2021 Land Rover Defender 90 P400 X-Dynamic S Review: A Serious Toy

The Land Rover Defender 90 is every bit posh and hardcore – it’s a high-end all-season all-terrain plaything

  • Pricing for the Defender 90 starts at $59,700 in Canada, $46,100 in the US.
  • The 110 model is the slightly more grown-up version.
  • The Defender is an undeniable icon and the new one lives up to expectations.

I still get a kick out of the tested 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 when I think back to the week I spent with it. The time with the Defender 90 felt like a week off from the usual drive, shoot, and review with all other press cars. Though serious as COVID (too soon?) the Defender 90 is a premium luxury plaything.

The Land Rover Defender is the stuff of legend. Capable, rugged, and unbearably attractive, then Defender has built an enviable reputation as having the ability to make the impossible possible. As an off-roader, the Defender has few equals, if we’re honest, which are limited to the Toyota Land Cruiser (Lexus LX), and Jeep Wrangler. With the exception of some Ranger Rovers, the Land Rover boasts universal appeal to diehard off-roaders and mall parking-lot marauders.

Spacious and soothing

The 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 won’t be the go-to for family transportation, that’s more the Defender 110’s job. Even so, the 90’s cabin is extremely adept at carrying five occupants or holding two baby seats on the bench along with the parents up front. The only “trouble” with the 2-door is getting the kids strapped in. There are numerous storage areas throughout the cabin.

Beyond these details, are many more positive and cool ones. Land Rover has melded rugged touches like exposed hex screws with unique surfaces and textures. The dashboard is simplicity and functionality rolled into one. The integrated grab handles speak of solidity and safety while the sparsity of controls says premium.

The issue with the few controls is that they require extra attention to navigate as one knob or button may have more than one function. Likewise, the standard 10-inch display is also devoid of highlights in most of its menus. Navigating through the screens also needs more concentration. Obviously, the level of standard features is fairly extensive and includes must-have features such as a heated steering wheel, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and much more.

Looks so damned good

What is instantly absorbed and cherished is the Land Rover Defender 90’s exterior styling. It’s every bit bold and subtle with a convincing nod to past Defenders. The 90 is especially endearing because of its proportions. As you may have noticed in the gallery or the video, with the suspension positioned in off-road height, the Defender is comically tall, short, and narrow.

As spec’d, the tested Defender 90 P400 X-Dynamic ($87,500) featured the sublime Gondwana Stone colour (aka almost brown), the signature 20-inch wheels, the optional black roof, and glossy black trim. The resulting look is upscale and practically juvenile. Of the many physical highlights, one of my favorites is the rear barn door and its mounted spare.

When the Defender 90’s parts are separated, there’s nothing toy-ish about the truck but when merged together, one can’t help but grin when in its presence. Of the hundreds of vehicles, I’ve brought home over the last few years, including Porsches and McLarens, the 90 is the one that got the most attention. This thing can draw a crowd.

Seriously serious

Digging through the 2021 Land Rover Defender 90’s specifications further reveals how dedicated this premium SUV is to driving on, over, or through anything it is.

The basic P300 powertrain consists of a turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine. The next step up is the P400. This version is powered by a turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-6 cylinder engine with mild-hybrid technology. Output is rated at a healthy 395 horsepower and 406 lb.-ft. of torque, more than enough to make the Defender 90 lively and quite quick. As is, the Land Rover needs only 6 seconds to cover the 0-100km/h sprint, an impressive figure for a 4,800-lb SUV.

The powertrain sets the tone for the tremendously competent SUV. As tested, the 90 included the air suspension which, if only one option NEEDS to be selected among the countless available, this is it. The electronic air suspension features adaptive dynamics that not only positively affect driving comfort and overall handling but enable all Defenders with at least 11.5 inches of ground clearance and up to 35.4 inches of water fording depth.

I took the 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 for an off-road stint that, despite my efforts, barely bothered the SUV. The Terrain Response system might seem like overkill when faced with the multiple available modes but, in essence, all they do is ensure that no terrain is unconquerable. Even so, with the basic Comfort mode selected, nothing short of a massive boulder will stop the Defender’s forward progress.

Only one thing can stop it

And that is reliability. That old concern continues to haunt JLR products, even today. A few issues with the Defenders I’ve experienced include unresponsive lock/unlock controls on door handles, various temporary error messages in the instrument display, a creaking-cracking panoramic roof, and sketchy infotainment menus.

Beyond this, however, if I was inclined to drive a premium SUV, the 2021 Land Rover Defender would be on my shortlist. Its pedigree, styling, and overall performance are difficult to resist. My relationship with the Defender would last only 30-36 months before I hand back the keys for fear…

Seriously though, the Defender 90 has no equal when it comes to 2-door premium off-road adventure vehicles. The new Ford Bronco is certainly a new rival and even if it can match the Land Rover off-road, it’s clearly not as aristocratic. On a broader scale, the Defender 110 has far more competition. I’ll tell you more about it soon.

In the meantime, the 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 is the coolest posh serious off-roading toy there is.

Article Credit: Matt St-Pierre
Photo Credits: Olvier Delorme
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