By Derek Price
It’s the Defender 90, the two-door version of Land Rover’s newest off-road beast that looks and feels as if it could cross Africa without breaking a sweat.
While the four-door Defender 110 is sure to be more popular with the masses thanks to its roomier seating, easier access and ample cargo space afforded by its extra 17 inches of length, it’s the sportier 90 that wins my heart.
This is a vehicle designed for looks and capability first, practicality second. It’s exactly what the car world needs more of at a time when lookalike, mom-and-dad crossovers are ubiquitous.
Nothing looks quite like a Defender, although it’s striking enough that I wish more vehicles did.
While it shares the same look in front and back as the four-door version, the Defender 90 walks with a thousand times more swagger thanks to what happens in the middle: removing doors and shortening the cabin.
The overall look is a case study in how designers should mix old with new.
Its shape is clearly based around the classic Defender made famous in countless Saharan safaris and adventure films, yet it has the polish and sparkle of a freshly deployed spacecraft. It’s the kind of flashy, audacious vehicle in which Richard Branson or Jeff Bezos would feel great driving before blasting themselves into space atop piles of smoking money.
Of course, being a Land Rover, the capability backs up the tough look.
Power comes from a turbocharged incline six-cylinder engine with a mild electric boost to help performance. It makes 395 horsepower that lets it scoot up to highway speed quickly.
Gas mileage is — predictably for a heavy, off-road vehicle — not that impressive. It’s rated for 17 mpg in city driving and 22 on the highway.
The new Defender is fitted with an advanced version of the customizable Terrain Response system that uses hardware and software to set up the vehicle for varying conditions.
There are ample high-tech choices for playing in the wilderness, including electronic locking of the center and rear differentials via the touchscreen, but two new features in particular stood out to me.
One is the Wade Sensing system. It measures how high the water is when crossing a stream, an important number to know in a vehicle designed to operate perfectly fine in almost three feet of standing water — 35.4 inches, to be precise.
The other is ClearSight Ground View, a feature that blew my mind the first time I saw it on the Defender’s screen.
ClearSight uses cameras to look underneath the vehicle to see obstacles, something I wish I had in the past when off-roading without a spotter. Even better, like magic, it shows you an overhead view of the vehicle that makes the Defender look transparent, as if you have Superman’s X-ray vision to see what’s underneath it. Potholes and rocks are clearly visible under the floor, as seen from the video screen.
While I think the styling is masterful on the Defender 90’s chiseled, blocky body, it may even be surpassed on the inside.
The whole cabin is designed in a way that Land Rover describes as a “constructivist modular” architecture, designed to be taken apart if needed. It’s as beautiful as it is functional, though, with a color palette that matches the body because the exterior panels seem to flow right inside.
Wood and leather give it the Old World charm that any proper British-branded vehicle out to carry, but there’s also no mistaking this for an Old World vehicle. The lighting and clean, minimalist design could have been pulled straight from a trendy nightclub.
Pricing starts at $46,100 for the oh-so-cool 90 or $50,500 for the four-door 110.
At A Glance
Wheelbase: 101.9 in.
Length: 180.4 in.
Width: 82.9 in.
Height: 77.5 in.
Engine: Turbocharged 3.0-liter six cylinder (395 hp, 406 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 17 city, 22 highway
Why buy it?
It’s flat-out cool. It mixes incredible capability with cutting-edge tech and heritage-inspired looks.