The new Defender: Land Rover’s superlative off-roader

The latest incarnation of Land Rover‘s classic Defender workhorse is as impressive as ever. Nicole Garcia Merida reports

Land Rover Defender
(Image credit: Land Rover Defender)

“T he best 4X4 by far” was what they used to say at Land Rover and in most cases, its models still are, says Andrew English in The Daily Telegraph. This latest revamp of the classic Defender is no exception. It was already looking “pretty good” in the form of the long-wheelbase 110 model, but this shorter 90 version “is, if anything, even better”. It has better dynamics, the same “lovely interior” and “looks terrific, too”. It is also as much of a dab hand at “the tough jobs” as its forebears. After a test drive that “hauled me through a few miles of sopping, slippery mire that you wouldn’t tackle on a goat with crampons… it didn’t miss a beat”. It’s just as happy on a trundle to the shops. “Look out of the Defender’s large front screen and a world of adventure and potential beckons, even on the humblest of drives.”

On the road, the 90 feels fast, “a utility vehicle with sporty performance” rather than an SUV, says Tim Pitt of Motoring Research. It’s “a riot in a muddy field”, but with the right engine it can “out-run a hot hatchback” too. The automatic gearbox is quick to respond and the engine sounds “throaty” and has “plentiful muscle to shrink the straights”. Driving it feels like “an event”. Just don’t expect much more than 20mpg “if you get carried away”.

The engine, while effective, lacks “manners”, being short on refinement and sounding loud and coarse on the go, says Mike Duff of Car and Driver. But “to be fair”, this is only really that noticeable because the rest of the car is so good. The 90 cruises “remarkably quietly” for something with such a blunt aerodynamic profile, the seating position is comfortable even after “long stints at the wheel” and the uncluttered dashboard is a “model of clarity”. And although obviously smaller than the 110, the cabin doesn’t feel cramped, carrying up to six passengers comfortably.

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The top-of-the-range model, with a new straight-six, three-litre petrol engine, developing 400bhp, is the one to have, says Paul Horrell in Top Gear, being the version that’s “fastest on the road and the most capable off it”. That engine may not be “exactly dripping with high-rev aural charisma”, but it’s “pretty smooth in the mid-ranges” and the eight-speed automatic gearbox “anticipates your needs well”, overtaking smartly enough and delivering a dignified, supple and controlled ride. But it is off-road where the 90 excels. The engine “dispenses torque gingerly when you need to ease across slippery mud, but with vim when you’re pointing up a precipitous slope”. The traction is “awesome”; the wading depth “almost scary”. Whatever the terrain, it “just paws along like a hippo. So don’t stand in its way”.

Price: from £43,625. Engine: 1,998cc turbo petrol (£50,690). Power: 295bhp. Top speed: 119mph. 0-62mph: 7.1 secs.

Nicole García Mérida

Nic studied for a BA in journalism at Cardiff University, and has an MA in magazine journalism from City University. She joined MoneyWeek in 2019.