Land Rover’s tough new Defender tested

This is the first all-new Defender in about 70 years and it brings huge advances in tech and luxury, but it is still just as capable off road.

Land Rover’s re-imagined 21st century Defender has notched up more than 50 awards all over the world since its launch last year. The brand has also picked up a couple of less impressive achievements in that time, though.

The automotive industry’s most credible measures of vehicle reliability are Consumer Reports ratings and the JD Power Vehicle Dependability Study, both US-based.

In this year’s Consumer Reports brand rankings, Land Rover came second last out of 32 contenders, while the JD Power survey, which talks to owners of three-year-old vehicles, ranked it last out of 32 brands.

Land Rover boss Thierry Bolore lamented that the company’s reputation for making cranky cars is costing it more than 100,000 sales each year.

“Our results have been unacceptable,” he said. “But we know how to fix them.” We have heard this before. Many times.

It’s the infuriating contradiction of Land Rover. The brand has for decades struggled to achieve consistent quality and reliability, yet its vehicles are usually great to drive, with a unique combination of on and off-road capability wrapped in elegant, imaginative Brit-mod design. Defender 90 arrives about 10 months late due to Covid-related production delays at the Slovakian plant where it’s built. Already it’s had one recall, for a potentially faulty front-seat latching mechanism.

In keeping with Defender tradition, 90 is the short-wheelbase variant, with two fewer doors and seats than the 110 wagon.

Engines include a 221kW 2.0-litre four cylinder turbo petrol, a 294kW 3.0-litre straight six turbo petrol with mild hybrid assistance, 147kW and 183kW straight six 3.0-litre twin-turbo diesels and a 386kW 5.0-litre supercharged petrol V8 monster. All are matched with an eight-speed automatic and dual range four-wheel drive.

Prices open at $74,516 for the P300 2.0-litre turbo petrol we’re driving here. That’s $2320 less than the P300 110 wagon, a surprisingly small gap. At the top of the 90 range, you’ll pay $210,716 for the 5.0-litre V8.

In the Defender 90 brochure, the standard equipment list occupies one page. There are 14 pages of options.

Ten-inch touchscreen infotainment, navigation and dual-zone airconditioning are included. Wireless phone charging? That’ll be $2905 for the Comfort and Convenience Pack option, thanks. The steering wheel is plastic. For nearly $75,000?

Comprehensive driver assist safety tech includes surround cameras. Seating is comfortable, if basic, with plenty of adjustability up front and a surprising amount of room in the back, albeit with the usual three-door restricted access.

The boot is small and the side hinged tailgate can be problematic in tight spaces

On road and off, the 90 is a pleasure to drive. Although two litres shifting two tonnes looks like underdone arithmetic, Land Rover extracts remarkably muscular performance from the engine, employed to good effect by the smooth, intuitive eight speed automatic. The trip from 0-100km/h is pretty quick at 7.1 seconds, but it is thirsty, averaging 13.9L/100km on test.

Maximum towing weight is 3500kg. Unlike most 4WD wagons and utes, Defender (all models) can legally pull that when loaded to maximum gross vehicle mass. Pick the 3.0-litre turbodiesel if towing is a priority.

A light, rigid all-aluminium monocoque body is the basis for excellent on road dynamics. The 90’s shorter wheelbase means it feels more precarious in corners than the 110, but roadholding is rock solid, the steering is reasonably precise and tactile and the ride, though firm, is controlled and compliant.

The brakes are very grabby at low speed, also evident on a 110 wagon I drove.

If you’re going to tackle sheer cliffs and ford ravines, the 90 will do that straight out of the box, too. Steep descents are a doddle thanks to effective hill descent control, and in low range, with selectable traction modes for different surfaces and all terrain tyres, there’s enough grunt and grip to haul the 90 up or through most obstacles, though a locking rear differential should be standard rather than an $806 option.

Adaptive air suspension (a $1309 option) increases ground clearance from 225mm to 291mm and allows you to adjust the ride/handling compromise on the bitumen as well.


Beautiful, highly capable and overpriced. Hopefully, reliability is standard, not optional


Price: $74,516 plus on road costs

Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 221kW/400Nm

Warranty/servicing: 5 years/unlimited km, $1950 for 5 years

Safety: Six airbags, auto emergency braking, adaptive cruise, blind-spot and lane-keep assist

Thirst: 10.1L/100km

Cargo: 240 litres

Spare: Full size

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