We've got news for you.

Register on BusinessLIVE at no cost to receive newsletters, read exclusive articles & more.
Register now
The noir treatment has much to do with its street cred, but so does its brutal-cute shape. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
The noir treatment has much to do with its street cred, but so does its brutal-cute shape. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

The Defender 90 test vehicle looked like it had rolled straight out of a gangsta rap video. With its “Extended Black” styling package and deeply-tinted windows this dark ride would please a Sith lord, never mind a rapper.

The effect this blacked-up British SUV had on people was fascinating, and seldom has a test vehicle garnered as many compliments from strangers.

The noir treatment no doubt had much to do with its street cred, but so did its brutal-cute shape. The Defender 90’s large size and boxy lines ooze gravitas, but the menace is tempered by a shortened length that introduces a hint of playfulness, like a Suzuki Jimny on steroids.

The playfulness extends to the driving experience, and chopping off 435mm in length and 132kg in weight makes the Defender 90 nimbler than the full-sized Defender 110, with a smaller turning circle that makes it easier to manage.

The shorter wheelbase also makes some off-road obstacles easier to navigate, and though the 90 has the same 291mm maximum ground clearance on height-adjustable air suspension as the 110, it has a superior breakover angle of 24.2°-31° (compared to 22°-27.8° of  the 110), making the 90 less likely to scrape its belly when cresting steep hills.

The Defender 90 breezed through the off-road course at Gerotek, showing scant regard for steep, bumpy hills and axle-twisters. The permanent all-wheel drive automatically locks the centre and rear differentials to provide traction in uneven turf, making off-roading a painless exercise. Low range and downhill assist can be enlisted to provide additional tough-terrain help, as can several driver-selectable modes to tackle rocks, sand, mud and other kinds of obstacles.

The digitised dashboard is a far cry from the original Defender’s. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
The digitised dashboard is a far cry from the original Defender’s. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

The ClearSight Ground View feature provides digital eyes on your surroundings and displays obstacles on the infotainment screen, including a “see-through bonnet” feature that lets you see over crests.

The shortened wheelbase gives the Defender 90 a marginally choppier ride quality than the 110 but it still cruises with impressively smooth finesse on its adaptive air suspension, even on lowered-profile 22-inch wheels.

The weight loss gives the 90 a superior power to weight ratio than its bigger brother and a more pointy feel when taking corners.

There is no shortage of gusto, and the V8 petrol model employs a supercharged 5.0l engine to thrust 386kW and 625Nm to all four wheels. In our performance test at Gerotek using a Vbox, the SUV charged from 0-100km/h in a hot hatch-like 5.1 seconds which was one-tenth quicker than the factory claim. The eight-cylinder engine sounds a fittingly uproarious battle cry, though regular high-velocity forays were tempered by the car’s voracious fuel appetite. Even driven gently, the vehicle averaged more than 15l /100km.

The Defender 90 loses a row of seats and a pair of doors from the four-door, seven-seater 110, but there is plentiful seating space for five. It’s luggage space that has taken the biggest hit in the downsized Defender, with the boot shrinking from 857l to 297l. That’s big enough for a medium-sized grocery expedition but not a family holiday trip.

The vehicle lays on many premium comforts and digital wizardry to justify its R2.5m price, including power-operated seats that can be heated and cooled, and a heated steering wheel.

I’m not a fan of the big plastic squares in the rear side windows that Land Rover calls “floating pillars”, an aesthetic feature meant to reinforce the vehicle’s “planted look” from the outside. Rear-seat passengers can’t see much out of the side windows because of them, creating a somewhat claustrophobic feel even though there’s plenty of head and leg room in the back.

The 90’s shortened wheelbase makes it even more proficient offroad than the Defender 110. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
The 90’s shortened wheelbase makes it even more proficient offroad than the Defender 110. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

The Defender’s visibility is further compromised by wide B-pillars creating a big blind spot when the driver checks over their shoulder. The vehicle seems generally robust and its solid doors would not feel out of place in a bank vault, though the test car had an annoying rattle in the driver’s door.

The Defender 90 has no direct competitors. Its rivals in terms of power cannot match it for off-road performance, while it is much gutsier than the Jeep Wrangler that can go toe-to-toe with it in the turf. The closest in spirit and overall ability is the Mercedes-AMG G63, which is a larger vehicle and costs more than R1m more.

This shortened Landy may not have the family-friendly practicality of the 110, but its cool-cat image and impressive off-road ability make its star shine bright.


Tech Specs


Type: Supercharged petrol V8

Capacity: 4,999cc

Power: 386kW

Torque: 625Nm


Type: Eight-speed automatic


Type: Permanent all-wheel drive, selectable low range


Top speed: 240km/h

0-100km/h: 5.2 secs (claimed); 5.1 secs (as tested)

Fuel Consumption: 12.8l/100km (claimed), 15.5l/100km (as tested)



Electronic Stability Control, ABS brakes, six airbags, matrix LED headlights, automatic headlamps, sliding panoramic sunroof, climate control, rain sensor wipers, adaptive air suspension, lane change assist, adaptive cruise control, head up display, tyre pressure sensor, 360° parking and off-road camera, hill descent control, limited-slip differential, electrically deployable towbar, keyless central locking, electrically adjustable front seats, ventilated and heated front seats, electrically adjustable steering column, infotainment system with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, digital instrument panel



Warranty: Five years/100,000km

Service plan: Five years/100,000km

Price: R2,524,360

Lease: R53,730 a month

*at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit


Land Rover Defender 90 V8


WE LIKE: Power, off-road ability, styling

WE DISLIKE: Fuel consumption, blind spots

VERDICT: All-terrain SUV that oozes street cred


Motor News star rating

Design ****

Performance  ****

Economy ****

Ride ****

Handling ***

Safety ****

Value For Money ****

Overall ****


The competition

BMW X3 M Competition, 375kW/650Nm — R2,032,618 

Jaguar F-Pace SVR, 405kW/700Nm — R1,991,861 

Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 4Matic, 375kW/700Nm — R1,957,172 

Mercedes-AMG G63, 430kW/850Nm — R3,606,180

Porsche Macan GTS, 324kW/550Nm — R1,617,000




Would you like to comment on this article?
Register (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

Commenting is subject to our house rules.