Jaco Van Der Merwe

By Jaco Van Der Merwe

Head of Motoring


Playful Land Rover Defender 90 back with a bang

Armed with old school steelies, the short-wheelbase Land Rover Defender 90 has a personality of its own.


We have spent a lot of time behind the wheel of the new Land Rover Defender since its arrival last year. Having sadly missed out on a trip to drive it in the UK in April 2020 because of Covid-19, we did manage to make up for this in leaps and bounds. Our experience with the Defender includes navigating a selection of gravel roads around Gauteng, a breakaway weekend in North West, a fun day at the Land Rover Experience in Lonehill and even a trek through Lesotho. ALSO READ: Land Rover Defender D300 X offers best of both worlds…

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We have spent a lot of time behind the wheel of the new Land Rover Defender since its arrival last year. Having sadly missed out on a trip to drive it in the UK in April 2020 because of Covid-19, we did manage to make up for this in leaps and bounds.

Our experience with the Defender includes navigating a selection of gravel roads around Gauteng, a breakaway weekend in North West, a fun day at the Land Rover Experience in Lonehill and even a trek through Lesotho.

ALSO READ: Land Rover Defender D300 X offers best of both worlds

However, all these outings were done in 110 derivatives, the only wheelbase option available at its initial local roll-out last year. The short wheelbase 90 model finally made its way to South Africa a few months ago and we recently got to sample one.

Gateway to the range

The Defender 90 is a very important model for Jaguar Land Rover. It formed an integral part of previous generations which also featured the longer 130.

The base model in D240 S guise, which we had on test, serves as the line-up’s entry point at R1 127 200. A line-up that has ballooned to 40 derivatives which tops out with the 110 V8 Carpathian Edition at a hefty R2 432 900.

Land Rover Defender 90 returns
At 2 587 mm, the 90 is 435 mm shorter in the wheelbase department than the 110.

We have already extensively covered the Defender 110. And seeing that is shares most of its equipment with its new sibling, we will rather point out the differences between the two. This is not limited to the dimensions either. With the difference in drive it offers it’s fair to say there is more to it than merely a numerical difference.

But speaking of numbers, let’s get them out the way first. The Land Rover Defender 90’s wheelbase is measured at 2 587 mm, which is 435 mm shorter than the 3 022 mm wheelbase of the Defender 110. This equates to the 90 being 498 mm shorter in overall length – spare wheel included – than the 110, which measures 5 081 mm.

Plenty of space

Inside, the biggest compromise space-wise is in the boot. Here the available space with the rear seats up is 397-litres, while the 110’s boot capacity is 1 075-litres in five-seat configuration.

In the first row, legroom is an unchanged 993 mm going from the 110 to the 90, and so is shoulder room at 1 545 mm. Headroom is a mere two milimetres down from 1 032 mm in the front.

Land Rover Defender 90 returns
Interior anything but base spec.

Measuring at 929 mm, legroom in the 90’s second row is marginally less than the 110’s 992 mm, while headroom is slightly down from 1 025 mm to 980 mm. Shoulder room also drops a tad from 1 503 mm to 1 433 mm.

Taken into account the generous space on offer in the Defender 110, these margins are so tiny they are hardly noticed in the 90. In fact, you’ll struggle to find a two-door vehicle of any body shape with a more spacious and comfortable second row. It is a far cry compared to the side-foldable rear seats of previous generations that looked – and kind of felt – like school bus benches.

Two much for some

While the cabin itself lends itself to daily life, the two-door configuration doesn’t. Even with the front seats being able to move forward to create enough space to enter the rear, it is not something you as front occupant want to do repeatedly day in, day out. While the kids might not mind it, it is not suited for older people or for those with restricted movement.

Land Rover Defender 90 returns
Defender 90’s rear seats.

Speaking of restrictions, one of the few things we did not like about the Defender 90 was the limited blind spot view through the rear side windows. As the Defender was designed to have side carriers, when not fitted a solid insert is still present, which restricts the driver’s view of the blind spots. This is not a problem on the Defender 110, as the carriers/inserts are situated closer to the rear with ample rear window in front of them.

Return of the steelies

Much to the delight of hard-core Land Rovers fans, one of the unique features of the Defender 90, especially in D240 S guise, is the option of solid steel 18-inch rims.

Our tester’s steelies was painted gloss white and the high profile 255/70 R18 tyres made the car look ready to resurrect the Camel Trophy. The steel rims are not offered on the more powerful models because they use bigger brake callipers.

ALSO READ: WATCH: Land Rover Defender goes bundu bashing

The D240 S is powered by a 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine which sends 177kW/430Nm to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. Land Rover claims it can reach 100 km/h from a standstill in nine seconds with a top whack of 184 km/h.

Land Rover Defender 90 returns
In base S guise, the Defender 90 rides on 18-inch steel wheels.

While these numbers are very much on par with the Defender 110 D240 S, the 90 does offer a ride that feels different to its longer sibling. With the 90 tipping the scales 115 kg lighter at 2 133 kg, steering somehow feels lighter and almost more playful. This is evident in the turning circle being cut from 12.84 metres to 11.3.

The difference in behaviour helps the Defender 90 to establish itself outside of the 110’s shadow by giving it a personality of its own. It kind of reminds you of the playful and happy-go-lucky younger sibling to the more serious and measured 110.

In a nutshell

While we did not take the Defender 90 for serious bush whacking, we are very sure it is every bit as capable as the 110, if not more so, being more agile because of its length. We are also convinced it will be equally as fun in the bush as it is on tarmac.

For more information on the Defender range, click here.

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