2021 Land Rover Defender 90 review – on and off road
Is the shorter Defender the better Defender?
The new Land Rover Defender seems to be doing quite well already – the roads of London and the South of England already seem chock-full of the practical five-door 110 versions. But given how the new Defender's aiming to replicate the style-icon status of its creaky forebear, it's understandable that Land Rover's also created a sexier three-door version – the Defender 90. And we've been driving it – check out the video below or read on for more thoughts.
What is it like to drive?
I covered about 120 road miles in a top-spec Defender 90 X P400 – a £75,000 car packing Jaguar Land Rover's new 400hp six-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine. It's not likely to be a spec you'll see on the road given that it's bloody expensive, but such is life.
Initial impressions are that the shorter wheelbase gives the 90 a noticeable increase in agility over the 110. It turns in to corners with noticeably more bite. It encourages you to drive it in a sportier fashion than the longer 110, but after a while you start butting up against the stability control, which you sense is working harder in the 90 than the 110. There's a bit more dive when you're braking into corners, and it feels a bit more fidgety over bumpy Tarmac than its longer brother. It's still impressively comfortable, and you'd not care a jot if you'd not driven the 110 before the 90.
Is that new six-cylinder engine a bit of a fire breather?
The 400hp straight-six surprises on a couple of levels. For a start it sounds glorious, and you get to drink a lot of the engine noise in from the driver's seat. Unsurprisingly it sounds a bit like an M3 or M4, albeit one that's tied up in bed with a ball gag in its mouth. Performance is decent, but the Defender's a heavy old brick, so the 0-60mph time of 5.7 seconds doesn't feel terrifyingly fast. The real downside resulting from the car's weight is the fuel economy – even after an 80-mile motorway trek at 70mph I struggled to get above 20mpg. After a bit of back-road hoonery it dropped to 18mpg.
I've not driven a Defender with the new six-cylinder diesel engine, but after experiencing its similarly agreeable noise and extra torque in a Range Rover Sport, I imagine it'll be the engine to pick for your Defender.
What's it like inside?
The main difference between the 110 and the 90 is the loss of the back doors. That's not actually as much of a practicality disaster as you'd think – the front seats are easy to slide out of the way and there's still a tonne of leg and head room in the back. The rear windows don't open, however, so it could feel a bit claustrophobic on longer trips.
The 90 can be built with a foldaway jump seat in between the front two seats, turning this 'small' Defender into a six seater. The gear shift is mounted on the dash, so this is more of a practical idea than it possibly sounds, and there's something undeniably cool about sitting front and centre.
Boot space is down on the 110, dropping from a frankly silly 1,075 litres in the bigger car to 397 litres in the 90.
Can it still handle the off-road stuff?
Yes. We drove the entry-level Defender 90 on coil springs (rather than air suspension in the P400 Defender X) across the toughest trails Land Rover's Eastnor Castle facility has to offer. The cars were equipped with the four-cylinder, 300hp petrol engine and the only option was an optional auto-locking rear differential. They were on the all-terrain option from the production line (there's a more road-biased tyre and a more serious winter/mud option).
Put simply, it only ever got stuck when other hapless journos didn't carry enough momentum into a slippery climb, but even that was rare. Even without all the fancy Terrain Response 2 electronics and adjustable ride height, it just got on with things, using a mix of mechanical grip, grunt and the low-range gearbox mode to muscle on through.
Should I get one?
There's no doubt that the Defender 90's the sexier of the new Defender range. But it's still pretty pricey – the base-spec car will set you back £44,000, but for that you get a practical SUV that can off-road, on-road and do everything you'd need it to do this side of a trackday.