Parkers overall rating: 4.1 out of 5 4.1
  • Fine on- and off-road performance
  • Mild-hybrid tech for most engines
  • No plug-in hybrid for the 90 range

As mentioned earlier in this review, the exact engine mix available for the Defender 90 is slightly confusing in that initial diesel orders were for a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine in two power outputs, but very few were actually built in this specification.

In reality, by the time deliveries begin in earnest in spring 2021, all of the diesels will be 3.0-litre, six-cylinder units with mild-hybrid technology.

There are also two petrol engines, the brawnier one also with mild-hybrid features, but no plug-in hybrid versions as you’ll find in the larger 110.

All Defender 90s feature standard turbocharging to boost low-speed torque, four-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic gearbox, with a low-range set of ratios for off-road driving available at the touch of a button.

  • D200 (2.0-litre diesel) – 200hp, 430Nm torque, 109mph, 10.2 seconds 0-62mph
  • D240 (2.0-litre diesel) – 240hp, 430Nm torque, 117mph, 9.0 seconds 0-62mph
  • D200 (3.0-litre diesel) – 200hp, 500Nm torque, 109mph, 9.2 seconds 0-62mph
  • D250 (3.0-litre diesel) – 249hp, 570Nm torque, 117mph, 7.6 seconds 0-62mph
  • D300 (3.0-litre diesel) – 300hp, 650Nm torque, 119mph, 6.7 seconds 0-62mph
  • P300 (2.0-litre petrol) – 300hp, 400Nm torque, 119mph, 8.0 seconds 0-62mph
  • P400 (3.0-litre petrol) – 400hp, 550Nm torque, 129mph, 6.0 seconds 0-62mph

We have yet to try any diesel versions, with initial drives – somewhat unusually – concentrating on the two petrols.

Driven exclusively off-road for this review, the P300 proved to be capable to generating enough pulling power to haul the Defender 90 up very steep inclines, while managing to deliver its torque in a progressive, linear manner, free from sudden surges of grunt.

This was aided and abetted by the on-board electronic wizardry that modulates the accelerative force, together with the manual override on the automatic gearbox. No steering wheel paddles here; just knock the lever to the left into Sport mode and sequentially pull it back to go up the ratios and forwards to go down.

At such low speeds crawling around the undergrowth, the engine’s subdued, but like other encounters with this 2.0-litre petrol it can sound coarse and strained when revved hard.

Refined P400 feels like an enormous hot hatchback

Things are certainly more aurally pleasing with the six-cylinder engine in the P400. At motorway speeds its hushed and unstressed, but provoke the throttle pedal and it surges forwards with a degree of pace that seems at odds with the Defenders’ squared-off styling.

Venture off along a B-road and it has no trouble keeping up with much of the rapid traffic you’ll encounter, similarly embarrassing many a performance car when pulling away from traffic lights – it’s a hoot in a manner that’s unexpected, feeling like a high-rise GTI, in spite of what it can do off the asphalt.

How does the Defender 90 handle?

  • Surprisingly capable on-road
  • Extraordinarily agile off it
  • Air suspension improves matters further

As much as it’ll cause further anguish to Land Rover traditionalists still lamenting the new Defender 90’s lack of ovine transportation abilities, the truth is that most of these cars will mostly spend their time on metalled roads.

The good news here is that Land Rover has ensured it has fine manners for when it’s driven on asphalt, cornering with more precision than a full-sized Range Rover, but without the degree of feeling you would experience in an Evoque – it’s a well-judged compromise that suits the Defender's character.

Tyres with high sidewalls surrounding smaller wheel rims together combine to contribute to a cushioned ride quality, but we would recommend spending extra on the adaptive air suspension for even greater agility and comfort. Hustling the a P400 version on winding back roads fitted with the air springs confirmed that bodyroll is kept in check, enabling higher speeds to be maintained, but tackle a corner a bit too hot and it will push wider than your intended line.

While the controls don’t offer a tremendous amount of communication, they weight-up progressively with speed, allowing the 90 to feel nimble and – whisper it – fun to drive.

Off-road prowess

A Land Rover wouldn’t be worthy of its green oval badge if it wasn’t capable of incredible off-roading feats and the latest 90 doesn’t disappoint in this regard, either.

Even the standard coil suspension allows it to tackle terrain that looks barely possible for an adventurous goat to be able to pass, and with the height-adjustable nature of the air springs, you’ve got even more ground clearance – 291mm in fact.

Factor in other eye-widening stats such as its ability to wade through water 900mm deep, climb 38-degree slopes and descend ones of 40 degrees and you have a car that’s an astonishing all-rounder.

Naturally, as previously mentioned, there’s a host of electronic kit available that assists the driver make light work of a variety of topographic situations, including Terrain Response 2 drive modes that monitor the kind of surface being driven on and All-Terrain Progress Control – off-road cruise control for low-speed use.

But, for serious off-roading, one option that’s a must-have is the active differential to allow the central and rear portions to be locked, maximising the Defender’s ability to get itself out of bother.