Stubby two-door SUVs had their moment in the sun in the 1990s. For years after, if you wanted a two-door SUV, the Jeep Wrangler was really your only option here in Canada, but fortunately we’ve recently been introduced to both the new Ford Bronco and this 2022 Land Rover Defender 90 X-Dynamic. It seems that the increasing popularity of off-roading and cross-country adventuring has sprung a revival of the stubby two-door, big ground clearance machines.
Even though the current generation of the Defender was introduced back in 2020, I’ve never seen one on the road, so I was taken in by its presence. Tall, wide, short, boxy and unmistakably Land Rover, it’s absolutely eye catching from any angle. There’s nothing else quite like it on the road today, and while its appearance is striking, it somehow manages to maintain a certain conservative style. For example, the optional intake snorkel on our tester is integrated into the left A-pillar in such a way that it’s not obviously present unless you study it for a bit.
Exterior fit and finish everywhere is fantastic, especially for an off-roader, those first few trail scratches in the beautiful paintwork will be painful here. Our tester came finished in Carpathian Grey, complimented by the optional Extended Black Exterior Package with gorgeous 20-inch satin dark grey five-spoke wheels wrapped in Goodyear all-terrain tires.
The other feature to immediately notice is the Explorer Package gear. For a princely sum of $5,034 the folks at Land Rover will outfit your Defender with outdoor exploration in mind, yielding goodies such as; the aforementioned snorkel, wheel arch protection, big mud flaps, a quirky looking side-mound cargo box, a huge expedition roof rack and a matte black hood decal. These additions take an already striking SUV and make it look like it just rolled into town off of some far-away expedition. The downsides are that you’ll attract a lot of attention, and the roof rack and cargo bin add a noticeable amount of noise.
The interior is a perfect complement to the exterior. It’s extremely functional and comfortable, striking to look at, and impeccably built. Don’t expect to see acres of wood grain and plush carpets. Rather, this is a rugged off-roader, with refinements such as Windsor leather and Robustec 14-way heated and cooled front seats, a full length panoramic sunroof, Meridian sound system, a nice ebony colored headliner, heated steering wheel and big 11.4-inch touchscreen. Everything you touch feels high-quality and robust, and everything fits together perfectly. There is a mix of rural minded practicality here with luxury fixings that is really unique and enjoyable.
I found the front seats, and seating position, extremely comfortable, and there is plenty of space up front. The center console is well designed with a charging pad, two huge side-by-side cupholders, and plenty of storage bins. The dash is very simplistic, yet well finished with a soft suede-like finish cross bar. The infotainment, while pretty, remains one of the frustrating systems to use; it leverages lots of menus and ambiguous icons, and just generally is not user friendly. I am sure long-term ownership would clear up at lot of the frustrating bits, but after a week living with it, we still struggled with simple tasks.
The rear seats provide plenty of leg and headroom, even for three adult passengers. Access is decent as the front seats conveniently slide forward and tilt. The issue I ran into is the cargo space; the cargo area behind the rear seats, while well equipped with handy tie-down points and a durable liner, is really small. This means that in order to haul anything significant you’ll need to fold at least part of the split rear bench, and even it, doesn’t fold exactly flat, leaving an awkward loading area. Worse yet, there’s a fixed aluminum cross member at the front of the cargo area that you’ll need to lift anything over if you want to leverage the folded rear bench area. Bottom line, if you want to haul cargo, get the larger Defender 110.
The Defender 90 is about taking you, and maybe a special someone, just about any place you can imagine. For starters, it’s just about the most capable off-road vehicle you can buy. With class-topping approach and departure angles, optional adjustable air suspension, Land Rover’s Terrain Response system, a two-speed transfer case, a standard locking center differential and optional active rear-locking diff, you’re really ready to go anywhere.
Combine that with 11.5-inches of ground clearance and 35-inches of water wading abilities, both of which best that of the Jeep Wrangler, and you’ve got a very serious off-road machine. If you’re not an expert off-roader, there’s enough technology on-board to take a lot of the guess work out of the task. Also, one advantage of the stubby 90 over the larger Defender 110 is its shorter wheelbase and better maneuverability mean that tackling tight or technical terrain is made easier – as well as operating it in the city.
Speaking of which, on the road though is where I was most impressed. The new unibody construction, independent rear suspension and adjustable air springs mean that the Defender is a very competent on-road cruiser as well. The steering is light and precise with decent feedback, the ride is almost luxury SUV-like, and the interior is shockingly quiet with the exception of the wind noise from the Explorer package accessories.
The only trait that distracts from the ride quality is the fact that the short wheelbase results in a bit more motion over bumps and transitions, as well as on braking. I’ve heard that the four-door 110 model resolves this. Regardless, the Defender 90 is as competent a highway cruiser as it is an off-road explorer.
The Defender 90 is available with three engine options starting with the base 2.0-liter four-cylinder. The midrange engine, as equipped in our X-Dynamic trim tester, is a 3.0-liter inline-six that utilizes an electric supercharger and a mild hybrid system to make an impressive 400 horsepower and 550 lb-ft. of torque. If that’s not enough, there is now a supercharged 5.0-liter V8 making 525 horsepower and a whopping 625 lb-ft. All engines are mated to an eight-speed automatic.
The six-cylinder has more than enough power to move big brute, reportedly making 0-100km/hr in a quick six-seconds seconds. It’s plenty powerful, smooth, and even sounds pretty good, so I can’t imagine any need for the V8 other than just the notion that more power is always better. Really though, the inline six is a good match to the Defender’s personality and I was more than happy with its performance and comfort during my time with it. That said, even though it’s only a six with a mild hybrid, that technology is tuned for performance. After a week of mixed driving, observed fuel economy sat at 15.5L/100km.
Now, you don’t exactly shop Land Rovers expecting a bargain, but there’s some value here if you look for it. $66,100 is the base price for an entry level Defender with the four-cylinder, and you still get all of the cool styling, most of the capability and a list of standard features for similar money as an optioned out Wrangler or Bronco. The X-Dynamic starts at $80,200 and adds the six cylinder, exterior and interior upgrades such as the panoramic roof, Meridian sound and cooled seats. Next up is the X at $100,000 which basically takes the Dynamic-X model and adds more luxuries, the adaptive air suspension, electronic rear differential, and the Terrain Response 2 system.
This is quite a range with the top-line V8 coming in at nearly twice the price of the base model. However, if you’re choosy with options you can get into a well equipped SUV for under six-figures. Our tester takes the Dynamic-X model and adds about $15,000 in options to the $80,200 base price. Unlike most manufacturers, Land Rover lets you select single options from a massive list of features and accessories to build exactly what you want. Ours came to $98,325 and really hits on the features and luxuries that make the Defender special.
The 2020 Land Rover Defender 90 X-Dynamic has to be one of the most interesting SUVs on the market. It’s true to the original concept of the Sport Utility Vehicle, and while the 90 puts style ahead of practically, it might be the perfect formula for some. If it’s not, then there’s always the four-door 110. I am excited to have this two-door option in the market. It truly is second to none as there really is nothing else that carries this much character, or boasts this type of blend between luxury and off-road adventurer.