Is bigger always better? Not if you ask the Land Rover Defender 90.
The five-door 110 has been on sale in Australia for around a year now, but no Defender range is complete without a shorty.
Enter the 90. It’s almost 700mm shorter from nose to tail than the hulking 110, and has a 435mm shorter wheelbase to make it less family friendly, and more at home on tight country lanes. Or should that be city streets?
Of course, it shouldn’t be short on ability. Under that retro-futuristic body is the same D7x (x for extreme) platform as the 110, an aluminium monocoque Land Rover says is three times stiffer than a traditional body-on-frame chassis.
There’s infinitely more electronic help than old Defender owners ever had at their disposal, designed to make the 90 more capable when the going gets tough, and a thoroughly modern cabin designed to make life more comfortable on the road.
All of which is lovely, but not necessarily enough. Mere competence doesn’t cut it for cars like the Defender, cars that need to stand tall under the weight of history and expectation.
The Defender 90 needs to be more than off-road capable or comfortable on it.
It needs to surprise and delight; to make its driver feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside, and make passers-by look on enviously.
It needs to be cool, but without trying too hard. No pressure.
The starting price for our Defender 90 P300 S is $80,390 before on-road costs, although our tester was fitted a decent list of options for a sticker price of $96,478 before on-roads.
We’ll go through what was fitted and what it gets in the next section.
Pricing for the Defender 90 kicks off at $71,500 before on-roads, and stretches to $134,690 before on-roads. A full price list is below.
- 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 P300: $71,500
- 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 D200: $78,590
- 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 P300 S: $80,390
- 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 D250 S: $87,490
- 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 D300 SE: $89,390
- 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 P400 SE: $95,290
- 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 D250 First Edition: $104,990
- 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 P400 HSE: $105,190
- 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 P400 First Edition: $106,190
- 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 D300 X: $132,590
- 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 P400 X: $134,690
All prices exclude on-road costs.
The smaller Defender 90 isn’t all that much cheaper than its bigger brother. The equivalent 110 S P300 is just $3000 more expensive than our tester before extras.
Rivals are few and far between, given it has a three-door body, off-road hardware, and an upmarket interior.
Standard kit in the Defender 90 S includes:
- 10.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system
- Satellite navigation
- Android Auto/Apple CarPlay (wired)
- DAB+ digital radio
- Proximity entry with push-button start
- Automatic LED headlights
- Adaptive high beam
- Automatic wipers
- Surround-view camera
- Adaptive cruise control
- Tyre pressure monitoring
- Hill descent control, hill launch assist
- Dual-zone climate control
- Partial leather upholstery
- Electric parking brake
- Leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter
- Digital instrument cluster
- 12-way partially powered front seats
- 19-inch alloy wheels
As is usually the case with Land Rover cars, there are more generously-outfitted SE and HSE trims available, along with an ultra-rugged X grade exclusive to the Defender.
Although they bring some nice-to-have options, realistically you could very happily drive off the lot in the Defender or Defender S and not feel short changed.
Options fitted to our tester included:
- Folding fabric roof: $4810
- Pangea Green metallic paint: $2060
- Integrated air compressor: $1504
- Clearsight digital rear-view mirror: $1274
- Wheel arch protection: $1131
- Leisure activity key: $910
- Electronic Active Differential ft. brake-based torque vectoring: $806
- Heavy duty rubber floor mats: $338
- Cross beam finished in white: $299
- 18-inch white steel wheels: $NCO
Beyond these options, you’re able to add a range of packages to the Defender and kit it out for camping, hiking, biking, and essentially everything else in between.
The Land Rover Defender 90 hasn’t officially been crash tested as yet, though the larger Defender 110 wears a five-star ANCAP safety rating based on tests conducted in 2020 by Euro NCAP.
The Defender 110 line-up received scores of 85 per cent for adult occupant protection, 88 per cent for child occupant protection, 71 per cent for vulnerable road user protection, and 76 per cent for safety assist.
All models come standard with the following safety equipment:
- Autonomous emergency braking
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Lane-keep assist
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Adaptive cruise control
- Driver attention monitoring
- Surround-view camera system
- Front/rear parking sensors
- Safe exit alert
- Traffic sign recognition
Dual frontal, front-side for the first row and side curtain airbags for both the first, second and optional third row are also standard in the 110.
Nothing has changed up front in the Defender compared to the 110, which is a very good thing.
Land Rover has loaded its off-road hero with technology, but it’s worked hard to make sure it still feels and looks like a Defender should.
It’s achingly cool, with a powder-coated structural beam where the dashboard trim would usually sit and industrial-sized grab handles that hint at its off-road ability. Even the steering wheel spokes are powder-coated.
I love that everything is either rock hard, or trimmed in leather, rubber, or some combination of the two.
The driver and passenger sit high – higher than most SUVs could ever dream of – in cushy seats trimmed partially in leather, with a driving position fit for people of all shapes and sizes.
I’ve driven a few Defenders of varying vintages; this is the first that’s ever been comfortable to sit in.
Tempting though it is to spec a three-seat front bench, the two-seat/centre console setup is more practical for day-to-day driving, with plenty of storage and a more comfortable place to rest your elbow.
Land Rover has traditionally lagged behind its rivals on the technology front, but the new Pivi Pro infotainment system flips the script. It’s brilliant.
Not only is it easy to use, it’s pretty to look at and responds in a way that will feel quick even to iPad devotees. It even supports over-the-air updates.
The digital dials are clear and easy to read, with sharp-looking maps, but they aren’t quite as easy to navigate as Audi or Mercedes-Benz options. Realistically it’s a non-issue, given most owners will set and forget.
Rear seat space is surprisingly good, given this is a two-door car on a much shorter wheelbase than the 110. Adults can fit back there without too much stress, with enough leg- and headroom to make long trips comfortable.
The sliding fabric roof of our tester does impede rear space for tall passengers somewhat. It’s also a bit noisy, which means it’s an (expensive) option we wouldn’t be ticking – a glass roof is also available.
Access isn’t too tricky, either, thanks to long doors and front seats that tilt and slide out of the way, although it’s quite a step up. There’s plenty of space to crawl through, but you might have to get on your hands and knees.
No, parents won’t want to swap their 110 for a 90 if loading kids is a priority, but the back seats are usable in a way maybe you wouldn’t have expected of a three-door Shorty.
There’s air vents and USB-C ports on the back of the transmission tunnel, and USB-A ports on the seat backs. The middle seat is usable, but the outer seats are where you’d want to be on a long journey.
Boot space has taken a massive hit in the transition from Defender 110 to 90.
Technically listed space is 397L, but the shape of it means you’ll need to be good at Tetris to carry a load with four passengers on board.
Folding the 40/20/40 rear bench frees up 1563 litres, but there’s a pronounced step in the load bay regardless of what you do. That stops you from being able to slide heavy items through, which isn’t ideal.
It’s also worth bearing in mind the side-opening tailgate is a bit of a pain in tight car spots. Then again it’s a Defender, so anything else would’ve just been wrong.
Power in the Land Rover Defender P300 comes from a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine with 221kW of power and 400Nm of torque.
It’s sent to the road through a full-time four-wheel drive system with high- and low-range, and an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Land Rover says the 90 P300 uses a claimed 10.1L/100km on the combined cycle, and the100km/h sprint takes a respectable 7.1 seconds.
As for the off-road hardware? Our tester was fitted with coil springs, not the adaptive air setup used elsewhere in the range.
That means you can’t raise and lower the ride, nor can you stiffen or slacken it based on the drive mode.
Regardless, you get an armada of drive assists and off-road systems. There’s a twin-speed transfer case with low-range, and a Terrain Response system that calibrates the electric assists for different types of rough going.
Expecting a classic Defender? You’re going to be disappointed, but that’s a good thing.
With slow, vague steering and a rubbery, heavy gearshift, you had to manhandle the old Defender in the city, head bobbing as the off-road suspension tried in vain to stop even the smallest imperfections from making progress uncomfortable.
The new car feels like a miniature Range Rover in comparison.
Even on coil springs it rides impeccably at low speeds, floating along luxuriously as the outside world fades into insignificance. You have no options with the basic coil suspension, no ability to raise or lower the ride depending on conditions, but the coils are certainly comfortable.
Coupled with steering that’s relatively light and direct for a proper off-roader, the 90 is actually a breeze to drive in town – once you’re tuned into the brake pedal’s soft, sensitive travel.
The driving position is classic Defender, with a commanding view of the bonnet and road ahead, while the near-vertical sides mean you’re never in any doubt about where you you sit.
It’s a bit trickier to see out the vertical rear screen thanks to the back headrests and tailgate-mounted spare, which is why Land Rover offers a camera-based rear mirror as an option.
It’s a good idea, but it’s also strange to look straight out the back of the car rather than through it. I’d save the money and not bother with the camera-based mirror.
Power in our tester came from the base P300 petrol engine, which does the job just fine but isn’t where my money would be going.
It’s smooth, quiet, and has enough punch to get the Defender’s considerable mass up and rolling without fuss, but it can be a bit noisy on cold starts, and the idea of a relaxed diesel six is appealing in a car like the 90.
The petrol engine is also thirstier than the range of diesel sixes, with an average north of 11L/100km in normal city driving.
On the plus side, it revs smoothly when you really crack in, and has enough grunt to overtake on the highway without feeling strained. It’s hooked up to a smart eight-speed auto, which shuffles through the ratios unobtrusively when you’re cruising, and kicks down smartly when you’re in more of a hurry.
It can also be manually shifted using the pistol grip gear selector on the dashboard, although there are no paddles.
Despite having a short wheelbase and tall, off-road-ready ride, the 90 isn’t exhausting to drive on the highway. Actually, it couldn’t be further from it.
Not only does it have adaptive cruise and lane-keep assist, it’s quiet and planted on the open road, without the busy feeling common in cars with a smaller wheelbase.
There’s a bit of wind whistle from the square mirrors and upright pillars, but this is a car you could happily drive from Melbourne to Sydney.
It even goes around corners, provided you drive with some respect for the ride height and the fact it’s riding on Goodyear Wrangler all-terrain runner.
As for the off-roading? You’ll have to watch our video (coming very soon) to see how the Defender 90 handled the basic CarExpert off-road course, but suffice to say even the base model will take you deep into the wilderness.
Its off-road specifications are below:
- Ground clearance: 225mm (291mm with air suspension)
- Approach angle: 38 degrees
- Break over angle: 31 degrees
- Departure angle: 41 degrees
- Wading depth: 900mm
- Wheel articulation: 500mm
There are no cumbersome levers to pull or clunking differentials to manhandle, you just press a button to engage the different off-road modes and go menu-diving.
Even the most basic Defender has locking central and rear differentials, along with a choice of Snow, Mud and Ruts, and Sand modes backing the standard Comfort mode.
You can monitor everything using the touchscreen or the digital instrument binnacle, from how deep a river ford is to how locked the differentials are. Cars with air suspension can also be raised and lowered, although ours couldn’t be.
Like the 110, the 90 waltzed up our log climb and stormed through the offset moguls. Not only does it have an armada of electronic aids and a super speedy traction control system, it has a body that’s incredibly stiff.
That means flex is essentially non-existent, even with a canvas sliding roof, and there’s no unseemly creaking or groaning over rugged terrain.
Part of the charm of off-roading in the last Defender was having to work for your progress, sure, but there’s no doubt how effective the new one is.
It doesn’t feel like a Defender to drive, but it’s still a car designed to go anywhere, at essentially any time.
If that’s not true to its heritage I don’t know what is.
Land Rover has moved to a permanent five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, bringing it into line luxury rivals Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, and Genesis.
BMW and Audi still lag behind with a disappointing three-year warranty.
A five-year service plan will set you back $1950 with the base P300 petrol engine.
Reinventing an icon is fraught, but Land Rover has done a great job with the Defender.
Then again, we already knew that after driving the 110.
The 90 is arguably more charming than its gigantic brother, with a city-friendly footprint and classic shorty look that’s never less than achingly cool. It even has a usable set of rear seats, although the boot really is tiny.
Being able to have the car with coil springs will appeal to those who still want a sense of simplicity in their Defender, but I think mine would have air suspension and a diesel engine.
It’d be a 90 though, not a 110. Sometimes bigger really isn’t better.
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