Tested: 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 D240  

Mark my words. Although this is the smallest, least powerful and cheapest of Land Rover’s new Defender range, the 90 D240 will become rather rare and collectable. How do I know that? Simple, by observing our automotive history.

Don’t panic, Land Rover ZA or dear reader, I’m not about to launch into the umpteenth Land Rover lecture or heritage history lesson. Heaven knows we’ve had plenty of those when it comes to this “new Defender”. Nope, I reckon that the shorter 90 models in poverty spec won’t be sold here for very long.

The first thing to count against them is that pair of impractically long doors which, despite my utmost efforts, just don’t work when you have a family. Next could be the price because instead of saving the equivalent of its diminished length (roughly 11%) you only get a few bucks off the larger 110’s sticker tag.

Although their model line-ups don’t share identical engine-and-trim combinations, if you do find a perfect pair, their price difference is no more than a few per cent. And that is jolly difficult to justify for any sane person, paying a few grand less for a car that is visibly and practically far inferior.

Defender 90 D240 X-dynamic SER 1,324,194
Defender 110 D240 X-dynamic SER 1,363,546
Defender 90 D300 XR 1,662,105
Defender 110 D300 XR 1,723,705
Defender 90 P400 X R 1,697,434 
Defender 110 P400 XR 1,770,586

As for that automotive history bit, I have to immediately note that it’s more of a regional thing as some of the following two-door models were still available (and popular) elsewhere for quite some time: Toyota Rav4, Land Rover Discovery, Toyota Prado, Mitsubishi Pajero, Ford Bronco, Isuzu Trooper and Nissan Patrol.

That’s what I could think of in terms of proper 4WD vehicles, but the same can be said for SUV’s or crossovers like early Honda HR-V’s, the Mini Paceman, Suzuki Vitara or Land Rover’s own Freelander and Evoque. We Namibians have too many kids, friends and things to cart around so most two-door SUV’s eventually slip out the showroom’s back door.

And that’s why I would like to proclaim that within a few years – at least by the car’s mid-life face-lift – the Defender 90 will be dropped from our local price lists. I salute Land Rover (and all of the abovementioned manufacturers) for bringing the shorty models to our shores, letting the fans buy a few and then axing them.

So. While they’re still available for order, I can quickly give you a run-down of what this shorter Defender feels like to drive. In a nutshell, the power and handling characteristics are fairly similar – although I’m yet to drive a 110 D240 so I’m thinking back to my tests of the 90 D300 and 110 D300.

The drive train of this vehicle is a highly refined 2L 4-cylinder turbo-diesel which puts out an impressive 177kW or 500Nm through an 8-speed automatic gearbox to at least give this 2.1-ton beast a decent turn of speed. Our best 0-100km/h time was 8.25 seconds while L-R claims 9 seconds; and a top speed of around 190km/h.

Braking performance was also acceptable at 3.04 seconds and 43.46m from 100km/h. It’s worth noting that the vehicle never feels flustered, thanks in part to the functional but stylish interior. Seat comfort (and space) is great, the Jag/LR infotainment system is much improved and every control interface feels substantial and well-thought out.

We found plenty of storage and charging solutions while the all-digital instrument cluster can verge on information overload with its multi-mode screens. As mentioned in my Defender 90 P300 review, access to or from the rear seats can be an absolute faff if you can’t fully open the front doors; and cargo space is clearly less than that of the 110.

The longer Defender can feel a little more substantial on rough roads or at high speeds but, truth be told, this smaller Landy is pretty planted on most surfaces; no thanks to the extremely intricate terrain response system. Parking is obviously easier but not by much… it may be shorter but this Ninety is just as wide and tall as a One-Ten.

As I’ve mentioned in every other New Defender article, this vehicle suffers from modern SUV visibility problems so I urge you to get every available parking aid. What compounds the issue with these cars is their stylish but senseless side panels (with optional storage box) and the rear door-mounted spare wheel.

Land Rover engineered their way around the matter with an adjustable rear-view camera which, at the touch of a button, takes over the entire rear view mirror. It’s amazing. It’s impressive. But if I have to be honest, it never feels natural (especially at night) so I often reverted back to the proper mirror; avec spare tyre.

Typing of tyres, you’ve probably seen the butch accessories and white steel wheels of the vehicle on this page… which utterly confused me. First of all, my Dad bought a Discovery two decades ago which had a moulded rubber bull bar because metal ones had become illegal or airbag-unfriendly. So, umm, where did this steel one come from?

Secondly, I spent an insane amount of time on Landy’s online car configurator trying to build my dream Ninety with steel wheels, front bench and static suspension but alas, never found the perfect combo. Which makes this white press demonstrator quite interesting: white steelies, full air ride, butch bits and loads of techy toys.

The explanation for this came from the press fleet manager, who sent us the car’s full build sheet. It turns out that this 1-million ZAR vehicle had almost R250,000 of optional extras fitted! The highlights are an Explorer Pack, Driver Assist Pack, (Advanced) Off-Road Pack, Air Suspension Pack, as well as the Comfort and Convenience Pack.

They also added a couple of stickers, various lights, a deployable tow bar and a few interior niceties to the list. These include the awesome “activity key” which allows you to lock the expensive key fob inside the car and have an outdoors blast with the waterproof, shock-proof band that unlocks your Defender once you’re done.

Another R30,000 went to a rather bizarre option which had most of my colleagues up in arms. “Lots of wind noise…” and “too noisy at high speeds!” were their criticism, mostly directed at the Explorer Pack roof rack. But, upon closer inspection, I discovered that the fabric ceiling wasn’t fixed… and could be opened.

Yup. This is a 1.3 bar Defender shorty convertible!

I honestly did not know that was possibly and, in the light of this 90 probably disappearing soon, it puts me in awe of Land Rover’s optional extras list. Although they’ve put together some decent packages and pre-spec’d Defender models, this D240 base model proves that you can customise it exactly to your liking.

Each new Defender is sold with a 5-year or 100,000km warranty and maintenance plan.

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