New car review

Land Rover Defender 90 test drive

The classically styled, three-door Defender 90 is a reborn icon worthy of its name

The reinvention of the Land Rover Defender was a massive moment for the brand. One of its most iconic models has been reborn, but had to appeal to a new urban audience while also staying true to its roots.

Available in two body shapes – the short-wheelbase 90 and long-wheelbase 110 – we’ve already driven the latter, and it’s fair to say the brief has been nailed. It looks great, drives well on the road and can handle any terrain. Now, we’re trying the shorter, smaller version – does it have the same magic?

What’s new?

This is the three-door version of a totally updated model, with Land Rover claiming its platform is 95% new compared with anything else in the range. It’s made from lightweight materials and has been upgraded to make it more capable off road.

With the latest version of Terrain Response, which adapts the car’s settings for the surface that’s being driven on, off-road pros can tweak settings to their own preference, while the new Pivi Pro infotainment system is also present.

How does it look?

While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, we don’t think many will disagree that the Land Rover has got the Defender’s styling spot on. It evokes memories of the old one while looking fresh and new. SUVs generally struggle to stand out from one another but this one has genuine character.

There are also packs available that can alter the exterior to make it better-suited to city life or give you accessories for off-roading. For example, the Explorer Pack adds a roof rack, side panniers and a raised air intake.

And while the five-door 110 might be more practical for family life, the three-door 90 has a real charm that comes from being a tall but short 4×4. In an age of identikit crossovers, it’s certainly welcome.

What’s the spec like?

Prices for the Defender 90 start at £43,625, which gives you coil suspension, Terrain Response, LED headlights and tail lights, and 19-inch wheels. Inside there’s a leather steering wheel, climate control, cruise control, 3D cameras and a ten-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Step up to the X-Dynamic from £50,640, and extra equipment includes silver styling parts, 19-inch alloy wheels with a different design, heated front seats and leather upholstery. The First Edition starts at £55,735 and adds air suspension, folding fabric roof, fog lights, 20-inch alloy wheels, and a Meridian Sound System. Finally the X gets more advanced Terrain Response, sliding panoramic roof and an extended leather upgrade.

Finally, four packs add extra equipment that could be useful for how you use the vehicle. These are the Explorer Pack, Adventure Pack, Country Pack and Urban Pack, with extras including cargo panniers, a side ladder, and extra protection.

What’s it like inside?

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While the driving experience gives little concession to its off-road prowess, there are some on the inside. For the most part, there are high-quality materials and it feels brilliantly put together, while the newest Pivi Pro infotainment system is great to use.

The overall ambience is one of simplicity, though, because it’s also supposed to appeal to those who’ll get it muddy, meaning it’s not quite on the same level of design as similarly-priced rivals from Audi or BMW.

The Defender 90 specifically is slightly smaller inside on account of that shorter wheelbase. The main concern here is the fact that the 110 has a five-plus-two seating arrangement, while the 90 can seat six.

What’s under the bonnet?

There are currently two diesel and two petrol engines available, with today’s test drive sampling both the petrols. The two diesels are 3.0-litre mild hybrid units that make about 200 and 250hp each. Meanwhile the P300 petrol performed valiantly on the off road courses, with the 2.0-litre unit pulling the Defender up near-impossible terrain.

We only tested the P400 on the road. It’s a 3.0-litre six-cylinder unit making almost 400bhp and 550Nm of torque. With a 0-60mph time of 5.7 seconds it’s clearly no slouch, but it doesn’t feel particularly well-suited to the Defender driving experience. The lazier diesels feel much more appropriate.

What’s it like to drive?

With this being a short-wheelbase, tall-sided 4×4 that’s excellent off-road, it shouldn’t be particularly good on the road, but it is. Whether you’re on city streets or out on the motorway, the Defender is composed and comfortable. With the 90 being quite short, it’s pretty easy to thread through busy traffic, too.

However, it comes alive when you take it off the beaten track. During our test drive, we journeyed through some pretty gnarly off-road tracks that had been made all the more treacherous by a week of rain. The Defender barely hesitated, with the only troubles generally caused by its inept driver.

The fact it was just as happy cruising down the motorway as it was clawing itself out of a muddy plunge pool is mighty impressive.

Verdict

We were big fans of the Defender 110 at launch, and unsurprisingly, the 90 is no different. It’s fantastically comfortable on the road and ridiculously capable off road. It’s a little less practical than the 110, but if you’re not always popping kids in the back seats the extra charm of the three-door’s styling could make it a winner.

The Defender range (both 90 and 110) currently holds a rating of 90% on The Car Expert’s unique Expert Rating index, based on 29 UK reviews at time of writing. This is one of the highest scores around, especially if you exclude exotica costing well over £100K, which shows how highly that the UK motoring media rates the new Defender.

Despite the easy-to-clean mats and surfaces, it feels a little too posh to be a true workhorse, but if you’re in the market for a car that feels like it can do everything while you sit in comfort, the Land Rover Defender 90 is a winner.

Similar cars

Jeep Wrangler | Mercedes-Benz G-Class | Toyota Land Cruiser

Key specifications

Model as tested: Land Rover Defender 90 X P400
Price: £77,400
Engine: 3.0-litre petrol
Gearbox: Eight-speed automatic

Power: 400 hp
Torque: 550 Nm
Top speed: 130 mph
0-60mph: 5.7 seconds

Fuel economy (combined): 25.5 mpg
CO2 emissions: 252 g/km
Euro NCAP safety rating: Not yet tested (as of November 2020)
TCE Expert Rating: 90% (as of November 2020)

Darren Cassey
Darren Cassey
Articles by Darren Cassey are provided for The Car Expert by PA Media (formerly the Press Association). They include test drives of the latest new cars and features on various aspects of automotive life.

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