AlxJTxoU Land Rover Defender 90 SE P400 8
Land Rover Defender 90 SE P400 8

Defender 90: Land Rover’s off-road magician

Riley Riley

Land Rover Defender 90 SE P400 4

What is it?

Let’s get something straight. Land Rover’s Defender maybe an icon, but as for legendary — well, they weren’t very reliable.

In this country, if you wanted to head off the beaten track, you got a Land Cruiser, preferably the workhorse version with its skinny tyres, part-time 4×4 and mechanical diff locks — with a bullbar and snorkel for good measure.

It’s the car you invariably find parked in sheds on farms across the Land.  

Land Rover calls this new car a Defender, but it doesn’t look or feel much like the last one we drove.

In reality, it’s a Defender in name only. For starters, you no longer need to stick out your elbow out the window, just so you’ve got room to turn the bloody wheel.

Nope. Time has moved on and so has the Defender, thank goodness, which is now much more accommodating and finally safe — as safe as airbags and electronic assistance can make it.

The question is . . . can it do the things its predecessor could? And who pray tell is this sensitive, new age off-roader aimed at? 

Land Rover Defender 90 SE P400 5

What’s it cost?

Back in 2015 when the old Defender was in run out, the car was suddenly in hot demand.

But you could pick up the runt of the litter, a Defender 90, for as little as $42 grand plus on-roads.

Fast forward and prices for the all-new Defender start from $81,950 for the tw0-door, turbocharged 2.0-litre Defender 90 P300.

I’m no maths whizz, but that’s almost twice the price of the car it replaces. 

Four option packs are available that bundle accessories.

Our test vehicle, the SE P400, is $105,690 or in this case $124,254 with a few extras thrown in — plus on-roads.

In standard form it comes with all-wheel drive, low range gearing, coil suspension, off-road terrain modes and 18-inch steel wheels with all-terrain rubber.

A spare wheel cover is a $758 option, air suspension is $1309 and a snorkel now known as a “raised air intake” is $1673.

Cloth trim and two-zone climate air are also standard, along with a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel, eight-way part-powered seats, LED head and tail lights, heated, electric, power-fold door mirrors with approach lights and auto-dimming driver side, auto-dimming rear view mirror and 40:20:40 fixed rear seats with centre armrest.

Our SE P400 test vehicle steps up to 20-inch alloys, ​keyless entry and body-coloured door handles​, grain leather trim, Dinamica wrapped steering wheel, 12-way power-adjust front seats with 2-way manual headrests​​, premium cabin lighting,​ front fog lights and premium auto-levelling LED lights with signature DRL and auto high beam and cornering lights.

Infotainment consists of an 11.4 curved touchscreen, with Pivi Pro (Connected) which includes a remote, built-in navigation, AM/FM/DAB digital radio, wireless phone charging and wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, with 400 watt Meridian audio with 11 speakers including a subwoofer.

With a five-star safety rating, it comes with six airbags, 3D surround camera, 360 degree parking aid, driver condition monitor, cruise control and speed limiter, lane keep assist, emergency braking, rear cross-traffic alert, traffic sign recognition with adaptive speed limiter — while the SE adds blind spot assist.

Land Rover Defender 90 SE P400 14

What’s it go like?

Designed primarily to go off road, the previous diesel powered Defender was a slug and was not happy doing more than 100km/h on the bitumen.

Not so this one. The powerful six-cylinder P400, with the support of a mild hybrid setup produces an impressive 294kW of power at 5500 rpm and 550Nm of torque from 2000-5000 rpm

Drive is to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission, with auto stop-start and a torque on demand ‘two-speed’ all-wheel drive system.

The combination is sufficient to propel the car from 0-100km/h in an amazing 6.0 seconds and on to a top speed of 191km/h in standard form or 208km/h with 22-inch wheels.

It drinks premium 95 unleaded and fuel consumption is a claimed 9.9L/100km.

Unlike its predecessor, instead of body on frame, the new Defender features a unibody construction that integrates body and chassis, with no parts carried over from its predecessor.

Land Rover says the aluminium-intensive D7x body architecture is three times stiffer than the best body-on-frame designs.

Although no parts carry over, it does share components with other models in the Land Rover and Range Rover lineups, including engines, gearboxes and differentials.

But the chain-driven transfer case, axles and propshafts and suspension elements have all been beefed up to cope with the rigours of off-road driving.

The ZF transmission is also stronger and cooling components have been moved to keep them out of the way and provide more clearance.

The biggest and most apparent transformation is the way the car steers and handles on the road, where the new Defender is now up to being a daily driver.

Defender 90 (the number traditionally refers to the length of the wheelbase in inches) is 4583mm long with a 2587mm wheelbase (which has grown from 90 to 102 inches).

This includes the spare wheel which sits on the tailgate and that incidentally opens in an Oz-friendly left to right direction, but beware because it’s heavy.

The 90 is 2005mm wide with mirrors and stands 1974/1969 mm tall, depending on whether it is fitted with coil or air suspension (ours had air).

Weighing in at 2245kg it sits on wheels that range from 18 to 22 inches in size and are fitted with tyres in profile from 255/70 to a low profile 275/45 series with an aggressive tread pattern.

Defender’s unique retro design is the work of Gerry McGovern, who we’ve met.

It’s something else, with nods to the original, but unlike anything else on or off the road, and definitely pitched upmarket.

McGovern says new Defender is respectful of its past but is not harnessed by it. 

A stripped down, more utilitarian version called Hard Top is offered for Govt/commercial duties.

A walkaround of Defender 90 reveals many body parts are made of plastic.

That includes the entire front grille, checker plate bonnet top inserts, front quarter panel vents and the dark grey wheel arch flares.

A closer inspection reveals some of the shut lines do not quite line up and we noticed the flares do not sit flush in sections.

Like aluminium, plastic saves weight but any or all of the parts could easily be damaged off road.

Inside, the cabin has the look and feel of a 20-year-old Discovery with its choice of colours and finishes.

A dash-mounted transmission lever allows a centre ‘jump’ seat to be substituted for the console which means it can seat up to six people at a push.

Our test vehicle came with the large 14.1-inch touchscreen, but retained the less sophisticated “no cost option” instrument cluster, with analogue dials and inset info screen.

Say what? Who the hell is going to option this? The Jaguar F-Pace we drove was the same, suggesting component supply problems.

The ClearSight electronic rear view mirror had been added, which uses a camera to bypass the headrests and spare wheel that fill the rear window.

Good idea but we found it highly reflective, difficult to focus on and it made us feel nauseous. My wife too.

ClearSight Ground View technology provides a view of the area in front of the car that is normally obscured by the bonnet, and that can be handy off road.

Fresh from bogging a top of the line Jeep, however, we were hesitant to take the Defender off road.

A $1500 insurance excess is no incentive either.

It’s so easy to scratch paintwork and dent running boards in the kind of conditions encountered on fire trails, unlike the forgiving mud larks that Land Rovers are often photographed performing back home.

With standard coil suspension ground clearance is 226mm and it has a wading depth of 850mm.

With air suspension fitted, it receives a 75mm lift, with clearance ranging from 216 to 291mm, and wading 900mm. 

The latter will save your expensive bodywork from damage but it doesn’t change the mechanical hard points which are fixed and subject to damage.

In comparison, the two-door Jeep Wrangler Rubicon offers 225mm of ground clearance and a wading ability of 760mm.

Interestingly, you can opt for $6500 factory fit satin wrap to protect paintwork, available with one of three body colours — Indus Silver, Gondwana Stone or Pangea Green.

Permanent all-wheel drive, low range gearing, a centre differential and optional active locking rear differential provide the basis for exceptional off road capability.

In conjunction with air suspension, Terrain Response 2 includes a new Wade program for calculating the depth of water. No need to pack the Wellies.

Push the off road button, watch the bonnet rise in front of you and you’re ready to hit the dirt.

You can play with the controls via the touchscreen or simply let the Defender do its stuff.

While the interior is reminiscent of the Disco, off road the Defender feels a lot like Range Rovers of yesteryear with their air suspension and pioneering terrain response settings.

So does the fuel consumption quietly. The big six was getting 12.1L/100km after close to 500km and this is where a diesel is desirable.

There is some hesitation from the accelerator most of the time, making low-speed manoeuvres tricky and the brakes are grabby, pulling the wagon to an abrupt stop that sends occupants forward then back again.

Off the line, Defender will show a clean pair of heels to the drivers of most utes.

The more you drive the car, the more it inspires confidence.

We weren’t quite brave enough to take on the bog hole of doom, but we did get the Defender pretty dirty.

However, with recovery points fitted at the rear, it’s a warning to heed the 4×4 creed.

It goes something like this:

  • Don’t go anywhere unless you have to
  • Get out and take a look first
  • Make sure you’ve got a plan B in case things go wrong
  • Don’t forget that $1500 insurance excess (Rupert isn’t paying anymore).
Land Rover Defender 90 SE P400 12

What we like?

  • Love the looks
  • Love the air suspension
  • Love the on-road dynamics
  • Love the fact it’s a real off-roader

RopicmtL Land Rover Defender 90 SE P400 8

What we don’t like?

  • Too plastic
  • Too expensive
  • Too thirsty
  • Too complicated
  • Too heavy tailgate
  • Too many things to go wrong

Land Rover Defender 90 SE P400 13

The bottom line?

It’s nothing like the old Defender and that’s a good thing.

First and foremost it’s a much better device to drive, fun even on bitumen with its potent six cylinder petrol engine.

With air suspension fitted and the six inches of extra ground clearance that brings, the Defender 90 has the makings of an off-road champion.

We’d dearly love to take on the bog hole that got the better of our Jeep Gladiator and see if it makes it out the other end, but once bitten twice shy.

In the meantime, Defender’s cool looks and mix of on and off-road prowess will appeal to a much broader range of buyers and we’re guessing that’s Land Rover’s main objective.

Land Rover Defender 90 SE P400 9


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Land Rover Defender 90 SE P400, priced from $105,690
  • Looks - 8.5/10
  • Performance - 8/10
  • Safety - 8/10
  • Thirst - 6/10
  • Practicality - 7/10
  • Comfort - 7.5/10
  • Tech - 8/10
  • Value - 7/10

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