4.1 out of 5 4.1
Parkers overall rating: 4.1 out of 5 4.1

Iconic SUV reimagined for the 21st Century

Land Rover Defender 90 (20 on) - rated 4.1 out of 5
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At a glance

New price £42,355 - £78,215
Lease from new From £579 p/m View lease deals
Used price £31,160 - £66,295
Fuel Economy 22.7 - 32.8 mpg
Road tax cost £150 - £475
Insurance group 27 - 42 How much is it to insure?
New

PROS

  • Incredible off-road agility
  • Fun to drive on asphalt, too
  • Fine handling still a hallmark

CONS

  • Expensive, even before options are added
  • Not as practical as the Defender 110
  • Running costs can prove eye-watering

Land Rover Defender 90 rivals

Written by Keith WR Jones on

You have to feel for the team of engineers, designers, marketeers and everyone else responsible for the new Land Rover Defender 90.

Between them they’ve created a desirable, hugely capable, contemporary SUV, but the keyboard warriors in social medialand are angry. Why? Because you can no longer carry a sheep and a bale of hay in the back, before dousing a field's worth of freshly ploughed earth from the interior at the end of a hard day's graft.

>> We rate the best SUVs on sale

We’re pleased you can’t. The world has moved on since the first Land-Rover (note the hyphen it had originally) went on sale in 1948 and as charming as the old Defender range was, it was completely out of sync with its times when production finally ended in January 2016.

What exactly is the Defender 90?

As with its forebear of the same name, the 90 is a shorter version of the Defender 110 – Parkers’ Off-Roader of the Year 2021 – with five seats as standard and a sixth one optional between the front pair.

With its shorter overall length and three-door bodywork, the 90’s understandably less practical, with priority given to rear-seat passenger space over boot volume. It’s much more of a lifestyle choice than its larger twin.

However, as we detail later in this review, the Defender 90 is exceptional off-road and with its shorter wheelbase – that’s the distance between the front and rear wheels – compared with the 110, it’s even more agile when tackling tight and twisty trails.

Its off-road prowess benefits from all-independent coil spring suspension as standard, which can be replaced by a superior adaptive air-sprung arrangement – incidentally, this helps make the Defender 90 particularly refined on road – as well as technology such as Terrain Response 2. This monitors a variety of parameters such as under-tyre surfaces, steering angles, speed and ambient temperature to determine the best driving mode at any given moment, but you also have manual control over this whenever you desire it.

Powerful range of engines

Whether hauling an SUV weighing in excess of two tonnes on the road, or off them climbing slopes so steep you wouldn’t contemplate tackling on foot, you need an engine with lots of pulling power – or torque – to make light work of the task in hand.

Turbocharging helps significantly with this, so it’s no surprise to learn that, as is common across the car industry these days, all of the Defender 90’s engines feature this technology.

Precisely which engines are available is shrouded in a little confusion as order books were opened in spring 2020, but due to the onset of COVID-19 and a desire to satisfy orders for the more popular 110, production of the 90 only began in the latter part of the year, with deliveries set to begin in 2021.

While in theory you can order D200 and D240 models with a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine, deliveries of these models will be few and far between. Almost all will actually be of D200 and D250 versions with 3.0-litre, six-cylinder motors with mild-hybrid technology, as also used in the punchier D300 model.

Those with a petrol preference can opt for the P300 with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, or a range-topping 3.0-litre, six-cylinder, also with mild-hybrid tech, badged P400. For all models, the numerical part of the engine name refers to its output in horsepower.

If you’re hoping for something greener, then bad news – the plug-in hybrid P400e petrol-electric set-up is only available in the Defender 110.

All Defender 90s feature four-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard, which can be overridden manually, using the lever itself only - there are no paddles behind the wheel. Plus, for serious off-roading a low-range of ratios is selectable using a push-button rather than additional gear lever as found in older Defenders.

Up-to-date on-board technology

While the Defender’s interior has a look all of its own, with plenty of cubbies and shelves for storage, many of the buttons and controls are shared with other Jaguar Land Rover products to help keep costs down. This is no bad thing as by and large they easy to use and feel of decent quality.

Land Rover has chosen the Defender to be one of its first models fitted with the Pivi Pro multimedia system. Although the graphics look similar to the system found in older models, it’s much slicker in its operation and features over-the-air updates. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay also feature.

Other technology is useful for circumventing peculiarities of the Defender 90's architecture making it easier to see what’s going on. There’s a rear-facing camera that displays its image in the rear-view mirror glass giving a perspective that’s not obscured by the tailgate-mounted spare wheel, while cameras on the door mirrors point down at the front wheels making it easier to position the car on precarious pathways.

An appealing, but unusual choice

Defender 90 ownership doesn’t come cheap with even the entry grade P300 model costing in excess of £43,000. Beyond that standard Defender trim, the hierarchy follows Land Rover’s familiar S, SE and HSE structure, with more rugged X-Dynamic versions additionally available of all of those three.

Topping the line-up is the Defender X – you’ll need at least £75,000 for one of these – plus for the initial year of production is the special First Edition, which sits in the middle of the range at just under £56,000.

Additionally, there are four lifestyle bundles of extra kit that can be specified on any model:

  • Explorer Pack – mudflaps, matte black bonnet, spare wheel cover, wheelarch protection mouldings, a raised air intake, an expedition-style roof rack and a side-mounted gear carrier (which blocks out much of the rear side window)
  • Adventure Pack – mudflaps, spare wheel cover, a silver rear scuff plate, a rinsing system to wash mud off your kit, an integrated air compressor, a backpack that fits onto one of the seats when not in use and that side-mounted gear carrier
  • Country Pack – mudlfaps, silver rear scuff plate, wheelarch protection mouldings, the rinse system and a full-height boot divider
  • Urban Pack – silver rear scuff plate and matching pedals, a spare wheel cover and a front undershield

If you’re thinking ‘that’s all well and good, but I’ll go for a cheaper alternative, thanks’, then we have some bad news: short-wheelbase (SWB) versions of large SUVs are no longer as plentiful as they were when the previous Defender was merely middle-aged.

Long-gone are rivals such as the Isuzu Trooper, Mitsubishi Shogun and Nissan Patrol, leaving just the Jeep Wrangler and Toyota Land Cruiser as SWB competitors, and even then they can’t approach the Land Rover’s levels of plushness. Nor do they try to, in all fairness.

Beyond those, the Defender 90 has no real direct rivals, given that the latest Mercedes-Benz G-Class has five doors only, while the diminutive – and now also discontinued – Suzuki Jimny could be bought for a fraction of the Land Rover’s cost.

While the three-door Defender is unlikely to spark a renewal of interest in the type of vehicle, its appeal will chiefly lie at two opposite ends of the buyer spectrum: those who crave incredible off-road ability and well-heeled urbanites who’d like a 110, but have limited parking space. Either way, a Defender 90 customer wants to make a statement.

Click through the next few pages to read everything you need to know about the Land Rover Defender 90 including its practicality, how much it costs to run, what it's like to drive – and whether we recommend buying one.

Land Rover Defender 90 rivals

Other Land Rover Defender models: