Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: September 23, 2021
The Land Rover Defender 110 was one of our most highly praised cars of 2020 thanks to its impeccable road manners, smooth powertrain, and charming yet rugged interior. Can the two-door Defender 90 achieve the same kind of result with its shorter wheelbase, compact stature, and slightly lower price tag?
First we have to take a look at the target clientele for a two-door SUV, because sales histories of these types of vehicles aren’t exactly stellar, and most were quickly fizzled away and discontinued the year after they debuted. Remember the Range Rover Evoque Coupe (and Convertible), the MINI Paceman, and the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet? Hell, even the first-generation Toyota RAV4 came with a two-door option. Quirky and stylish as they were, their lack of practicality and troublesome ingress into the back row made them a rare choice over their larger four-door siblings.
What about the Defender 90 then? Even though it carries the same front and rear overhangs as the 110, its wheelbase is shorter by about 435 mm and it loses 100 kg as a result, but its stunted size does make for an awkward proportions from the side. It just doesn’t offer the same kind of rugged visual statement as the more squared-off Bronco or Wrangler. The 110 is more visually balanced but everywhere else, the 90 looks the same, from the soft front shoulders to the trypophobia-inducing rear lights and side-hinged trunk door. It’s not as hardcore looking as we would have preferred for a dedicated off-road SUV, but it evokes enough fond memories of the original to call it somewhat nostalgic.
A shorter wheelbase means the 90 is much more agile than the 110, more maneuverable, tossable, and less prone to feeling unwieldy at speed. But what it gains in newfound athleticism, it loses in on-road stability and comfort. The 90 is not nearly as supple or as absorbent despite harbouring the same air suspension setup. Without an extended wheelbase and extra weight to sponge up unwanted vertical motions, there is a slightly more brittle behaviour to the 90 when it tries to negotiate undulations and pockmarked roads.
That said, the 90 still drives and handles better than any Wrangler or Bronco, and is essentially the most complete and well-rounded two-door SUV you can currently buy on the market. It’s no less competent off the beaten path either. With the same overhangs, approach and departure angles, wading depth, and ground clearance as the 110, the 90 is just as appealing. Though, it does lose 3 degrees in breakover angle, and checks in with a 50 kg maximum roof load deficit, and a 100 kg reduction in maximum payload.
Our Defender 90 came equipped with the P400 motor, a 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six paired with a mild hybrid system. That consists of a 48-volt motor-generator and an electrically driven supercharger that aids in low-end pull while the turbo is busy spooling and gathering boost, working much like Mercedes’ EQ Boost. In all, it’s good for 395 hp and 406 lb-ft, and a 0-100 km/h time of 6.0 seconds. The powertrain is solely governed by a ZF 8-speed automatic transmission but if you want to row the gears yourself, check in with Jeep.
The six-cylinder is not the quietest engine in the stable, huffing and heaving on start-up and under acceleration, but it is undeniably smooth thanks to its inherent balance. Power comes on quickly and it surprisingly loves to rev, making a decent exhaust grunt in the process. The 90 doesn’t feel that much quicker in a straight line than the 110 but it’s not like the latter was a porker either thanks to adept gearbox tuning and a quick steering rack. There’s enough thrust here that we don’t see the need for a V8 engine, especially with the 90’s lighter curb weight, but that didn’t stop Land Rover from offering one anyways. Of note, our Defender 90 averaged 13.3 L/100km over an equal mix of both city and highway driving, significantly better than our 110’s 15.1 L/100km.
Think of the Defender as a more luxurious, better put together, and more comfortable Jeep Wrangler 2-Door or Ford Bronco. It may cost more than the both of them but it warrants a closer look for its wonderful on-road mannerisms, sound ergonomics, and a whole cabin filled with off-road inspired designs and British charm. The way the shifter and HVAC controls are mounted on an angle below the dashboard remind me of the Fiat 500, a magnesium alloy beam runs the width to accentuate the interior’s expansive borders, and the cleverly integrated grab handles make for a streamlined look. There are storage areas everywhere you look, from the recessed dashboard to even behind the sizable touchscreen. Land Rover further instilled some of that ruggedness inside with the exposed screws and powder-coated ceramic-like surfaces.
Possibly the largest downside to the 90 is rear seat ingress and egress. It is not easy climbing into the second row, as the entry portal remains quite narrow, even if you slide the front seat all the way forward. But once seated and settled, the rear row’s raised and elevated position offers an airy and non-claustrophobic atmosphere from all sides. The 90 also retains the narrow skylights that allow light to flood in, and there is more than enough room for my six-foot figure to find comfortable for long journeys. It does leave little storage space in the actual trunk though, so don’t expect the 90 to be able to fit a family of four for a weekend away with ease. Those constantly ferrying around a family’s worth of stuff or items will want to stick with the 110.
The two-door Land Rover Defender 90 is a quirky SUV and it isn’t for everybody. Its stunted looks take some warming up to, as does ingress and egress into the rear seats. And even though it’s not as comfortable or as spacious as the 110, the 90 handles better and is equally as capable. The 110 with a front jump seat spec'd out with the Explorer Pack is still our favourite spec, but those infatuated with the uniqueness of the 90 will find just as much charm and driving excitement without the two extra doors.
Model: 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 X-Dynamic S P400
Paint Type: Pangea Green
Base Price: $72,400
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,583 / 2,008 / 1,969
Curb weight (kg): 2,170
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six with mild hybrid assist
Horsepower: 395 hp @ 5,500 - 6,500 rpm
Torque: 406 lb-ft @ 2,000 - 5,000 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, 4WD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 13.5 / 10.8 / 12.3
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 13.3