First Drive: 2020 Land Rover Defender 90 Review

2020 Land Rover Defender 90 Review

The Land Rover Defender 90 will arrive in Australia early next year but we got to play with one this week in some muddy UK puddles.

If the 2020 Land Rover Defender is a little too… long… for you, here’s the SWB one. And the big news is the little one is just as good. Maybe better. You can have it as full lux spec, or as a robust base-spec model with coil spring suspension if you’re suspicious of – or unwilling to pay for – the air system and its adaptive dampers. 

The 90 – what’s that body?

This is a heckuva good looking SUV.  The 90 name is of course an echo of the old British Landie’s SWB option, as it had a 90-inch wheelbase. Here it’s 90 in name only, as it’s 102 inches, or 2687mm in real money. Not a small vehicle then. But the usefully compact overhangs are the same as the Defender 110, making it 4583mm long overall, with the spare wheel.

2020 Land Rover Defender 90 Review

While the 110 is a four-door this one has just the two. And a side-hinged tailgate. The back seats are roomy enough for adults, both in the leg and head room. The space feels well-lit thanks to the glazed portholes above the side windows. But it takes a while to get back there if it’s a version with electric front seats, because they motor forward with glacial slowness.

The boot, with the back seat up, is a not-huge 397 litres. So if you’re carrying friends or family on an expedition or even just a local camping trip, you’re going to be wanting options. See Land Rover’s imaginative external carrying systems. Panniers, roof rack, side ladder, and more.

The 90 is in normal spec a five-seater. A big and versatile console sits between the front seats. That has a huge armrest box, shelves, cup holders and basically the space for a small rucksack’s worth of travelling gear. But instead you can order a delete of that console, replacing it with a jump-seat. For any rug-rat under about 11 years old, this central throne is no question the best seat in the house. It’s mounted high and feels super-solid, with stadium-like visibility forward. If no little darling is on board, the back folds forward to make a table.

The other smart cabin features and materials are carried over from the 110. Which makes us happy.

How’s the 90 drive?

Just like the 110 really. That similarity of manners surprised me because most short-wheelbase off-roaders feel less happy than their longer variants. They pitch and wobble diagonally. Not here. The Defender is a smooth, progressive thing to steer, and it swallows all manner of bumps and curves without getting discombobulated.

The coil-sprung one does all of that too, although it’s not as controlled at speed as the adaptive air version. Its road manners easily eclipse the latest Wrangler’s. It’s also settled and quiet on the motorway. Really, a luxury car. Just one that’ll tow 3500kg.

2020 Land Rover Defender 90 Review
And off-road?

Well, we’ve reported a lot about the Defender’s superb traction systems and how the air suspension aids the 110. But here’s a thing – with the 90 you can get away with the coil setup and lose very little. That’s because the most likely thing you’ll drag in the ground is a wishbone, and raising the suspension doesn’t lift the wishbones. Now, in the 110 you’ll be glad of the extra breakover angle from the air setup, but the 90’s breakover is so amazingly good anyway – 25 degrees – that you probably won’t miss the air lift. 

There is a difference in approach and departure angles but it’s inconsequential unless you’re banging into boulders. Wading depth is 850mm on coils and 900 on air. I drove the coil-spring car in some proper British winter mud. The ruts came up to the driveshafts. Going uphill it was sometimes necessary to do a bit of oscillating steering to get the tyre shoulders biting on the walls of the ruts. But it was amazing what it would do. Sploshing too into pools up over the headlights. Using the hill descent for awesome drop-offs too slippery to stand on. Generally mud-wrestling to victory.

What about the engines?

When the Defender 90 lobs Down Under in February it’ll be available with all the same engines as the 110 variant. That means a range of petrol and diesel donks, including mild-hybrid technology – P300 and P400 as well as D200 (147kW/500Nm), D250 (183kW/570Nm) and D300 (252kW/650Nm). All engines will be mated to the same eight-speed automatic transmission. All petrol variants will have permanent all-wheel drive while the diesel versions will get Land Rover’s intelligent all-wheel drive system which can shuffle torque front or back as needed depending on the situation.

And the equipment levels?

The same as you get in the 110 with the same variants, S, SE, HSE, First Edition and Defender X (which is a cosmetic pack available for S, SE, and HSE). Then there are the Packs, Adventure, Country, Explorer and Urban which include things like, depending on the accessory pack, roof rack or raised air intake, panniers, decals, scuff plates and more.

And it’ll cost how much?

The Defender 90 kicks off from $71,500+ORCs for the P300 variant and runs through to $134,690+ORCs for the P400 X variant. The diesel 90 starts at $78,590+ORCs for the D200 and up to $132,590+ORCs for the D300 X.

What do we reckon?

We reckon this is the Defender to buy if you’re looking for an adventure machine. If you’re an inner-city type looking to be noticed by the neighbours then stick with the 110. The Defender 90, especially with the P400 engine is the quickest Defender you can buy (and whoever thought we’d write that)…and we mean properly quick too. Choose one of the smaller engines and progress will be swift and assured and whether you go with coils or air suspension, the ride and handling is excellent.

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