacity of 750kg and a maximum braked capacity of 3500kg. Gross vehicle mass is 2910kg and gross combined mass is 6410kg.
Driving the Defender off-road doesn't feel anywhere near as hands-on as it did in the Defenders of old. (image: Glen Sullivan)
On our test, which included a lot of low-range 4WDing, we recorded fill-to-fill fuel consumption of 12.6L/100km.
The Defender has a 90-litre fuel tank so, going by that fuel-consumption figure, you can reasonably expect a driving range of approximately 665km from a full tank, but that’s after factoring in a safe-distance buffer of 50km.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?
The Defender range has the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating from testing conducted in 2020.
It has a stack of safety gear as standard and that driver-assist tech wizardry includes AEB, adaptive cruise control, driver condition monitor, blind spot assist, lane keep assist, forward traffic detection, and a 3D surround camera.
The Defender range has the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating from testing conducted in 2020. (image: Glen Sullivan)
It also has tech that comes in useful more specifically for on- and off-road tourers including the Defender's ‘transparent’ bonnet view, wade sensing, tyre pressure monitoring system, and tow hitch assist.
The Defender 90 is a very appealing prospect as a daily driver and off-road touring vehicle.
It’s refined, composed and comfortable on-road and it’s all of those things off-road, as well as more capable in the dirt than ever before.
The reboot has done wonders for the Defender, with sweeping improvements in every aspect of it – not the least of which are its now supreme levels of comforts, drive-ability and safety – and all of that has happened without sacrificing any of its spirit.
Sure, this variant misses out on some of the off-road flexibility of Defender stablemates equipped with active air suspension, but you can always option that – and more – into the mix.
Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication. Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.
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