There's Nothing Else Like the Land Rover Defender 90

Ultimately, the two-door Land Rover is cooler than the four-door 110. And less practical.

Governor Kathy Hochul said, "[S]it home with a six pack of beer and wait it out," of winter storm Kenan, which blanketed the New York metro area with around a foot of snow. Thing is, I don't drink at home, and parked outside was a 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 on all-terrain tires. Sorry, Madam Governor.

She might've had a point, as the roads were an absolute mess, but the Defender made driving upon them a non-event. Goodyear Wrangler A/Ts and Land Rover's advanced all-wheel-drive system do that sort of thing.

Chris Perkins

I viewed the new Defender with skepticism when it arrived in 2019. Not from the rose-tinted perspective of original Defender worship (that deeply charming vehicle that was well past its sell-by date when production ended in 2016), but I questioned if a unibody vehicle could be as serious an off-roader. As if sharing a platform with the Range Rover was an indication that JLR didn't have the resources to do things properly. I was hoping the new Defender would be more like the new Mercedes G-Wagen, and less like a Discovery with throwback design cues.

R&T's first tests in the four-door Defender 110 allayed those fears—it is a supremely capable 4x4. Now, after living with a Defender 90 First Edition for a few days, the real genius in going unibody for the Defender is ever more evident. No off-roader on sale today offers such a fantastic mix of refinement and capability.

Sure, a G-Wagen has the plusher interior, but it starts at $132,800 while a base Defender is just over $53,000. (Though good luck buying either at MSRP today . . .) And the Defender's interior is still great. Land Rover eschewed traditional luxury materials to give the Defender a more utilitarian vibe, and what's really clever is that none of it feels cheap. The exposed fasteners and neoprene-esque material on the doors, for example, feel carefully considered. Plus, unlike an old Defender, you're not sitting right up against the door.

Chris Perkins
Chris Perkins

There are all sorts of smart places to store your things—not always the case with luxury vehicles—and the dashboard is nice and shallow, in classic off-roader fashion. Visibility is generally quite good from the front and sides, and the optional camera rear mirror provides a clear panorama of what's going on behind you. This one also had the optional first-row jump seat, which is very cute, though I can't imagine it will be useful to many. The biggest surprise was the brilliantly straightforward infotainment system, a vast improvement over JLR's previous offerings. My only real gripe here is that the base sound system isn't all that great.

Chris Perkins

I wish I could've pushed this Defender—goofing off in the snow probably doesn't count—though driving it on road paints a more accurate picture of how most will use this SUV. It's obvious why it's been such a hit for Land Rover—it's just so wonderfully refined. Ride quality on the First Edition's height-adjustable air springs is surprisingly excellent given the fairly short wheelbase, and the damping is perfectly judged. JLR's 394-hp 3.0-liter straight-six—standard on the First Edition, optional on other models—is typically excellent. This might be my favorite application yet of this engine, it's total smoothness and great low- and midrange torque a perfect complement to this sort of car. The whole thing is just very chilled-out and unobtrusive, yet somehow not boring. It's much more Range Rover than Jeep Wrangler.

Chris Perkins

Of course, the 90 specifically is limited in its appeal. While I love the short wheelbase making it easy to park, the 90 forces you to choose between passengers and luggage. If four friends want to take this on a ski trip, they'll need a roof box, and families would be better served by the 110. But within those realities, if the 90 fits your lifestyle, it's the one to have. The proportions are just so good, especially in profile. There's something undeniably cool about a two-door SUV.

As a single city dweller with a (perhaps unfortunate) predilection for English cars, I want one. Its combination of strengths isn't shared with any other vehicle on sale currently. And frankly, driving one beats sitting on the couch with a six pack . . . even if the governor doesn't think so.

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