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AUTO CASEY: Land Rover Defender 90 is ready for today’s adventures

If you look at the 2021 Land Rover Defender and see a fancy British Jeep, you completely miss the point.
Credit: Land Rover

INDIANAPOLIS — The Land Rover Defender has always been ready for adventure, whether serving the British Army, trekking safaris across African Savanna, or just taking Cub Scouts camping at a state park. It’s the go-anywhere, do-anything legend. Of course, it was not the most refined beast of trail and travel, lending more of an upscale Jeep attitude than Range Rover. Capability is enhanced for the 2022 Defender, but so is comfort. We sample the two-door Defender 90 to find it’s ready for modern adventures.

There’s familiarity in its design, but also modernity. Everything looks like it was formed from a block of aluminum, accented by round LED headlamps, silver plastic on the front facia to simulate metal, and rugged-looking plastic to protect the flanks. I don’t get the black anti-skid patches on the hood, but they look cool anyway. A white roof with safari windows hovers over strong shoulders, flush glass, and 20” wheels. Rear views encompass classy square LED taillamps set flush to the fenders and externally mounted spare tire. It looks especially fetching in light silvery Pangea Green.

The modern, yet rugged, theme continues inside. There’s a seriousness to the design with tough-feeling materials and rubber floormats, but it has the finesse of an athletic Bentley you could hose out. A flatscreen instrument cluster accompanies a more intuitive infotainment screen center-dash for navigation and connecting devices via Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and 4G Wi-Fi hotspot. The 400w Meridian audio system is crisp and deep. Heated seats, power steering column, and retracting fabric roof add luxuries (and a perfect viewing spot for zebras, giraffes, or…fireworks). It’s a little tight to get in the rear, but once there, real adults have plenty of space.

Shoving our Defender down-road is a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine, fortified with a 48-volt hybrid system that runs an electric supercharger. The combo develops 395 horsepower and 406 lb.-ft. of torque – enough to handily tow the camper or boat for days away from the daily grind. Making quick use of that power is an 8-speed automatic transmission and Terrain Response System that can configure the powertrain for all types of road conditions. Despite the handsome smooth flanks, fuel economy rates a hideous 17/22-MPG city/highway. Capability comes at a price that some may not want to pay.

You would expect the Defender to be incredibly capable off-road, and it is with ability to ford 35” of water – verified by a depth finder. Further, the Wade mode softens throttle response, sets the automatic climate control to recirculation, locks the driveline, and adjusts the air suspension to its highest setting. If your weekend cabin is across a deep stream, no problem. Back on paved roads, the air suspension lowers and adjusts automatically to road surfaces. You’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a Land Rover Discovery and luxury-oriented Defender on pavement, but the short wheelbase Defender 90 is the one for serious trails.

An array of systems keep everybody safe. Adaptive cruise with stop/go, automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning, lane keep assist, and rear cross traffic alert provide a reassuring halo. Add to that a 360-degree camera display, rearview camera mirror to see beyond headrests, clear exit monitor, and front trail camera.

If you look at the Land Rover Defender and see a fancy British Jeep, you completely miss the point. Sure, it is impressive off-road. But, it can also challenge Range Rovers on-road. It’s an urban-friendly, family-friendly luxury car that is not afraid to get deeply dirty. A base price of $47,700 rose to $66,475 for our well-equipped First Edition. Competitors include the Jeep Wrangler, Ford Bronco, Chevy Tahoe, and Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Storm Forward!

Casey Williams is former auto correspondent for WFYI and the Indianapolis Star plus a contributor to the Chicago Tribune’s Sunday Auto Page. He has reviewed vehicles and covered the auto industry for over 25 years. He lives with his family in Broad Ripple. E-mail him at AutoCasey@aol.com; check his reviews on YouTube at AutoCasey.

2021 Land Rover Defender 90


5 passengers, 4WD SUV
Powertrain: 3.0-L SC I6, 8-spd trans
Output: 395 hp/406 lb.-ft.
Suspension f/r: Air Ind/Ind
Wheels f/r: 20”/20” alloy
Brakes f/r: disc/disc
Must-have features: Style, Capability 
Fuel economy: 17/22-MPG city/hwy
Assembly: Nitra, Slovakia
Base price/As-tested: $47,700/66,475