2021 Land Rover Defender 90 P400: Though She be But Little, She be Fierce

Published on October 21, 2021 in Test Drives by Miranda Lightstone

The world is obsessed with “bigger is better.” Bigger attitude, bigger design, bigger size, bigger bank accounts, bigger everything. But what if we told you that bigger isn’t always better? That sometimes scaling back and being “just right” and only the size required is more than adequate and perfectly acceptable.

That’s precisely how I felt about the Defender 90 the moment I laid eyes on it.

Now, we drove the Defender 110 during the winter months and immediately fell in love. Not only was the big brute handsome in design (inside and out) it absolutely demolished the snow-covered streets and treated the immense dump of snow we had like it was but a bump in the road and the streets were actually clear.

We’d been waiting since then to get our hands on the 110’s smaller sibling, the 90 - and finally it happened. With no snow on the ground, it was a bit difficult to compare the two. However, it was clear to us that the only real difference here is two less doors.

Photo: Miranda Lightstone

Two Less Doors, No Less Capable

From the front and rear, the Defender 90 looks identical to the 110. The design is precisely the same, and the signature Land Rover Defender look remains, with that square, boxy silhouette and the exposed extra wheel on the rear door.

It’s when you come around to the side that things start to look decidedly changed, and some may even venture to say weird.

The proportions of the 90 are slightly off, we have to admit. While the size of the front end and front doors remains, the rear has suddenly been … chopped off. No rear doors and a slightly smaller trunk make it look a little bit like the Defender 90 didn’t quite make it out of the garage before the door came crashing down and removed its rear.

Photo: Miranda Lightstone

Regardless of missing parts, this Landie is absolutely no less capable of all the off-road, all-terrain abilities of the full-size, four-door version, which really is the best part. In fact, it’s even more capable than the big boy simply due to the compact design and more rigid design (less body roll with a shorter frame).

With an easier-to-drive size, the Defender 90 also opens up the door to more suburbanite, urban living without limiting itself to just that. Just like the 110, the shorter wheelbase version can handle snow, mud, rocks, gravel and can adjust its ride-height and water-wade with the best of them.

Small in Stature not in Style

One of the best things about the Defender 90 is the fact that stepping into the driver’s seat (or passenger for that matter) is identical to getting into the 110. Inside, you’ll find all the same design elements and amenities.

When we first saw the interior look of the all-new Defender, it was clear to us that Land Rover really sticking to its safari/off-road heritage and they kept it as simple as they could without being too barebones, like one might find in a Jeep Wrangler or the outgoing Toyota FJ Cruiser.

Photo: Marc-André Gauthier

From the exposed rivets to the tough-as-nails material across all surfaces (clearly good for wiping and hosing down when need be), everything about the inside is practical without being uncomfortable. There are plenty of grab handles, and lots of storage compartments for all.

The onboard HMI and coloured touchscreen isn’t just easy to use, it is gorgeously designed in terms of graphic and on-screen colour schemes. Not to mention the fabulous khaki-colour our particular Defender 90 was sporting, everything about the interior was well thought out and super easy to live with.

Our only gripe was getting into the back seat, which was bound to cause some issues down the road since it is only a 2-door.

Photo: Miranda Lightstone

Two-Door Woes

Now, I struggle with any higher-ride-height vehicle, always. Being the height that I am, it’s always been an issue. However, thanks to LR’s entry-exit height selection for the air suspension, it’s usually not a problem. No need for pesky side rails or steps that could get caught while barreling through sand dunes and jungle roads.

But that wasn’t the issue here.

The problem lay in getting in and out of the backseat, and was something my 4-foot-something 9-year-old son put up with all week. From the first day, it was immediately clear that while the shorter wheelbase might be better for off-roading and fitting in smaller urban settings, it did not make for a great family vehicle - at least not one where access to the rear seat is needed on a daily basis (sometimes multiple times a day getting in and out).

Even in its lowered entry suspension mode, my son still struggled to get up properly into the back. There are no grab handles, and holding on to the headrest of the front seat just wasn’t practical. Also, usually he can easily close the passenger door from the backseat without issue. Well, such was not the case here; the Defender 90’s door was heavy and would often open too wide for him to reach. So, instead of being able to get in at the same time as him, I often found myself having to wait for him to get in so I could help him close the door.

Some may call this a “first-world problem” and they wouldn’t be wrong, but it is worth noting it could be cumbersome if you plan on using the backseat of your 90 often.

Photo: Miranda Lightstone

Fiercely Compact Capabilities

Despite that, I immediately felt a kinship with the LR Defender 90. Bigger doesn’t always have to be better. Sometimes the more compact you are, the more capable you are because you have to be in order to keep up with the big boys. Smaller doesn’t mean inadequate. Less is size doesn’t mean less in offerings.

The Defender 90 proved just that, and really the only real fault I found with this vehicle is that I can’t afford to have one sitting in my driveway, permanently.

Test drive report
Test model 2021 Land Rover Defender
Trim level 90 X-Dynamic S P400
Price range $59,700 – $96,000
Price as tested 69 900 $
Warranty (basic) 4 years/80,000 km
Warranty (powertrain) 4 years/80,000 km
Fuel economy (city/highway/observed) 13,5 / 10,8 / N/A L/100km
Options N/A
Competitive models Acura MDX, Audi Q7, BMW X5, Cadillac XT6, Infiniti QX60, Lexus RX, Lincoln Aviator, Maserati Levante, Mercedes-Benz G-Class, Porsche Cayenne, Volvo XC90
Strong points
  • Completely capable on and off-road
  • Luxurious but also rugged
  • Easy driving in the city and urban settings
Weak points
  • Hard to access the backseat with only 2 doors
  • Less storage space
  • I can't afford one
Editor's rating
Fuel economy 3.0/5 Despite the triple threat engine it's still a heavy gas guzzler
Comfort 4.0/5 Despite the rugged interior look it is luxuriously Land Rover
Performance 4.0/5 This isn't a race car, but it performs admirably across all terrains
Infotainment 4.5/5 Gorgeous interface and easy to use and navigate
Driving 4.0/5 In a field or in a downtown core the LR Defender handles itself perfectly
Overall 4.0/5 This is the ideal urban and backwoods warrior rolled into a compact package
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