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Road test report: Land Rover Defender 90

  • LAND ROVER DEFENDER 90 D200
  • Base price: $103,900
  • Powertrain and economy: 2.0 liter turbo-diesel, 147kW/430Nm, 8-speed automatic, AWD, combined economy 8.8L/100km, CO2 233g/km (source: RightCar).
  • Vital Stats: 4583mm long, 2008mm wide, 1972mm high, 2587mm wheelbase, 297 liter cargo capacity, 18 inch steel wheels.
  • Security: Five stars (Source: ANCAP)
  • We like: Still incredibly capable off-road, rear occupants have room, look great inside and out
  • We do not like : D200-spec engine lacks top-end grunt, very little boot space

We already know that the new Defender is supreme kit if you’re looking for a do-it-all vehicle. The 110 version has been on the market for a year and a bit now, but the smaller 90 has been hammered by Covid and factory breaks, and has taken a little longer to get here. So, with some breathing space between testers, let’s see how the 90 fares with cooler eyes.

OUTSIDE

The Land Rover Defender 90 is the smallest Defender you can buy.  It has two doors, which automatically makes it cooler.

Nile Jewelry/Stuff

The Land Rover Defender 90 is the smallest Defender you can buy. It has two doors, which automatically makes it cooler.

The D90 uses the same styling cues as the 110, with the same square headlight clusters, a grille divided by lines and mesh, a vertically oriented rear end with a full-size tailgate-mounted spare wheel and a strong stance and determined. Oh, and two doors instead of four, which automatically makes it cooler.

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* Road test results: Land Rover Defender 110 SE D240

This particular model is (correctly) specified with the 18-inch white steel wheel, which looks absolutely brilliant with the other silver elements, like the roof.

I took four passengers on a two-day 1000km road trip in the Defender 90, and it was awesome.  I wouldn't want to pack any longer, though...

Nile Jewelry/Stuff

I took four passengers on a two-day 1000km road trip in the Defender 90, and it was awesome. I wouldn’t want to pack any longer, though…

It also has a ladder to nowhere that can shake at high speeds and a little side box that almost makes sense, but these are optional extras so you don’t need to have them if you don’t want them.

Being the 90 it is much shorter, with the 435mm difference in the shorter wheelbase. This means that the overhangs are still tiny, allowing 38 degrees of approach and 40 degrees of departure, and a crossing angle of 25 degrees. You also still get 291mm of ground clearance, 500mm of articulation and a 900mm wading depth, just like the 110.

INSIDE

Utility but still very attractive.  All of these surfaces are easily wiped down to get rid of dirt or mud.

Nile Jewelry/Stuff

Utility but still very attractive. All of these surfaces are easily wiped down to get rid of dirt or mud.

Your standard Defender interior applies here. The surfaces are made of hard-wearing plastic or rubber, covered with an easily wipeable wetsuit-type material, fabric or leather. It is very functional but still looks great.

The central screen is a good size, big enough to clearly display all the interesting off-road information you’ve been viewing at any time without being so big that it’s silly, and the digital instrument panel is gorgeous too.

The optional center seat up front technically makes the 90 a six-seater, but you have to be okay with close contact with other passengers. I’d also recommend specifying the ClearSight digital backup camera, as the middle seat is quite tall for some reason.

You’ll also need to think about how you’d use the Defender 90. The shortened wheelbase didn’t eat away at passenger space – rear occupants actually have plenty of room – but it did reduce boot space considerably. compared to the 90. If it’s only one or two of you using the 90, you can get away with dropping the rear seats for more storage, but more regular occupants, and you’d probably be better off with the 110.

UNDER THE HOOD

The D200-spec Defender 90 gets a 2.0-litre diesel engine with twin turbos attached, producing 147kW / 430Nm. For off-line poke, that’s pretty good, and it doesn’t make much noise either. JLR pairs it with an eight-speed automatic, like the rest of the lineup, and it’s about as smooth as it gets. Oddly this one is no longer listed on the local website, the range starts with the SE-spec D240 (same engine but making 177kW/430Nm).

The D200-spec diesel engine is excellent but loses power at higher speeds.

Nile Jewelry/Stuff

The D200-spec diesel engine is excellent but loses power at higher speeds.

You still get the same 4×4 setup as the 110, running on the same D7x platform, automatic center differential (opening and locking depending on the situation) and Terrain Response drive mode system. One thing you don’t get, at least not in this model, is air suspension on the 110. The 90 makes do with coil springs here.

ON THE ROAD

Unsurprisingly, the Defender 90 drives much like you’d expect a coil-sprung diesel-powered Defender to drive.

Another pain is the small boot space.  At least that means the rear passengers are comfortable.

Nile Jewelry/Stuff

Another pain is the small boot space. At least that means the rear passengers are comfortable.

By that I mean it’s got plenty of low-end torque – fantastic for off-roading and quick jaunts – and it’s incredibly comfortable. The 90’s shorter wheelbase means it’s also a little better in the corners, aided by light but precise steering…well, as good as a two-tonne SUV with almost 300mm of clearance at the floor could really be.

Terrain Response mode is better than ever, with Grass mode handy for climbing a slightly wet hill for photos, while the rest of the 4×4 system is brilliant too. I imagine the 90 would eventually give way to the 110 when the going got really tough, but more because of the wheelbase than the suspension. These steel springs are seriously capable.

Although that’s not really a big deal now that the D200 has been dropped from local offerings, I would suggest going for a more powerful engine because although the oil burner here is great from standstill with everything this torque, it loses punch after around 80 km/h, making overtaking maneuvers difficult.

The white wheels and silver roof are the perfect specification with the Pangea Green paint finish.

Nile Jewelry/Stuff

The white wheels and silver roof are the perfect specification with the Pangea Green paint finish.

Oh, and the lane keeping system is crap. It’ll get you back in lane after you’ve already crossed the white lines – if it’s pushing at all – or it’ll find false lines and slam the wheel in when it doesn’t need to.

Everything else is as good as the 110, which is to say excessively.

VERDICT

If you’ve opted for a Defender but aren’t sure if you want the cooler looks of the two-door 90 or the more practicality of the 110, the only thing you really need to consider is how you’ll use it. The 90 has very little boot space, so if you like to pack heavy and often carry more than two people, look to the 110. Or wait for the even larger 130, which is to be revealed this year.

But, if you’re just one or two, the option to lower the rear seats for more storage might push you towards the smaller 90.