The Defender is an iconic nameplate steeped in Land Rover history. But the thought of bringing this moniker back must have been a complicated decision to take. On one hand, Mercedes is laughing all the way to the bank with its new G Wagen. While on the otherhand, purists will no doubt bemoan the Defender becoming “another” luxury SUV.
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A fine line had to be drawn. And the new Defender just about manages to do that, being faithful to the values which the old Defender championed. That while embracing all the luxury attributes normally associated with a Range Rover. The previous Defender was a utilitarian workhorse with oodles of charm but nothing more. The new one has Land Rover throwing in the kitchen sink when it comes to technology. But the path it chooses to take is still similar to its illustrious predecessor.
Land Rover Defender 90: It looks even better with its shorter proportions
Especially the Defender 90, which is the three-door version and the true successor to the previous 90. Unlike the more practical 110, the 90 is even better off-road and more nimble, unless you really need more space. To our eyes, the Defender 90 looks even better with its shorter proportions accentuating those comically large wheel arches and short overhangs.
It looks like a large size matchbox toy car and is a brilliant example of how a modern design is infused with seemingly incessant retro touches. The exposed structural elements and fixings bring sense of purpose to the design in being ruthlessly functional. There is an inherent beauty in that. No matter where you go, the Defender 90 looks just right, whether it’s tucked away at a street corner or climbing a mountain at some far corner of the earth.
Inside, it is just as special as the exterior albeit with same approach, a minimalistic philosophy. Unlike other SUVs, the interior is not plucked from a luxury sedan. There is a sense of purpose to the smallest of details lavished here. The die-cast magnesium alloy beam is supported by two massive grab handles which run across the cabin. Elsewhere, partially exposed painted doors, rubberized flooring and padded waist rails are all given here to make life easier while off-roading.
And the engine?
Even the switches are big enough to be operated by gloves. That’s an indication of its off-road pretensions. The 90 gets a smaller rear cabin but space is surprisingly good. However the fact that egress and ingress is not exactly an elegant affair. The equipment list matches that of the bigger 110 with everything including a nifty touch screen and OTA map updates plus a premium audio system, and more.
Alongside a selection of power trains including a gloriously self indulgent V8, our test car had the more sensible 2.0-litre turbo petrol unit. That sort of explains how brilliantly the Defender 90 slips into the role of a comfortable city car very well. With its smaller proportions, the 90 is easier to drive and the petrol engine has enough oomph for sure. The new Defender is radically different underneath. It includes a new lightweight aluminum monocoque construction.
And the price is…
What that means is that you no longer have to wrestle with the steering or put up with lazy dynamics, and it still performs off the road. The incredible suite of electronics on offer via the new Land Rover terrain response system enables you to explore the limits of the Defender without needing to call a tow truck every time.
Unless you really try to act stupid, the Defender will not get stuck anywhere no matter where you take it. The 90’s off-road potential is even better with enhanced break-over and departure angles. It also has a ridiculous wading depth of 900mm. To be honest it is you who first runs out of guts rather than the car.
With a starting price just under $60,000, the Defender 90 is a breath of fresh air amidst this avalanche of soulless crossover metal that is drifting to our side all the time. The Defender 90 takes the soul of its predecessor yet puts it at the pedestal of modernity. A proper SUV that you can enjoy driving every day. On a whim you can maybe cross rivers in it too!
What we like: The Defender 90 looks stunning while not being retro in its design philosophy. It is also supremely talented when it comes to off-road along with being a comfortable car to drive on-road.
What we don’t like: The Defender 90 lacks luggage space and entry to the rear seats is not an easy affair.
Overall: A talented SUV with bucket-loads of charm.