REVIEW | 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 oozes ruggedness and urban cool

23 September 2021 - 08:50
By Phuti Mpyane
The Defender 90 X-Dynamic is fit for the metropolis as it is for jungles.
The Defender 90 X-Dynamic is fit for the metropolis as it is for jungles. Photo: PHUTI MPYANE

The Land Rover Defender 90 joins the lengthier Defender 110 to increase the model range. It’s choice galore if you want any of the trendy modern interpretations of the peerless icon. To put it another way, good luck sifting through 37 models.

On test here is the 4,583mm long and 1,974mm high Defender 90 which is about half a metre shorter than the 110. It’s not exactly petite though, and you still have to be conscious of where you thread it.

It’s equipped with the same mountaineering tools as its bigger brother including diff locks, all-wheel drive, many digital meters, a 900mm wading depth when optioned with a raising suspension, and it's perched on tidy-looking 20-inch split-spoke alloy wheels.

It’s a premium interior with heated and cooled power seats. This being my first taste of the new Defender, I could appreciate the modern ergonomics and front door panels which don’t constantly gnaw at the side of your knees.

This unit also features gloss dark grey finish and a black contrast roof, which is also a fine choice in a wide palette, and a folding fabric roof and signature graphic. Options fitted to the test vehicle included Terrain Response 2 system, a domestic plug socket, air suspension, a front centre console refrigerator compartment and wireless device charging. Matrix LED headlights and a removable tow bar are among standard fitments though.

The interactive touchscreen digital command centre hides plenty of features while the Meridian surround sound system is fantastic but it also revealed squeaks and rattles emanating from panels behind the front seats.

The cabin has an air of luxury and functionalism for life in the city or bundus. Photo: SUPPLIED
The cabin has an air of luxury and functionalism for life in the city or bundus. Photo: SUPPLIED

The Defender 90 is available with a variety of engine derivatives. On the four-cylinder front, buyers can pick between the D240 or P300; six-cylinder D300 and P400 models or an eight-cylinder variant.

My D300 tester was fitted with the 3.0l diesel six-cylinder and it’s a fine motor that is super quiet and responsive for its agricultural origins. It oozes muscular tractability for cruising and it makes a good pairing with the eight-speed automatic transmission for easy-going travel. The rear pillar that's concealed by a square block may be stylish but it hampers rear side vision and creates a blind spot. 

The vehicle is quick off the mark for a 2.2-ton luxury SUV.  The 221kW and 650Nm are rich outputs for scaling the steep hills and for launching the Defender 90 from 0-100km/h in a claimed 6.7 seconds, which is impressive. The acceleration is relentless all the way to its 191km/h top end. 

It’s no sports car, thus corners should be treated with respect rather than gay abandon. You can sense the way the air suspension and stability software controls the Defender’s considerable weight. It doesn’t wallow in an exaggerated way though, and nor is it humbled by crosswinds.

It's sufficiently frugal too. It consumed on average 10.1l/100km which will ease the frustrations of filling up with costly fuel these days. 

Having an off-roader core it’s aimed ostensibly at a variety of rivals such as the Jeep Wrangler, Toyota Land Cruiser and Mercedes-Benz G-Class. The Defender 90 takes a refreshingly cool, diminutive three-door off-roader approach which has its positives and foibles.

Outdoor lifestyle gurus will tell you how the Defender 90's shorter wheelbase makes it an ace at negotiating challenging terrain yet it can be restrictive to those who seek to load copious amounts of gear for extended stays in the wilderness.

If like me you prefer sleeping in your own house with uninterrupted Wi-Fi reception anyway, the Defender 90 is still a brilliant and extraordinary alternative to the urban SUV template. At a drop of a hat you can change the sexy alloys for the legendary "steelies" and join a Kingsley Holgate convoy and it's this duality that makes it a winner in my book.

With the rear seats folded down the Defender 90 carries plenty of luggage.
With the rear seats folded down the Defender 90 carries plenty of luggage. Photo: PHUTI MPYANE

Tech Specs

Type: Turbocharged six-cylinder diesel
Capacity: 3,000cc
Power: 221kW
Torque: 650Nm

Type: Eight-speed auto

Type: Permanent all-wheel drive

Top speed: 191km/h
0-100km/h: 6.7 sec (claimed)
Fuel Consumption: 7.6l/100km (claimed), 10.0l (as tested)
Emissions: 199g/km

Standard features
Park distance control front, air conditioning, Matrix headlights, daytime running lights, keyless access, camera for park distance control rear + surround view, adaptive cruise control, bluetooth, navigation, HD digital instrument displays, apple CarPlay & Android Auto, multifunction steering wheel controls, rain sensing wipers, leather upholstery, detachable tow bar trailer hitch, panoramic sunroof, ABS brakes, stability control, six airbags   

Warranty: Five years/100,000km
Maintenance plan distance: Five years/100,000km
Price: R1,421,752
Lease*: R30,302 a month
* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit

Land Rover Defender 90 D300 X-Dynamic HSE 

We like:
Looks, pace, economy, off-road capability

We dislike:
Rear blind spot

An impressive lifestyle package

Motor News star rating
****Value For Money

BMW X3 M40d, 240kW/680Nm — R1,218,478
Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, 209kW/247Nm — R879,900
Mercedes-AMG GLC43 AMG, 287kW/520Nm — R1,255,640
Toyota Land Cruiser 300 GX-R, 225kW/700Nm — R1,283,200