Land Rover Defender 90 Luxury SUV: The Freedom of Time All to Yourself

Land Rover Defender 90 Featured Image

This is the un-mom SUV.

The Land Rover Defender 90 is a luxury SUV designed to evoke fantasy: Skimming across savannas on safari, spotting lions and giraffes. Lowering the windows and pushing back the sunroof on a Spring evening and letting the day’s stresses float away. Getting out of town, just you, your bestie and the road ahead. Commanding the rugged road to Target. Alone. 

That last part is what this $52,000 SUV with 296 horsepower and world class off road capability is really about: Solo time, maybe with a friend, and flexible space when you really need it. That’s because this two door, 6 passenger SUV is ideally designed for driver and a passenger; others—kids, dogs, cargo —can be accommodated, but more as a necessity than as routine.

This is the un-mom SUV. 

Related: Rise Above it All With the 2021 Land Rover Defender 90, A Compact Beast of a Luxury SUV

I Really Liked The Color Of Our Test Model

I really liked the Pangea Green color of our test model, but it comes in 10 different colors. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Living the Two Door Life—and What It’s Like Getting in and Out of the Back Seat 

If you’re on the other side of active motherhood it may take a minute to understand and appreciate the two-door life. Truthfully, a two-door car is a head-scratcher for many of us; we’ve gotten used to all that extra space. But if you don’t really use it and you want true off road capability, this is one of the SUVs that would make up your list of cars to consider.

One very cool fact is that the Defender 90 can carry 6 passengers. Tightly, but it can. The front center arm rest doubles as a jump seat; it pops up and locks into place for a third (or 6th) passenger and when it’s folded down it serves as an arm rest with cup holders.

To access the rear seats, there are buttons on the shoulders of the front seat. Push a button and the seats move back or forward so you can climb in. 

And that part, well, it’s probably where the most flexibility comes in—as in, you should be pretty flexible to climb into the rear seats in this car. It’s a hoist-and-jump move demanded by both the Defender 90’s ground clearance—8.5” or more depending on the model—and the angle at which you have to enter the car, even with the front seats pushed all the way forward. 

Once back there, though, there is tons of space. Stretch out, cross your legs and let the driver drive. If you find yourself installing kids car seats or kids into their car seats— which I would recommend only as an emergency measure, not as a daily or weekly event—there’s plenty of space for that, too.

Related: The Land Rover Defender Is Back and All That It’s Said to Be

The View From The Drivers Seat In The Land Rover Defender 90

The view from the drivers seat in the Land Rover Defender 90. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Control and Command Behind the Wheel of the Defender 90

Being solidly in command of whichever road you choose to drive is the goal in any car, and the Defender gives you plenty of options. Its 296 horsepower engine gives you all the power you’ll need, though you can upgrade to a 6 cylinder 395 HP engine or a supercharged V8 with 518 HP. 

Controls have been simplified on the smallish control panel and many functions are selectable on the touch screen. The media screen also displays a number of camera views, including tow, off roading views, as well as the surround view camera.

One sort of cool or quirky feature—depending on how you look at it—are the climate control dials. Dial them to set temperature; push the fan button and turn the right dial to set fan speed. It takes a bit of learning but once you do it’s nice to not have a huge panel of dials, each with only one function. 

To keep your attention on the road, Land Rover loaded the Defender 90 with a nice suite of driver assist and safety features as  standard equipment: surround view camera, cruise control with speed limiter, lane keep assist and traffic sign recognition. It also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, keyless entry and wireless phone charging. Adaptive cruise control is only standard on the top trim but is an available option on the other models. 

Related: How Does the Defender 90 Compare to the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen?

The Live View Mirror In The Land Rover Defender 90

The live view mirror in the Land Rover Defender 90. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Off Roading and Towing— Which is the Point Of this SUV

Those cool —or quirky—dials on the control panel also allow you to scroll through the drive mode selections. Tap the ‘car’ icon between the dials for options: comfort, gravel, snow, mud, sand, rock crawl, wade or custom; you can even customize how much traction you want the Defender to control.

For a quick jump to off road settings, tap the low traction icon button on the control panel. You can also raise or lower the height of the Defender with buttons on the command panel or in the rear cargo area. 

The Defender 90 has the same tow capacity as the 110, 7,716 lbs. max, which is enough to tow a mid-sized boat or RV, impressive for an SUV of this size. Land Rover sets the gross weight—the SUV, your passengers, cargo and wight of the towed vehicle—at 14,130. But with the smaller size of the 90, you might curb your towing ambition to smaller trailers that demand less of the SUV.

To always keep tabs on what’s behind, the 90 offers a digital rear view mirror option; this is a video view behind the Defender. It takes some getting used to but its especially helpful when you have a full load of cargo, all your seats are filled or you’re towing a trailer. And at night the video view is much brighter than the reflection in the mirror. 

Related: How does the Defender 90 Compare to the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 ?

Getting In And Out Was A Bit Of A Trick For Eli

Getting in and out was a bit of a trick for Eli. Photo: Scotty Reiss

The Dog Life in the Defender 90

Of course, I had to bring my dog Eli along for the ride in the Defender 90. SUVs like this are often the focus of life with fur babies. Eli is small and agile and he had no trouble jumping in and out of the Defender, despite the high ground clearance. Jumping in and out of the rear seat was much easier than getting into the cargo area; it intimidated him so I had to lift him (thankfully he’s only 20 lbs.).

Once in the rear seat, Eli was comfortable. It’s so spacious that even large dogs will be comfortable—if they can get in. Land Rover sells a pet package that includes a ramp, a necessity for dogs that can’t make the jump.

The cargo area with one or both seats folded flat is probably the best place for a pet to ride in the Defender 90. Eli is small and doesn’t like to ride on the floor, so he requires a harness that secures with the rear seat belt. Getting in and securing him each time we go somewhere is challenge, so getting him comfortable in the rear cargo area is the way to go.

For dogs that can climb into the rear seat on their own and will settle onto the car floor, the Defender 90 is a good option; moving the seat back and forth is easy and the rubber floor mat (standard equipment) cleans up easily. 

The Cargo Area Is Not Huge But There'S Room For My Luggage

The cargo area is not huge but there’s room for my luggage. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Flexible Cargo Space — with Some Caveats

Just because it has two doors does not mean it lacks capability; in fact, the Land Rover Defender 90 has a lot of flexibility when it comes to passenger and cargo space; this SUV is smaller in stature than its siblings but actually, is pretty accommodating. 

  • It can carry a lot of cargo. It has about 58 cubic feet of cargo space behind the front seats; that’s midway between the 4-door Defender 110’s cargo space of 34 cubic feet behind the center row seats (yes, it has an available third row) and 78 cubic feet with all the seats folded flat. 
  • The Defender 90 has a smallish 15.6 cubic feet behind the rear seats. That’ll accommodate a one or two roll aboard bags (with the cargo cover removed) and a tote bag or two. 
  • Loading cargo into the Defender 90 is easy due to the swing-out rear gate and optional air suspension. We were able to raise or lower the Defender 90 by a few inches, though this system is more ideal for accommodating off road driving conditions than loading or unloading cargo or dogs
  • One hiccup that makes use of the cargo area a bit more complicated: The cargo floor is positioned a few inches below the rear seats. With the rear seats folded flat you’ll see fixed a metal bar that, on the upside, will keep things from rolling all the way across the floor, but on the downside will make it hard to slide things into the cargo space. It’ll take some effort to get grandpa’s desk loaded into the space. 
The Fabric Sun Roof Fully Open; With The Safari Windows Along The Roofline The Land Rover Defender 90'S Cabin Is Open And Airy

The fabric sun roof fully open; with the safari windows along the roofline the Land Rover Defender 90’s cabin is open and airy. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What You Get For the Money

The Land Rover Defender is a true luxury car; despite its smaller size, it carries a base price of $52,000, a starting price that is $600 more than the 4-door version. From there it spans the full range competing with both the Jeep Wrangler and the Mercedes-Benz G Wagen. 

The Defender 90 is 77.7” tall, 180” long from the front grille to the spare tire, it’s 82.9” and can accommodate 33.4” of wading depth. The various trim levels offer a lot of great features and perks, and many premium features can be added as options. Here’s how it breaks down in trim levels and pricing: 

  • Base price, with a 4 cylinder twin turbo 296 horsepower engine, 7,716 lbs tow capacity, all wheel drive with terrain response, hill launch assist, rear washing wiper, rear fog lights, full size spare tire, heated and power adjustable front seats, leather seating, rubber floor mats, driver assist and safety features including blind spot assist, surround view camera, cruise control with speed limiter, lane keep assist, traffic sign recognition, wade sensing, keyless entry, wireless phone charging, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, premium Meridian sound system, multimedia system with 11.4” touchscreen, and a phone app to lock, unlock, check vehicle status, beep the horn and flash the lights and access emergency services, starts at $52,300 
  • Defender X Dynamic adds panoramic sun roof, front fog lights, black roof, 20” wheels, heated and cooled front seats, duotone seats, rear tow hooks, $66,900
  • Defender X  adds electronic air suspension, adaptive 4 wheel drive that monitors and adapts to terrain, rough cut walnut trim details, $85,400
  • Defender V8 base edition adds a V8 518 horsepower supercharged engine, adaptive all terrain system with progress control with dynamic response, heated windshield, 22” tires, quad exhaust pipes, $104,400
  • Defender V8 Carpathian Edition adds adaptive cruise control, upgraded leather upholstery with suede details and Carpathian exterior details,  $111,400
  • Upgrade to the 6 cylinder 395 HP engine, $11,700 
  • Extended leather upgrade $1,500
  • Add a folding fabric sun roof, $2,200
  • Towing package with all terrain progress control, terrain response system and advance tow assist, $1,850
  • Heated seats and windshield, $700
  • Air suspension and adaptive dynamics, add $1,600
  • Adaptive cruise control, $1,200
  • Video rear view mirror, $450
  • Pet care and access package (including a ramp for cargo area access) $1,892
  • Price of our model, about $73,000

The Puddle Light In The Land Rover Defender 90 Is Truly A Luxury Feature; It Projects A Logo On The Ground When You Unlock The CarWhen the Destination is the Luxury, Defender Delivers

When Land Rover brought back the Defender, the heritage SUV that in the 1980’s became the icon for luxury overlanding, bringing back its capability and the fantasy that it inspires was key.

The enhanced and easy-to-command off road controls and the heritage details complete the package. The two-door frame, safari windows along the roofline and the front jump seat set it apart as both unique and uniquely qualified to live the Defender life. And while most people won’t actually use the front jump seat for a passenger, it certainly keeps alive the fantasy of skirting across the savannas of Africa, spotting giraffes and lions with a car full of enraptured passengers. Or, all on your own, as the two-door car life intends.

Disclosure: Land Rover provided the Defender 90 for this review; all opinions are my own.

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss