Since its local launch in 2020, under the cloak of a pandemic that has scuppered so many other vehicle launch fanfare, the Land Rover Defender seems to have been the exception. Yes, there were scores of supposed Defender enthusiasts who frowned upon the latest model, and I get that. Being averse to change is part of our DNA make-up and since the Defender has basically evolved over the years, all the while remaining true to the original ethos, this is the first time that the model has truly revolved.
We drove the latest Defender 110 in both P400e and D240 guises and we were left suitably impressed by the vehicle’s design, build quality and overall versatility, not to mention the lengthy standard equipment list. So, when the Defender 90 – the shorty – as it is affectionately known in some circles docked into my driveway for review, I wondered whether that enchanting character of its more practical 110 sibling would also be prudent here. In short; yes, it remains intact.
With the stubby design and only having two passenger doors, getting in and out of the vehicle for rear passengers does require some pretzel-like contorting to plonk back there, however, small kids have no issues in this regard. Speaking of which, my kids were equally smitten of the Defender 90, save for the blind spot due to the Land Rover window plaque, which limits window views for those sitting at the rear. Views from the captain’s and skipper’s seats are good at worst and the layout of the cabin’s architecture is one of the Defender’s best repertoires. Clean. Simple. Legible.
Build quality is exemplary, despite the perception of the cabin being mostly festooned with plastics, everything in here is built for robustness and sturdiness in equal measure. It feels like a car that will withstand almost everyday vagaries thrown at it and it will just shrug these off. The appeal of the new Defender seems to have silenced all those jeers about it being too soft and not being a worthy replacement to the original. I think that has been misplaced and the Defender continues to impress all and sundry.
Our tester is the top-flight D300 HSE X-Dynamic, which is powered by a 3.0-litre, straight six, turbo diesel engine putting out 221 kW at 4 000 r/min and 650 Nm at 1 500 r/min via an 8-speed automatic transmission. And in my books, it is the powertrain that is the star of this cast as it takes the leading role of the entire package. It has a creamy-smooth power delivery with oodles of torque to push the “shorty” along with such ease, you just wonder whether you need anything more than this.
Yes, sure, the 5.0-litre V8 Supercharged is there if you want to be a bit of a yobo and make glorious V8 noises at every push of the throttle, but I digress. This diesel wins the Oscar award with its blend of power and economy, the latter yielding around 8.8 l/100km during our test tenure, which is quite commendable indeed.
Thanks to our tester that’s kitted out with the optional Off-Road Pack (R18 500), the Defender 90 is absolutely a peach off the beaten track, managing to tackle everything thrown at it with the best aplomb. Wading depth at 900 mm, thanks to the optional air-suspension (R48 600), ensured that water fording was a breeze, while rock-strewn tracks were no match for this mighty warrior.
Thankfully, the Defender’s off-road prowess is not at the expense of on-road comfort and acoustics, despite the off-road-biased tyres fitted to our steed. It has ride quality of the waft variety and there was very little in the way of incessant tyre noise, making the cabin a very tranquil place to while away time behind the wheel.
At a base price of R1 365 900, the Defender 90 ain't cheap, but its capability and cool factor transcends many varying tastes. Tack on a few options, though, and the price can quickly nudge nigh of R2 000 000. The jury is still out on the reliability aspect, but the new Defender certainly tick all the right boxes with regards to appeal and capability, not to mention the aforementioned universal appeal. In my opinion, it is what the Discovery should have been and I will be the least surprised if it isn't already cannibalising on its sibling's showroom sales.
While the Defender 110 will continue to appeal to those with a penchant for more practicality and space, the Defender 90 panders to those with an outdoorsy lifestyle, appeal and capability that is synonymous with the nameplate. Personally, I like both models for similar reasons, but the 110 is perhaps more suitable for my lifestyle needs and would be my choice if I had to have just one. However, the appeal and want for the 90 will remain etched in my mind for some time. That, if little else, speaks huge volumes of the Land Rover Defender range’s universal appeal.