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Replacing a much-loved mud-plugging design classic that was well-past its use-by date is one thing, but following it up with an innovative, refined, spacious and easy do-anything/go-anywhere SUV wagon with striking design is quite the achievement. If you option it up smartly, the 90 can be all things to all people – not just for ones away from the city.
In the esteemed words of one Dannii Minogue, THIS is it! This is where Land Rover’s New Defender truly faces the music. This is the long-awaited, much-anticipated, short-wheelbase ‘90’ three-door wagon.
Arriving nearly a year after the 110 5-door wagon launched, the 90 is the true style icon of the New Defender range. More so than other Land Rovers like the Range Rovers, Discovery and Evoque, the 90 is the one with a direct lineage to the 1948 80-inch wheelbase 2-door original.
But is this a case of style over substance as well as sentimentality over common sense? The answer may really surprise you.
Let’s get the toughest part out of the way first. The Defender 90’s pricing is not for the faint hearted. The most basic model starts from $74,516 before on-road costs, and it isn’t exactly heaving with standard equipment, though all essentials are present. Even its steering wheel is plastic.
Referring to the historical size of the short-wheelbase model (in inches), the 90 is split into eight models and five engines, as well as six trims.
Here’s the pricing breakdown, and all are before on-road costs – and listen up, because this can get confusing as the Defender is the most multi-configurable LR ever made! Strap in, folks!
Only the base P300 petrol and its slightly more expensive D200 diesel counterpart from $74,516 and $81,166 respectively come in the standard trim, officially known simply as ‘Defender 90’.
These include keyless entry, a “walk-through” cabin (thanks to the gap between the front seats), active cruise control, dual-zone climate control, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, digital radio, a 10-inch touchscreen screen with LR’s advanced Pivo Pro multimedia system offering over-the-air updates, surround-view camera, heated folding door mirrors, semi-electric front seats, LED headlights, rear parking sensors, 18-inch wheels and all the most important safety features, which I’ll cover in detail in the Safety chapter.
For an $80K+ luxury-branded SUV, it’s pretty basic, but then again, it has proper go-anywhere 4WD capabilities. More on that later.
Next up is the ‘S’, and it’s only available in P300 from $83,346 and D250 from $90,326. ‘S’ ushers in colour-coded exterior trim, leather upholstery (including the steering wheel rim – finally!), digitised instrumentation, a front centre console, 40:20:40 split-fold rear seats with armrest and 19-inch alloys! Oh, the luxury!
The SE breaches the $100K mark by some $326, and is only available with the P400, meaning a 3.0-litre in-line turbo six-cylinder petrol engine, Matrix LED headlights, fancy ambient cabin lighting, better leather, fully-electric front seats with driver-side memory, a 10-speaker 400W audio upgrade and 20-inch alloys.
Meanwhile, the luxurious P400 XS Edition from $110,516 lives up to its implied name with body-coloured exterior bits, panoramic sunroof, privacy glass, even more-trick Matrix headlights, a small refrigerator, ‘ClearSight’ rear-view camera-mirror (normally a $1274 option elsewhere), cooled as well as heated front seats, wireless smartphone charging and electronic air suspension with adaptive dampers that absolutely smother the road for a lush ride. At $1309, this is an essential option in lesser grades.
For more focused off-road adventures, there’s the P400 X from $141,356, bringing a few more 4x4-related items as well as goodies like an instrumentation heads-up display and 700W surround-sound audio.
Finally – for the time being – the $210,716 P525 V8 is like the full-on mini-Range Rover experience distilled in the Defender 90 package. Along with 240km/h supercharged V8 thrust, it boasts unique exterior accents, blacked-out trim, higher-grade leather, 22-inch wheels and even an ‘Activity Key’ wearable watch that allows for surfers, swimmers, and others who regularly face extreme conditions to literally wear their key via a watch-like strap-on device. Normally it’s a $910 extra.
Note there are four accessory packs available that bunch together themed options, called Explorer, Adventure, Country and Urban. With over 170 individual accessories, a favourite is the folding fabric roof for just under $5K extra, adding a bit of old-school Citroen 2CV chic to the Defender.
Metallic paint adds between $2060 and $3100 to the bottom line, while choosing a black or white contrasting roof is another $2171. Ouch!
So, does the Defender 90 represent good value? Off-road capability-wise, it’s right up there with large 4x4 icons like the Toyota LandCruiser and Nissan Patrol, but both are body-on-frame in construction rather than monocoque-bodied as per the Brit, so aren’t quite as adept dynamically (or for refinement) on-road. Plus, these are packaged as Defender 110 wagon rivals, with no competitor anywhere matching the Land Rover’s three-door shape. The Jeep Wrangler you say? That’s much more utilitarian. And not a monocoque.
Literally and metaphorically, the Defender 90 stands alone.
This is a case of engineering helping shape design because the old one was legislated out of existence.
Blunt yet comparatively aerodynamic (with a Cd from 0.38), the L663 Discovery 90 is a clean, post-modern interpretation of a legendary style that works because it only retains themes rather than outright details of the original. In that regard, there are also parallels with the first Discovery of 1990.
The design is beautifully balanced and proportioned. Clean, spare and like nothing else on the road, it looks even better in real life. The 4.3-metre length is properly compact (though with the mandatory spare, that jumps to nearly 4.6m), offset nicely by a wide 2.0m girth (mirrors in; it’s 2.1m with them out) and 2.0m height, providing pleasing proportions. Fun fact: that 2587mm wheelbase (down from 3022mm in the 110) means – in imperial measurement – the Defender 90 should actually be called the ‘101.9’, as that’s its length in inches.
Built on the D7x platform that is “an extreme version” of what’s found in the Range Rover, Range Rover Sport and Discovery, the Defender is most closely related to the latter, with both being assembled at the same new factory in Slovakia.
But Land Rover claims that 95 per cent of the Defender is new, and while its styling is meant to evoke the classic models built over three distinct generations until 2016, the fact is, they are nothing alike.
For many fans, the move to a monocoque construction is probably the biggest departure for the Defender. And while it is bigger in every dimension than before, Land Rover says technology has actually improved the icon 4x4’s off-road prowess. For example, the all-aluminium body is said to be thrice as stiff compared to a typical body-on-frame 4WD. Suspension is independent all round (double wishbones up front, integral links out back) with rack-and-pinion steering.
Key points to keep in mind is that ground clearance is 225mm, rising to 291mm if necessary with the optional air suspension; and minimal overhangs bring exceptional all-terrain capability. Approach angle is 31 degrees, ramp angle is 25 degrees and departure angle is 38 degrees.
And, let’s face it. Everything about the way the LR looks screams adventure. Design well done.
Here’s how we see it.
If you want space and practicality for a family, stretch a little to the 110 wagon. It has the access, room and cargo capacity that the 90 cannot hope to match. That’s obvious just by looking at it.
With that in mind, the Defender 90 is after a different type of buyer – ones that are wealthy, urban yet adventurous, and where size matters. Compact is king.
Clamber up and inside, and several things strike you at once – and don’t worry, it’s not badly packaged cabin trim. The doors are hefty; the seating is high; the driving position is grandstand-level commanding, aided by a disarmingly large steering wheel and stubby dash-mounted lever; and there’s a great deal of room – including at last space for elbows without having to lower the window.
The Defender interior’s aroma is expensive, the vision out expansive, rubber floors and wipe-down cloth seating refreshing and the sparse symmetry of the solid dashboard timeless. Land Rover calls it ‘reductionist’ thinking. No other new 4x4 on the planet hits these markers.
Despite its base status, the instrumentation – a combination of digital and analogue – is handsome and informative; the climate-control system simple; the fittings and switchgear are of a sturdy quality and the 10-inch touchscreen set-up (dubbed Pivo Pro) instant, intuitive and easy on the eye. From multimedia also-rans to front-runners, well done, Jaguar Land Rover.
The front seats are firm yet enveloping, with electric rake adjustment but manual fore-aft control, which is a boon for fast seat sliding to access the back seat via a bordering-on-too-narrow gap. It’s a squeeze, even for skinny people.
Storage is sufficient rather than outstanding, with our $1853-optional Jump Seat providing additional Big Gulp-sized cupholders and a quartet of charging outlets behind when the back side of the backrest is folded down instead of erect (at a fixed angle). This is a well-padded and reasonably comfy but narrow seat; and though it is set even higher than the outboard buckets, it requires users to straddle the lower console in a slightly awkward manner.
But the fact the Jump Seat provides a three-birth front row utterly makes the Defender 90’s case for consideration. It’s easier to slide across there rather than clamber out back, and great for dogs who wish to be as close to their human loved ones as possible, and – well – would be a boon at a drive-in.
A word of warning, however: you might need to $1274 extra for that video rear-view mirror, because the centre seat’s tombstone silhouette all but blocks the driver’s rear vision.
That all said, the rear seating area does offer more practicality than the Defender 90’s compact dimensions suggest.
Getting in and out is always going to be harder, and there’s not much space between the front seat and post, you it’s a case of squeezing past. At least the latch is mounted high and is a one-tug movement.
The big surprise, though, is that there’s sufficient space for most people. Lots of leg, knee, head and shoulder room; three can fit fairly comfortably; and while the cushion is firm and the cloth material a tad coarse, there’s enough support and cushioning. No folding centre armrest is cheeky in an $80K machine, the side windows are fixed and there is a lot of monochromatic rubber and plastic back there, but at least you’ll get to enjoy directional air vents, USB and charging ports and even somewhere to put your cups (by your ankles). No map pockets is a bit too tight, though, Land Rover.
I also really dig the skylights – very early Discovery – and the sturdy grab handles, which add to the airy and glassy feel back here. This is a genuine three-seater back here.
But there’s a price to pay for all this back-seat space, and that is a compromised cargo area. From floor to waistline it’s 240 litres or just 397L to the ceiling. And if you fold these seats down, the uneven floor boosts that to 1563L. The floor is rubberised and so hardy, while the kerbside opening door reveals a big square aperture to easily load stuff through.
Here’s the thing. If you opt for that $1853 Jump Seat, it turns this into a unique three-seater wagon or panel van, adding a surprising degree of unique practicality.
Under the bonnet, there are no less than five engine choices – and unlike in classic Defenders of all – they’re not old and rattly diesels either, but instead (like the body) state-of-the-art.
Petrol-powered Defenders first.
The 90 we’re driving, the P300, might be the cheapest, but it isn’t the slowest. Using a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo, there’s a decent 221kW of power at 5500rpm and 400Nm of torque from 1500-4500rpm. It’s enough for the 90 to scoot to 100km/h in 7.1 seconds despite weighing in at almost 2.2 tonnes. Not bad at all.
The P400, meanwhile, uses an all-new 294kW/550Nm 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder engine. This needs just 6.0s to hit the 100km/h marker.
But if you really want to throw down the performance gauntlet, then it has to be the P525 - a thundering 386kW/625Nn 5.0L supercharged V8, that streaks past 100km/h in only 5.2s. Heady stuff…
On the turbo-diesel front, things quieten down again. Also coming in at 3.0-litres in either 147kW/500Nm D200 or gutsier 183kW/570Nm D250 tune, the former needs 9.8 seconds to 100, while the latter slashes that to a much-more respectable 8.0s flat. That alone probably justifies the $9200 premium.
All engines drive all four wheels via an eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission.
Speaking of 4WD, the Defender features a twin-speed transfer box with high and low range. Land Rover’s latest Terrain Response is also available, which varies accelerator response, differential control and traction sensitivity according to conditions such as wading through water, crawling over rocks, and driving in mud, sand or snow as well as on grass or gravel.
Note that towing capacity is 750kg unbraked and 3500kg braked.
According to the official combined fuel figures, the P300 averages a disappointing 10.1L/100km, for a carbon dioxide emissions rating of 235 grams per kilometre.
Superior economy is promised by the diesels, with both the D200 and D250 recording 7.9L/100km, for a CO₂ emissions result of 207g/km. This is aided by mild-hybrid technology, which helps store wasted brake energy into a special battery to help save fuel.
Things get worse again with the P400’s 9.9L/100km (230g/km), though it must be pointed out that this is also a mild hybrid and so is slightly better than its smaller and less powerful P300 sibling.
Predictably, worst of the lot is the V8, with its 12.8L/100km thirst (290g/km). No shocks here…
Note that over a few hundred kilometres, our P300 sat on about 12L/100km, and much of that was on rural roads - so there’s definitely room for improvement there. Also, keep in mind, using the official 10.1L/100km figure, and with a 90L tank in tow, there's a handy theoretical range of almost 900km between refills.
Of course, all petrol Defenders prefer to gulp down premium unleaded.
The only crash-test rating relevant to Australia for the Defender is the 110 wagon’s five-star result, obtained in 2020. Which means there isn’t a specific one for the Defender 90, but Land Rover states the shorter version retains the same status.
It does get six airbags – dual front and side airbags, plus curtain airbags that cover both rows to provide protection for outboard occupants.
All versions also include Autonomous Emergency Braking (that works from 5km/h to 130km/h) with pedestrian and cyclist recognition, as well as active cruise control, traffic sign recognition that will alert you if the speed limit changes, rear cross-traffic alert, lane guidance, blind-spot alert, a surround view camera, forward traffic detention, forward vehicle guidance, rear traffic monitor, seatbelt reminders, a clear exit monitor (great for not dooring cyclists), anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist and traction control.
The S gains auto automatic high beams, while the SE, XS Edition, X and V8 score matrix headlights. Both dramatically improve driving security in low-light conditions.
A trio of child seat tether latches are provided behind the rear seatbacks, while a pair of ISOFIX fittings are located at the base of the outboard rear cushions.
5 years / unlimited km warranty
ANCAP Safety Rating
Nowadays, all Land Rovers come with a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty and roadside assistance. While that is standard stuff with the mainstream brands, it matches Mercedes-Benz's efforts and so is ahead of the paltry three-year guarantees offered by premium marques like Audi and BMW.
While capped price servicing is not available, a pre-paid service plan lasting for five years/102,000km maximum costing between $1950 and $2650 depending on engine, topping out from $3750 for the V8.
Service intervals are driving and condition based, with a service indicator on the dashboard as per most BMWs; but we recommend a trip to the dealer every 12 months or 15,000km.
Though the cheapest Defender 90 and the only one with a four-cylinder engine, the P300 – the only example provided to us by Land Rover for the Australian launch at this time – is certainly neither slow nor unrefined.
Acceleration is brisk right from step off, with speed building up quickly and really kicking in strongly as revs rise higher. If you’re willing to use the Sport mode, the slick-shifting eight-speed torque-converter auto is equally smooth and responsive. This really is a lusty, muscular engine, and does an exceptional job keeping the 2.2-tonne P300 moving.
Most people should find the Defender 90’s steering equally welcome and amendable. It’s effortless and easy around town, with an awesomely tight turning circle and a fluidity to the way it glides about. No issues in this environment at all.
However, the steering can feel a little too light at higher speeds, with a remoteness that might be disconcerting for some. In moderately tight turns, the helm and obvious shifting of weight on the coil springs can bring on a ponderous and even top-heavy feel at speed.
Get past that feeling though and, actually, the Defender 90 is mostly reassuringly planted and secure in such conditions, and is ably assisted by driver-assist safety tech that is constantly monitoring where and when to cut or redistribute power to whatever wheel needs it to ensure the Land Rover tracks true. And once you're familiar with the P300's dynamic characteristics, you'll start to feel at home hoofing it along at a pace.
Along with the ESC and traction controls' eagerness to intervene good and early, the brakes are also primed, to work hard to wash speed away quickly and without drama or fade. Again, there's a sense of solid, quality engineering going on underneath.
And it's well worth remembering if you are an owner of the traditional old Defender: as the 90 P300 demonstrates, the L633's dynamics are a thousand times better than any preceding production iteration.
Lastly but not at all least, we’re impressed with the coil suspension and 255/70R18 rubber (wearing Wrangler A/T all-terrain tyres) that sheathe those fabulous steel wheels. The ride quality is firm but not unyielding and never harsh, with ample absorption, as well as isolation from bigger bumps and road noise, betraying the posh Range Rover genes that lurk within.
Again, that’s something you could never say about the old Defender. And quite remarkable too, given that this is the 90 SWB on tough tyres.
The competent performance and flexibility of its drivetrain, combined with good driver and cabin comfort, makes the latest E6 70C single cab-chassis a quality competitor in its weight division. With a long menu of engines, transmissions, wheelbases, chassis lengths, GVM/GCM ratings and factory options, a prospective owner should be able to choose a combination tailored to their specific requirements.
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