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

Published Dec 24, 2021


Road test: Land Rover Defender 90 D240 S

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.

New vs Old: Watch our interior comparison video below:

So for instance if you select low range the car will lift itself on its suspension for a wading depth of 900mm (850mm with standard coils) and you can choose which view you prefer including the “look through the bonnet” option to see where your wheels are as you climb an obstacle or how high the water is when you do a river crossing.

I also like what they have done with some throwbacks to the original with grab handles on the dash, the exposed rivets, lower painted metal part on the doors and the dash with its open storage except there’s a host of charging points for any number of devices or 12V options.

The seats are extremely comfortable with enough support where it's needed so whether you’re on a long trip on the open road or shaking about on a rocky obstacle your backside (and back) are well taken care of.

Getting into the rear is a bit of a hassle, having to move the seats forward so it’s not ideal if you have a baby seat but there’s plenty of space for passengers once they’re seated and they’ll be as comfortable as you are in the driving seat.

The whole look and feel of the interior is plush and executive premium and by any measurement the best in its class.

The 90 we had on test comes standard at R1 175 904 but with the Driver Assist Pack (R15 300), Off-Road Pack (R18 500), Air Suspension Pack (R48 600), Advanced Off-Road Capability Pack (R11 300), Comfort and Convenience Pack (R11 400) and a handful of nice to haves that put the total options at R184 300 plus almost R15 000 CO. Tax you’re looking at R1 375 204.

That’s a whack of cash and out of Joe Average's league no doubt but it is a special car and if I had it, I would opt just for the Off-Road Pack and head to far away places.

Now, if we can only get those new owners to understand the Defender wave.

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)