There is an increasing danger that SUVs are writing their own epitaph thanks to the relentless demand for new and improved. Perhaps worse, car-makers are equally keen to indulge us in our obsession. Every other day some new SUV/crossover is born with the objective of making the bean counters happy, but the simple fact remains – Most SUVs of today will struggle when the road ends, because that’s what they are designed to do.
However, a resurgence of off-road-oriented SUVs has applied some method to the increasing madness with 4x4s that stay true to the ethos of “go anywhere in luxury”. The Land Rover Defender has the flying the flag for the ‘cool SUV’ ever since the new one burst onto the scene a year back. It is everything that the old Defender wasn’t along with everything it stood for. Confused? Well, the new Defender 90 actually pays respect to its acclaimed predecessor yet adds in a modicum of refinement plus luxury.
It also looks spectacular in a unique juxtaposition between blatant retro styling and complex modern surfacing. The short overhangs, buff upright stance and the external spare wheel hanging at the back is pure old-school SUV theatre refined to a minimalistic approach. The Defender 90 arguably looks better than the longer 110 due to its closer connection with being a pared-back off-roader.
Open the large doors and the interiors are anything but that. Compared to the old Defender, the new one is a culture shock. Land Rover’s massive touch display sits easily within delicate styling touches of the Defender from the past. A massive cross beam divides the cabin while exposed door hinges, chunky switches and rubberised flooring suggests it is a serious place of work rather than a luxury SUV for the school run.
Speaking of which, the Defender 90 has a large enough rear seat to fit actual humans while you can potter around in town like it’s an Evoque. That said the real fun begins when you take the road off the beaten path. The Defender is then in its element as its myriad of complex off-road systems work away as you merely hold on to the steering wheel.
Shorter than the 110, the design of the 90 is more off-road friendly with excellent approach/breakover and departure angles while its 900mm wading depth is enough to cross small rivers. We actually did the last bit and it is bizarre how much deep water it can get itself into.
The P300 four-cylinder petrol in our test car did the job admirably well and we think it suits the Defender with enough torque to pull itself out of tricky situations. At $75,000 starting, the Defender 90 is a charismatic piece of retro-themed magnificence that doesn’t cash in on the Defender name as it rather improves the whole experience on many counts. Overall, unless you need more space, the 90 is our pick of Defender the range.