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Land Rover Defender 90 review – It shouldn’t be this good, but it is

I recently spent a week with the Land Rover Defender 90 D300 X-Dynamic HSE, and every time I got into it, I was trying to figure out how I won’t have to give it back to Land Rover.

Diehard fans of the “Old Defender”, the tractor-like SUV that has garnered a cult-like following, might not be convinced by the sleek styling and fancy electronics of this “New Defender”.

I can assure you it is just as capable as the old one, if not more so, while making any trip a joy – no matter if you’re cruising on a highway or crawling up a steep, rocky hill.

I did plenty of both during my time with the Defender 90 and it did not fail to impress in any scenario.

Tech fest

The new Land Rover Defender offers an incredible amount of gadgets in its cabin and it’s clear the company paid a lot of attention to the finer details.

The model I drove has a starting price of R1,421,752, and its optional equipment pushed its price to a smidge over R1.5 million.

This is a lot of money for a car, but rarely have I felt that a vehicle justifies its asking price this well.

There is an electronic feature for nearly everything you want to do and every panel and part that you touch feels high-quality and solid.

No creaking plastics or bendy door panels are found here, road noise rivals the lowest of any car on the market, tonnes of storage space is dotted around the interior, and  luxuriously-rugged materials that feel like they’ll last a lifetime are used all over.

Although the 90’s body is substantially shorter than the Defender 110, its cabin was spacious, too.

Four passengers comfortably occupied the seats with not a single person complaining about a lack of room.

However, the cockpit was a bit narrower than expected and my elbows hit the doors and centre console a bit more than I would’ve liked.

More tech

A high-definition instrument cluster laid out speeds, rpm, navigation, trip information, media controls, driver assistance settings, and just about everything I could ever need in a neat, configurable screen.

Right above this was the heads-up display, an optional extra in this case, which mimicked the usefulness of the instrument cluster and often blended into my peripheral vision – never being intrusive in the slightest.

Furthermore, this Defender had a sliding fabric top that opens the roof nicely, the top-of-the-line Meridian sound system with great sound, and multiple cameras situated around the sides that provided a 360-degree view of the SUV for tricky navigating.

I also experienced the cooled glovebox, upgraded 14-way adjustable seats, 3D navigation system, 10-inch infotainment display with smartphone-like operability, wireless phone charger, adaptive cruise control, and tri-zone climate control – which are all features I felt needed to be mentioned since they were so enjoyable.

Complicated menus

Admittedly, no vehicle is perfect, and as close as the Defender 90 might be to this, there were a handful of quirks I did not find appealing.

The steering wheel buttons are somewhat finicky and every-so-often need to be pressed a second time, and the rear visibility out of the cabin is less than ideal.

This is mainly due to the spare tire at the back and the plastic panels fitted in place of rear windows.

Luckily, it came with a blind spot monitor, lane keep assist, and the ClearView rear-view mirror that incorporates a camera – another one of my favourite features – to mitigate these annoyances.

Additionally, the Pivi Pro infotainment system is quite tricky to figure out.

In an effort to keep the tactile buttons in the cabin to a minimum and maintain a rugged look, multiple buttons were given the task of performing more than one function.

For example: the passenger-seat climate control dial adjusts the temperature for the front left seat air con vents, seat heating, and ventilation for that seat – as well as the air conditioner fan speed for the whole cabin.

I grew to appreciate the minimalist look once I got to grips with the various buttons’ functions, but it did take a while to reach this point.

Additionally, only on the second-last day with the SUV did I discover a menu hidden behind several screens where I could finely adjust selected driver assistance programmes – and this made my last moments in the Defender even more pleasant.

Things like mirrors that tilt down when you select reverse might not be all that necessary, but they sure do make things easier.

Corner-carving rock crawler

The Defender is not known for its speed, but rather its rock-crawling, water-wading prowess.

However, this Defender 90 in D300 specification is nothing to scoff at.

It reaches 100km/h in 6.7 seconds and eats up corners quite rapidly if you know where to point it.

The short wheelbase body style causes the handling to feel a bit sharper than in larger SUVs, too, but the considerable height and width of the Defender makes tight parkings and narrow roads tense at times.

The Defender 90 I had came with the upgraded air suspension package, which gives this SUV a few centimetres of adjustable suspension height split between three modes – entry, normal, and off-road.

Entry mode is the lowest the Defender goes and is meant to get the 1.97m-tall body into parking areas with low rooflines.

Normal mode is most frequently-used and provides 291mm of ground clearance.

While more wobbly and wavy than a rigid suspension set-up, these bags of air guaranteed a ride so supple and smooth that I occasionally had to remind myself I’m still in a 4×4 that can tackle the Himalayas.

Switching to off-road mode then sees this SUV raise itself noticeably to assure greater ground clearance and approach, breakover, and exit angles.

Off-road mode allowed me to tackle a climb which I did not dare in other vehicles I’ve tested, and after the summit was peaked, I turned around and did it a few more times.

Using low range and Terrain Response 2 system on rock crawl mode made this obstacle almost laughable, and with the electronic differential locked I managed to get the gyroscope to 30 degrees before reaching the top.

This might not sound like much when reading it on a screen, but when sitting in a 2.3-tonne SUV with only the bright blue sky taking up your entire windshield, you realise how steep it really is.

The myriad of cameras and off-road systems assisted in the safe passage of otherwise treacherous terrains, too, and the only thing more astounding than its intelligence was how effortlessly the Defender handled it all.


The Land Rover Defender is an impeccable vehicle that will satisfy the needs of city-drivers and 4×4-ers.

With the D300 engine and 90 body style, the 3.0-litre, twin-turbo diesel motor provides more than enough power – 221kW and 650Nm – while still being frugal. I averaged roughly 10-litres/100km.

If you don’t desperately need four doors and caverns of cargo capacity, I would say the short wheelbase is the route to go.

Specification grade I would leave up to the buyer, as even the entry-level Defender has ample gadgets to play around with.

Land Rover Defender 90 X-Dynamic HSE

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