Land Rover Defender 90 S review: action-packed short story
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Land Rover Defender 90 S
- Surreal look and stance
- Adept chassis on and off-road
- Awesome option choices
- Too tall for some carparks/garages
- Well over two tonnes
- Side-hinged tailgate not exactly practical
Pangea Green is definitely the colour, especially with the white roof and white steel wheels. Diesel is definitely the engine; a bit of torquey chug-a-lug just seems right for a vehicle that brings so much all-terrain function, although the fashion appeal is also undeniable.
But is 90 the number for the Land Rover Defender? The ranks are filling out nicely in the local range. We started with the “standard” 110 five-door, but now also have the short-wheelbase 90 three-door. And soon there will also be a long-wheelbase 130.
Those numbers are part of Defender tradition: they used to denote the wheelbase in inches. No longer. Now, they just give you an indicative pecking order of roadspace occupied.
There’s huge visual appeal to the 90 thanks to its combination of extreme height (still too tall for some carparks… and my garage), 435mm-shorter wheelbase and minimal overhangs. It looks like a toy, which is kind of the idea.
It’s likely those who choose the 90 over the 110 will have done so because they’ve looked and it and swooned. It’s not tangibly more capable off-road than the other models because the key metrics (approach/departure angles) are the same, although the reduced length certainly helps. Having said that, any Defender is staggering in the rough so that’s probably a moot point.
Point is, the 90 is probably about style more than anything and is likely to spend most of its time on the road. That’s not an excuse for us to avoid getting our sneakers dirty; we’ve done the off-road thing too. Check out the video above.
As with the 110, the 90 is surprisingly adept as a road vehicle, given the high centre of gravity and undeniable off-road ability. Land Rover does have a real knack for making mountain-climbing 4x4s that also lap up brisk on-road driving.
Auckland | Auckland City
$1,271.73 p/w $5,086.92 p/m
Auckland | Auckland City
$782.40 p/w $3,129.59 p/m
Auckland | Penrose
$403.26 p/w $1,613.04 p/m
That’s not to say the 90 is a grippy road warrior. The all-terrain tyres have relatively low limits and there’s body roll to manage at open-road speeds, but the chassis telegraphs everything nicely and there’s an arsenal of clever electronic aids keeping everything in check. It’s an enjoyable A-to-B machine, as evidenced by the 600km-odd we managed to clock up during our week with the vehicle.
The diesel engine can be sluggish from a standstill (this is a 2.2-tonne machine, remember), but the twin-turbo unit thrums along nicely once you’re in the mid-range. The smooth eight-speed gearbox certainly does its bit.
We won’t get too much into the powertrain beyond that, because our test vehicle is the 2021-specification D200 and the current 90 has now moved to a 177kW D240 specification.
So let’s move back to how the Defender shortie serves as a day-to-day car. It’s mainly a two-person machine, given rear-seat access isn’t the easiest. But our car had the $1550 centre-front “jump seat” option, making it a six-seater at a pinch. Clever.
It’s definitely just an occasional thing though, narrow and set back from the main two chairs. But as a short-distance convenience/novelty, why not? You’ll probably need the $1150 ClearSight mirror as well, which gives you the option of a camera view out the back rather than the interior glass, because the view is blocked by the centre occupant. Even with no passengers, the view out the back is not brilliant, so ClearSight is a good idea regardless.
The driving position is commanding in every sense of the word and the chunky cabin design of the Defender is as appealing as ever, especially in the Khaki/Ebony livery offered up here.
You can pretty much make the Defender you always thought you wanted from Land Rover’s option lists. Our car had a matt-type exterior finish thanks to a protective film ($7800, crickey), grunty Meridian audio, a raised air intake (to keep the dust out, it’s not a snorkel as such), side steps and the obligatory Defender Exterior Side Mounted Gear Carrier, which contained… boxes of tea with our car.
Tally ho, although the box is also a bit of a distraction in the door mirror when you’re changing lanes.
All that hard-to-resist kit bumps the base price of this 90 up by nearly $23k to $129,450. And that really doesn’t matter, because buying the smallest Defender is not necessarily about having the cheapest Defender; it’s about having the coolest. Just keep an eye on the numbers.
LAND ROVER DEFENDER 90 S
ENGINE: 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel four-cylinder
POWER: 147kW/430Nm (D200 as tested, 2022 models are 177kW D240)
GEARBOX: 8-speed automatic, AWD
0-100KM/H: 10.2 seconds
PRICE: $106,900 (base, $129,450 as tested)