Even though it does not look as menacing as its iconic predecessor, the new-gen Land Rover Defender has conquered the hearts of off-road enthusiasts and SUV fans. That’s because it drives better than ever, is still relatively comfortable, spacious, and comes packed with the latest driver assistance and technology gear.
As of last year, Land Rover has sprinkled the new Defender family with a high-performance version. Simply called the Defender V8, it is available in the 90 and 110 body styles and doesn’t really stand out next to the lesser models. Sure, you do get bigger wheels, quad exhaust pipes out back, and some discreet V8 badges, but the thing is, when most people buy a sporty high-rider, they want people to notice it, so it definitely does not fit the ‘look at me’ bill.
Another problem, according to Rory Reid, whom you may remember from his relatively short Top Gear days, is that the 90 body style can be a bit of a letdown. Despite having a huge tailgate, or a rear door, depending on how you see it, the trunk space is smaller than that of a Ford Fiesta. Also, having people getting in and out of the rear passenger compartment takes too much time due to the slow-responding controls of the front seats. Sure, you can get rid of this issue by buying the 110 version, but it’s what the journo tested out, so he had to mention them.
Other than that, the V8 sounds great, the gearbox is very responsive, and it is quite comfortable on the road, despite riding on 22-inch wheels. There is a bit of a body roll, and that’s pretty much inexcusable nowadays, but the overall impression is that of a well-sorted SUV, especially with all the tech amenities and rugged interior, as long as you don’t compare it to a Range Rover Sport SVR, with which it shares its engine.
But should you actually spend your hard-earned Benjamins on it, or should you simply choose one of the lesser models instead? This review will probably help you decide, so get ready to take a short break and see what the Defender 90 V8 is all about.
✔ 3 doors, 5 seats ✔ Engine 3.0T, 6 cyl. ✔ Engine Power 294kW, 550Nm ✔ Fuel Petrol (95) 9.9L/100KM ✔ Manufacturer 4XD ✔ Transmission 8 Spd Auto ✔ Warranty 3 Yr, 100000 KMs ✔ Ancap Safety
What happens when you drop $150,000 on Land Rover’s short-wheelbase Defender? Sam Purcell was happy to find out.
What we love
Smooth, powerful and enjoyable powertrain
Second row experience is better than you might think
Loads of technology
What we don’t
The price, which is a little outrageous
Options only make the price worse
20-inch wheels reduce off-road suitability
If you’re looking for a fully loaded Defender 90 – and your pockets run deep enough to sign the paperwork – this is the specification you’ll be looking at: a 2022 Land Rover Defender 90 P400 X.
The 90 refers to the two-door, short-wheelbase configuration, P400 refers to the powerplant under the bonnet (with 400PS, or 294kW), and X refers to the top-of-the-pops trim level.
Before the 386kW, $200,000+ Defender P525 V8 turns up, this Defender P400 X represents the most expensive and most powerful variant of the new Defender. But with 294kW and a starting price of $141,356 before options and accessories, this variant doesn’t exactly pull any punches in terms of power or price.
However, the question must be asked. Sitting atop a range that starts at just about half the price ($74,516), does a Defender 90 at this expense make sense?
2022 Land Rover Defender 90 P400 X
$141,356 before on-road costs
Colour of test car
Comfort & Convenience Pack (Wireless charger, front centre console refrigerator compartment) – $1590 Front undershield – $1037 Privacy glass – $999 Three-zone climate control – $910 Leisure activity key – $910 Cabin air ionisation/PM2.5 – $606 Air quality sensing – $195
Let’s start in the back seats, because this is new and interesting for the Defender 90.
The seating position is quite good, with lots of space and great visibility thanks to the jacked-up seat base. It leaves the boot with a significantly lower floor, and a noticeable step up between the two. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s also not as practical as a floor that can fold flatter. But every bit of storage space in here should be kept, I guess.
Two adults will be absolutely comfortable in the back here, and three will only be a little bit of a squeeze.
Access into the second row isn’t as bad as you might think. Obviously it’s not as good as the five-door Defender 110, and won’t suit those with baby seats, but it’s acceptable and workable. Don’t forget, you can drop the air suspension down for easier access. One push of a button on the seat moves it forward all the way, and then a lever tilts the backrest forward for your access.
There is plenty of legroom in the back, and a multitude of power outlets: USB-A, USB-C and 12V totalling six (!) for the second row. Cupholders on the floor feel like a bit of a compromise, however, and windows in the back don’t open.
Actually, a total of 13 power outlets in this two-door car feels a little excessive. It’s a better problem to have than not enough, but could you ever use all of them at once?
We’ve also got the optional climate and vent controls in the back, and the seats (with 40/20/40 split) have a pop-down cupholder in the middle.
Don’t forget, this short wheelbase isn’t that short. It’s 4323mm long and sits on a 2587mm wheelbase, which is 283mm and 227mm longer respectively than the last-generation 90 (4040mm long and 2360mm wheelbase).
Up front, you get the same awesome and unique interior experience as other Defenders. X specification gets the nice materials inside, with brown leather trimming on the dashboard and doors, textured walnut on the centre console, and black treatment to the metals on the dashboard and steering wheel.
These leather seats have 14 different directions of adjustment, memory, heating and ventilation. The steering column has electric adjustment, and the head-up display is also nice – if not necessary – to have.
I personally really dig the brown materials and textured wood. But many facets are the same as lesser Defenders: the steering wheel, infotainment display and digital instrument cluster.
None of this is a weakness, as the two digital displays are of high quality and functionality with loads of functions to flick through. But aside from the higher-grade seats and a smattering of nice materials, it’s mostly the same hardware and software as lesser Defender specifications.
Other details include sporty metal pedals, a Meridian-branded sound system, and an optional cooled centre console.
The Defender’s 397L boot size feels similar to what you will get in a medium-sized SUV. There’s actually quite a bit of space available, as long as you’re able to stack things up high.
There is a 240-volt power outlet in the boot of our tester, along with an air compressor, hooks, air suspension buttons, and a 12V plug. The cargo blind is a flimsy-feeling fabric one that tends to flap around a bit.
2022 Land Rover Defender 90 P400 X
Infotainment and Connectivity
The Land Rover Defender was the first model to get the new Pivi Pro infotainment system, which is a winner. The operating system looks fresh and is easy to navigate around. There’s Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, native navigation and digital radio, and the inclusion of a volume knob (along with good steering wheel controls) makes it easy to manipulate.
This is joined by an equally impressive fully digital instrument cluster, which is a little bit fiddly to set and adjust according to your tastes. You do get there eventually, and you can choose between things like speedometers and tachometers, all the way through to a full-sized map. It’s crisp and well-detailed, which you cannot say for all.
Safety and Technology
The Land Rover Defender scores very well for safety and technology, which couldn’t be more different to the Defender that it replaces. Along with a recent five-star ANCAP safety rating, the Defender has lots of modern active safety technology like autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist, blind-spot assist, 360-degree camera with 3D functionality, clear exit monitor, adaptive cruise control, driver-condition monitor and traffic sign recognition.
Other stuff like tyre pressure monitoring, over-the-air updates, rear-view display through the mirror, keyless entry and push-button start, parking aid and high-end matrix LED headlights also help the equation.
For an off-roader, the inclusion of front and rear recovery points, which are rated for off-road use no less, is a great addition to have as standard fitment. While the stout-looking rear recovery eyes used to be only available for the X specification, Drive understands that this will be a feature made available as an option for lesser specifications as well.
Value for Money
As delightful and enjoyable as this Defender might be, the value-for-money equation really feels like it gets blown away in this specification.
It’s a problem made more poignant by the fact that kerbside appeal doesn’t really seem to be reduced by lower-specification offerings. While some might pine for the bigger alloy wheels, darkened exterior accents and two-tone treatment like we have here, the 18-inch steel wheels and simpler colour palettes of a car half the price of this one are equally as appealing.
Put that down to the design, which has largely been praised by most pundits, even though it’s been caught stealing the Discovery’s lunch.
And while Land Rover has made efforts to streamline the staggering amount of options and configurations available for prospective Defender buyers, there is still a maze of paths to investigate when finding a specification that suits your needs.
It’s safe to say, however, some options on this high-grade Defender do seem to be removing the urine, so to speak. Privacy glass ($999) takes the cake in this regard, but one could easily argue that things like a wireless charging pad and centre console ($1590) should be standard in this expensive specification, as well as three-zone climate control ($910) and front undershield ($1037).
At a glance
2022 Land Rover Defender 90 P400 X
Five years / unlimited km
12 months / 20,000km
$2250 (5 years)
Fuel cons. (claimed)
Fuel cons. (on test)
Fuel tank size
This P400 motor – which uses a conventional turbocharger and a 48-volt supercharger – is wonderful. It’s got the classic smooth rumble of a straight six, and the two forms of forced induction allow for great linear responsiveness all through the rev range.
Its 294kW at 6500rpm matches a Nissan Patrol, for example, but at a higher rev ceiling and pushing much less overall inertia. The 550Nm matches a Patrol as well, but twin forms of forced induction allow a long delivery between 2000-5000rpm. So if you’re looking for prime petrol performance in a four-wheel drive, then this six-cylinder Defender has got the V8 Patrol beat.
This X-specification Defender has 20-inch wheels and air suspension, but doesn’t feel hugely different to the massively cheaper coil-sprung Defender 90 we drove a while ago. It’s still quite good, but not as plush as the 110. Blame the wheelbase. However, it has an added dose of liveliness thanks to the shorter length and lower mass.
Tyres tend to let qo quite quickly, but I think because it feels so well planted through ride and steering at speed, you tend to drive this Defender faster than one probably should. But regardless, it’s a lot of fun.
Not as practical as a 110, obviously, but it’s not as bad as you’d think. Much better than a Jimny or Wrangler, for example, because it’s a fair whack bigger (and also much more expensive).
What sort of car was somebody buying before the 2022 Land Rover Defender 90 came along?
Fuel economy: against the claim of 9.9 litres per hundred kilometres, we saw 13.4L/100km being used for the same distance during our test. In its defence, I did spend a fair amount of time exploring and enjoying that 3.0-litre straight six. You tend to forget how nice a straight six can be after V6s have dominated proceedings for so long.
2022 Land Rover Defender 90 P400 X
3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo petrol
294kW @ 5500-6500rpm
550Nm @ 2000-5000rpm
Four-wheel drive, low-range transfer case, active centre diff
Eight-speed torque convertor automatic
Power to weight ratio
3500kg braked, 750kg unbraked
The Land Rover Defender 90 will never be a car that somebody buys on pragmatic or rational grounds. It’s what you want, rather than filling a specific job or need. The high asking price of this X specification pushes that envelope even further, and makes it virtually impossible to recommend amongst the broader range.
But that doesn’t take away the fact that this is a thoroughly enjoyable vehicle. To look at, sit in, and to drive, of course, the Defender is a real pleasure.
This 294kW 3.0-litre petrol engine is a peach and matches well with the eight-speed gearbox. The ride, while not as sumptuous as the longer-wheelbase 110, is still very good. Higher speed on-road driving is surprisingly enjoyable, especially if you have experience with the old-school Defender.
And, of course, there’s more off-road capability in this new Defender 90 than most will ever need.
This top-dog Defender (before the V8 turns up) will no doubt suit the tastes and budgets of many, and offers an interesting mix of urban chic, off-road ability, towing capability, and something of a small and fun footprint.
However, it’s not as compelling as it could be. And with the wide variety of specifications and options available, it’s not hard to find significantly better bang-for-buck in other parts of the ladder.
For when the $112,000 V8 Carpathian Edition isn’t extravagant enough
The new Land Rover Defender is decidedly not utilitarian. Some people want it to be — generally because they have a soft spot for the boxy Series models that birthed the Defender name — but the redesigned model that debuted in 2019 is, by all accounts, a luxury SUV.
Yet, is it luxurious enough? The most affordable model, the two-door Defender 90, currently starts just under $50,000; the most expensive, the four-door 110 with an optional V8 engine and luxury upgrades dubbed the “Carpathian Edition,” starts at $112,200; and that doesn’t even include the three-row model coming next year. But according to a new report, Land Rover is working on an even more sumptuous version of their heritage overlander.
Parent company Jaguar Land Rover is reportedly planning a luxury flagship version of the Defender that will be based on a yet-to-be-released platform that will underpin the new Range Rover, per Autocar out of the U.K. That would be the MLA (Modular Longitudinal Architecture) platform, which is designed for three types of electrification: mild-hybrid or plug-in hybrid (both of which still include a gas engine) or EV-only power. (At the moment, while Land Rover does offer a plug-in hybrid Defender in some markets, U.S. buyers only have access to mild-hybrid configurations in some versions of the SUV.)
According to Autocar, which cites unnamed sources, Land Rover is hoping to spread out the new Defender’s success across a range of models in the vein of the Range Rover nameplate. With heritage names across the industry being revived as more expensive incarnations of their former selves (see: the new Jeep Grand Wagoneer) with decided success, this seems like a winning formula, at least where profits are concerned.
There are few details about what an even more luxurious Defender could look like, but the outlet says it will have “a less rugged-style interior” (something we didn’t particularly like in our recent test drive) with “more extravagant colours, more sportily styled seats and a dashboard design that retains the high-mounted gearshifter as the main theme.”
In other words, we don’t know much. But that’s to be expected when citing whispers from anonymous sources about a vehicle with an estimated release date in the late-2024, early-2025 range.
Land Rover Defender diesel is a functional balance of nostalgic design and modern technology
Things we like – Clever styling throughout – Superb diesel engine – Surprising dynamics – Excellent ride
Not so much – Weird brake and accelerator pedals – Expensive options
I have very fond memories of the Land Rover Defender. As a young lad growing up in rural southwest Britain, the most enduring and hardworking Landie was synonymous with the country and as much a part of West Country life as Cheddar cheese and Scrumpy cider.
If you were raised in the Australian equivalent of Somerset, your vision of farming and living on the land is likely to include a kelpie in the back of a Toyota Hilux but, for me, it’s a collie with a hay bale in the Defender.
But farmers are not known for being idealistic or impractical types and, just as the Toyota worked incredibly hard to earn its place in Australian agriculture, as did the Land Rover Defender at the other end of the world.
Whether it was the long-wheelbase 110 or nimble 90 with a four or five-cylinder diesel under the bonnet (or a V8 if you’d had a couple of really good wheat years), the iconic boxy model became one of the nation’s favourite all-purpose farm machines through a combination of stoicism and unstoppable all-terrain ability.
In fact it was so good, most owners found it easy to look past the meticulous maintenance required to keep a Defender happy and reliable, as well as the seriously compromised on-road manners.
However, badged as the Defender, the model’s origins are in 1983 but it can effectively trace its roots back to the original Land Rover of 1948 and there’s only so long the recipe could be tweaked, refreshed and revamped. The inevitable end came in 2016 when, for the first time in a metaphorical sense, the Defender went out to pasture.
But, after a hiatus that had been drawn out and extended several times, the Defender name was finally reforged last year and it lives again.
When I picked up this 110 D300 SE, attached to its key were many emotions. Excitement to get behind the wheel of this incredibly hyped and anticipated Land Rover, nostalgia thanks mostly to the styling that is brilliantly retro but also modern, and scepticism. How can the 2020 Defender possibly live up to the reputation its forefathers established over many decades and, more personally, the way I remember it?
For a start, Land Rover’s engineers knew the new Defender had to be capable off-road if the company was to avoid a justified public lynching and, happily, it really is. In previous tests we found the new model tackled serious off-road duties with confidence and composure, calling on a combination of traditional mechanicals supplemented by electronic enhancements.
After a hiatus that had been drawn out and extended several times, the Defender name was finally reforged last year and it lives again.
But today’s automotive landscape is very different from the one into which the previous generation Defender was launched and the new version cannot prevail with off-road excellence alone. It has to take on the blacktop and succeed there too.
It does. Taking the underpinnings of the new Discovery as its basis, the Defender no longer has the ladder chassis and live axle combination that made it such a challenge to live with on the road. Instead, the monocoque and fully independent air suspension is a delight, offering a manner that defies the Defender’s size and 2.3-tonne weight.
The steering has a surprising sensitivity to it despite a relatively slow 2.7-turn lock-to-lock ratio and the air suspension maintains good control of the body even if you choose to carry more speed in corners. The rest of the time, the Defender’s ride is beautifully lithe with just enough of an edge to remind you there is a solid connection to the road.
In diesel/110 combination, the Defender cannot entirely hide its mass but it does a decent job of managing it along with a feeling of security and the sense of superiority that brings.
As impressive as the ride and handling is the D300’s engine, which takes the form of a 3.0-litre straight six diesel. Developed in-house by Jaguar Land Rover, the Ingenium unit is a masterpiece, combining the inherent smoothness and linear performance delivery of the configuration, with a conventional turbocharger, electric supercharger and 48-volt hybrid system.
Both the power figure of 220kW and 650Nm torque rating feel under-clocked thanks to the immediacy of performance and flat torque curve through the revs. The turbo and supercharger work cleverly to eliminate lag almost completely and the diesel donk even sounds appealing too.
Hanging off the back of the excellent Ingenium six is an equally accomplished eight-speed automatic transmission that operates seamlessly and would lend itself very well to towing duties. And while some modern autos can hunt around the ratios a little too eagerly, eight gears seems to be the sweet spot for the Defender’s diesel.
The throttle pedal lets the side down a little with a lazy modulation that gives a false impression of the engine being a bit gutless. Prod the right pedal a bit further though, and the true nature of the silky six comes through. It feels more tuned for off-road use where accidental stabs at the accelerator won’t result in kangaroo diesel but it ironically makes the Defender difficult to drive smoothly on-road.
The pedal to its left is not without strange characteristics either. Initial brake pedal feel is positive and firm with light braking but a heavier push reveals a squashy zone. Push harder still and the pedal firms back up again.
It’s not an unpleasant feel and most likely the effect of mild regenerative braking but it takes a little getting used to. Beyond those two small foibles, it’s hard to say anything unkind about the Defender at all.
Styling inside and out has been wonderfully executed with an unmistakable nod to the original but sharp design details that launch the model into the future. Light clusters front and rear are eye-catching and immediately recognisable, along with convincing modern interpretations of the skylights above the boot and second-row areas. It clearly works and you’d have to be in a Lamborghini Urus to turn more heads.
The rear-mounted spare on a side-hinged tailgate is another nice homage with genuine practical advantages, especially as the reversing radar is calibrated to accommodate the extra length added by the tyre. Less practical are the bonnet chequer plates that look great but are certainly not designed to accept a size-12 Hunter welly. Sorry, gumboot.
The rear-mounted spare on a side-hinged tailgate is another nice homage with genuine practical advantages, especially as the reversing radar is calibrated to accommodate the extra length added by the tire.
There’s an air of the Jeep Wrangler’s functionality about the cabin, only with an added sophistication including lovely acorn wood-look panelling, exposed screw heads and an unusual material for the steering wheel that looks and feels like it has been 3D-printed.
Balancing the traditional, there is just as much new. Just when you think you’ve found all the digital displays – one for the driver instrument cluster, and another for the central touchscreen – another pops up in the rear-view mirror with a flick of the tab, very handy for when the back is completely loaded and thanks to the camera’s high positioning, It’ll peer over all but the tallest trailers.
Speaking of making things invisible, more camera technology has enabled the clever invisible bonnet feature that processes camera images from around and beneath the vehicle to create a moving picture of what the Defender is driving over. The ghostly image indicates the position and angle of the front wheels but all else is unseen – a hugely effective tool for off-road but still very cool on the school run if a little unnecessary. The various maneuvering aids are almost without rival, presented in crystal sharp resolution.
Notable omissions include a head-up display and optioning the folding fabric roof panel fitted to our car will add an extra $4000 to the bottom line but you won’t care about that the first time you concertina the top open on a perfect balmy beach day.
Options aside, the SE gets plenty of standard practical features, with a multitude of storage cubbies and device charging options. At the back there’s a pretty respectable third row that cleverly folds into the boot floor. Every time you stow the seats, you’ll thank that spare for hanging out on the rear door.
Hop into seats six and seven and occupants are treated to yet more charging sockets, their own air-conditioning control and those cool skylights boost the sense of space. When they’re not occupied, the boot measures a whopping 857 litres or nearly 2000L if you banish passengers from the second row too.
While many lines and comparisons can be drawn between the equally retro Defender and Jeep Wrangler, the Land Rover is the model that better balances the ratios of off-road prowess, on-road agility and lifestyle-focused design and features.
But wait, I hear you say. How will the kind of Defender owner that likes to grease trunnions on the weekend, stand on the bonnet and chuck livestock in the back accept this new more refined and sophisticated Defender?
Simply, they won’t. If you ply Land Rover executives with a few Old Speckled Hens they might tell you that developing a Defender that would not satisfy the demands of the traditionalist was a deliberate move.
The Defender is the model that better balances the ratios of off-road prowess, on-road agility and lifestyle-focused design and features.
While the Defender diehards represent a relatively small audience, targeting a new altogether larger crowd makes far better business sense. That’s why Land Rover chose to reform the Defender into a resoundingly more refined machine that conquers a broader range of duties at only slight cost to its core utilitarian skills.
To that end, the new Defender is a complete success and while $96,000 sounds like a lot of cash, the 110 diesel delivers a lot for the money and represents great value.
And if you insist on reliving a nostalgic fantasy of a former youth long ago, there’s nothing stopping you loading the Landie up with a sheepdog and a few bales and hacking off across a field because the new model is still an incredibly impressive all-round performer. I should warn you though, that it took me more than an hour to clear out every last straw.
OK, when I say Land Rover and what do you picture?
Boxy, utilitarian off-roader running through tall elephant grass or African Savanna grass, a photographer’s head and camera poking from the open roof. Maybe an elephant, giraffe or even a lion wandering in the background?
That’s because in 1948 Land Rover started cranking out said utilitarian boxes after Jeeps had invaded the British landscape during World War II. The Brits were relatively quick to duplicate and improve upon the Jeep for its own market and, Boom! Rovers sold like elephant ears at the State Fair. Those early models not only had high ground clearance, big rugged tires and four-wheel-drive, but fold down windshields and rear doors where we call fancy hatches these days.
Well, the good ol’ days are back (sort of) as Land Rover jumps back in to the more utilitarian end of the huge SUV market with its Defender series, which had disappeared in 1997 as Rover romped full force into the more profitable luxury SUV market.
Defender had been Rover’s entry-level more rugged Jeep-like models and now the new Defender 90 and 110 are that, with a healthy helping of luxury ladled on board. I tested the 110 back in January. It rides on a longer wheelbase and features four doors and a luxury price tag.
This time I romped the suburban tundra in a stylish (retro) Defender 90 First Edition two-door. This special trim was $65,450 and with just two options hit $66,475. Yet a base model with a less powerful 2.0-liter turbo I4 engine starts at down-market price of $47,125.
On looks alone the Defender 90, especially decked out in a light gray-green metallic Pangea Green paint scheme, is a rock star. Folks gawked, a few asked questions!
This rides on a compact 101.9-inch wheelbase, but still looks muscular and stout. It clears the ground by 8.9 inches, will wade in 35.4 inches of water, and in First Edition trim packs an energetic 395 horsepower 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder with mild hybrid system to power its electronics. A fine 8-speed automatic transmission easily melds with the big power unit for a luxury feel.
Trust me, a Jeep-like vehicle with a short wheelbase is normally about as much fun to drive as a square-wheeled peddle car. Think Flintstones! But the Land Rover Defender feels refined and quite comfy on most city streets, and in limited off-road romping. There is some bump felt on severe or sharp road imperfections, but the ride is generally pleasant indeed.
Power is luxury sedan smooth and instantaneous. Driving the Defender is fun as you can get on the gas and be quickly up to highway speeds. In fact, I found myself over accelerating initially in highway jaunts, needing to whoa this boxy beast down to avoid the constabulary.
Handling is precise and firm with moderate steering effort required and Defender corners well for a tall short-wheelbase vehicle. It never felt tippy, although from outward appearances you might assume it to be top-heavy. I did not get to use this in rugged terrain, but it’s capable and has numerous off-road settings, all controlled via a big touchscreen. I’d prefer a knob or button.
Off-road options include mud ruts, rock crawl, grass/gravel/sand, sand, and wading for those nearly three-foot deep streams that need forded, or should that be Rovered? Comfort and a customizable Configurable settings also are available. Comfort works on city streets and highways.
So nimble is the Defender that parking is a breeze! One assumes that would help in dodging trees and rocks once off into the bush country too.
Speaking of which, there are a bunch of “dear Jesus” handles for both driver and riders to hug when bounding around boulders. The dash also has a rail across the top and at both edges if you need to hang on for dear life.
Otherwise the interior looks utilitarian. Door panels show exposed metal as in a Jeep and overhead there’s a cool fold-back cloth panoramic sunroof, powered of course. Seats are a mix of cloth and perforated leather-like material that would be easy to clean. Some of that texture is carried over into the doors and dash. These were a dark gray to black in the test truck with light gray trim on the doors and dash, which also had a shelf along its top face for storing sunglasses, phones, and rhino tranquilizer darts.
Seats are fairly flat, but powered and heated up front (controlled through the touchscreen) and there’s a jump seat in the middle that can be folded up to allow more elbow room such as that needed when off-roading. Put it down and there are cup holders in its back for the front seat occupants. However, that seat is quite thick and feels pretty confining for the front seat folks and a bit high for a comfy armrest. Put it up though and it somewhat blocks rearward vision.
In fact, rear vision is tough much of the time with the rear seat headrests and spare tire on that back door blocking the view. Thank goodness for the backup camera, mounted overhead in the shark fin antenna housing on the roof.
Rear seat folks also get a little ambient light from side skylights built into the Rover’s white metal top. Opening that cloth sunroof helps, too. The skylights are retro styling touches, as are the little round taillights and so much more here. All good, as the styling communicates modern retro inside and out.
Storage room behind the seats is even less than a Jeep Wrangler, which isn’t much. There’s enough space for maybe four or five upright grocery bags. Seats will fold down, of course, and there’s a power height button inside that rear-opening back hatch door. So if you’re loading up and need the vehicle higher or lower for loading comfort that’s a plus.
I’m no fan of a rear-opening door, especially with a big 20-inch tire mounted on it. The door is heavy and the tire partially blocks rear visibility. Does it look macho and rugged? You bet. But it’s style over function.
What surprised me the most about the Defender was the interior’s quietness. This being a box on wheels, I expected a lot more nubby off-road tire noise (20-inch tires here added $350 to the price), or more wind noise. Not so. Its interior is quiet as a near luxury sedan, allowing you to hear the fancy Meridian sound system, with volume easily adjusted by a roller on the steering wheel.
On the practical side, the powerful Defender is a fine trailer puller and will tow 8,200 lbs., and if the rear seats are down there’s decent cargo space in back. If you’re going to tow you’ll need the trailer hitch receiver, a $675 option.
Rovers are not known for stellar gas mileage, and the Defender 90 is not a true hybrid. It’s rated at 17 mpg city and 22 highway by the EPA, and I got just 17.1 mpg in a mix of city and highway drives.
However Rovers, now owned by India-based Tata Motors, are known for being electronic gremlins. I found only one slight glitch this time — the rearview camera liked to stay on when the SUV was in Drive for several minutes, but did switch to a front view. Hmm, maybe for watching out for wildebeests, or boulders!
Overview: 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 First Edition
Hits: Snazzy retro looks, awesome color, off-roading ability in spades, strong smooth power, good handling, and a nice ride for short wheelbase. Quiet interior, cloth folding panoramic sunroof, heated seats, radio volume roller on wheel, Meridian sound system, easy to park.
Misses: Poor rear visibility, rear hatch opens out like door, tire on door makes it heavy, fold-down optional middle front seat very thick making for uncomfortable arm rest, rearview camera stays on when in Drive for several minutes.