TESTED: Land Rover Defender 90 lives up to its legend, and more

Pretoria – Only a handful of cars put a real smile on my face when I get behind the wheel or see one on the road. Because of what we do, our own transport tends to be mothballed most of the time while we drive and test a variety of cars ranging from entry level through to ridiculously expensive sports cars.

However, when I disconnect the intelligent charger from my own car, swing the engine and after a few splutters the Land Rover Defender 90 diesel TD5 motor springs to life with a bellow of smoke, I’m in my happy place. It shakes, rattles and rolls around corners and, having done a series of modifications, it’s very good off-road too.

Defender owners are also a community ready to give advice and help wherever they can. Which is why when I asked whether someone had a Defender Puma 90 for a Saturday morning photo shoot and some videos on one of the Whatsapp groups, I had a reply within a few minutes.

The reason I wanted one was because I had the New Defender 90 for a test and wanted to do a last off the line and new comparison.

In white with 18-inch white steel wheels which not everyone is a fan of, but I think adds an extra cool retro dimension harping back to the original, and if I ever win the Lotto, Land Rover Centurion would be my first call for the Defender we had.

I’ve also spent quite a lot of time with the new Defender and was fortunate enough to drive pre-production 110 models for a week in Namibia before Covid-19 turned the world on its head and later with Kingsley Holgate while he traversed the South Africa border.

As a result I often get asked what my opinion is about the new Defender and my answer is always the same. Brilliant. Which would also be my answer if questioned about the 90.

It was fitted with Land Rover’s 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine that’s good for 177kW and 450Nm and the eight-speed automatic transmission is as smooth as anything you could hope for. While the 3.0-litre diesel option provides a whole lot more power I felt that for the 90, the one on test was perfectly balanced between on and off-road performance, fuel economy and driving comfort.

There’s no drama if you need to floor the accelerator and it will quickly get to the national speed limit and faster if needed and stay there or slow down as thanks to the adaptive cruise control.

Generally short wheelbase vehicles like the 90 tend to be a bit jittery at speed and around corners but it’s certainly not the case here, testimony to the engineers that have combined a very strong monocoque chassis and suspension brilliantly.

As I’ve said before, the air suspension fitted to the Defender stands way above anything else in the segment and for that matter anything on sale in South Africa (the Ford Raptor with its specially designed Fox suspension comes very close). Corrugated dirt roads, potholes and speed bumps are its bread and butter and, because it has permanent four wheel drive, when you get to wet dirt tracks it’s a helluva lot of fun to get to your destination.

Off the beaten track the new Land Rover Defender is almost in a class of its own with every conceivable electronic aid, including diff locks that come into play as and when needed, so if you manage to get stuck it’s going to take a while for a recovery to get there.

It’s the interior though that blows you away. Any comparison to the previous Defender is moot, one is almost prehistoric and the other sublime and completely digital with a touchscreen that shows you any number of options with its Inter Active Driver display depending on which mode you select.

Land Rover Defender 90 D240 S
Engine: 2.0-litre, 4-cyl, turbodiesel
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive: Four-wheel drive
Power: 177kW @ 4 000rpm
Torque: 500Nm @ 1 500-2 500rpm
0-100km/h: 9.0 seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 188km/h (claimed)
Fuel use: 7.6 l/100km (claimed)
Boot capacity: 297 – 1263 litres
Towing capacity: 3500kg (braked)
Ground clearance: 225 (291 with air suspension)
Warranty: 5-year/100 000km
Maintenance plan: 5-year/100 000km
Price: R1 175 904 (base price)

Article Credit: Willem van de Putte
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