For those of you who think the new Land Rover Defender 110 looks cool (I suspect you’ll have already spotted a few) wait until you see the three-door version that’s just been launched.
The five-door 110, which we’ve already tested, is truly a great-looking car. But I love this three-door 90 even more. It’s just that it looks better proportioned and more businesslike.
And thanks to its shorter wheelbase it’s even more impressive off-road than the 110.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We tested two versions of the 90 – one we drove from Heathrow to JLR’s home in Gaydon, and then the other went off-road at the firm’s facility at Eastnor Castle, Herefordshire.
The first car for the road route from the airport was a P400 in X Spec. This version is powered by JLR’s recently introduced 3.0-litre straight-six petrol engine backed up by a 48v mild-hybrid system using a starter/generator unit.
Don’t be fooled by the word hybrid because this engine in the Defender is a million miles off being environmentally friendly.
Cruising at legal speeds up the M40 the trip computer told us the 400bhp engine was sipping a gallon of fuel every 17 miles. That’s the sort of economy, or lack of, that we used to expect from a 1970s Range Rover.
But ignoring the car’s thirst, the 90 is fabulously refined on the motorway at speed. Then off onto single carriageway A-roads, the three-door Defender is more nimble than its bigger brother.
The ride comfort is not quite as good but it’s still a very refined motor that will stagger owners of the original Defender.
This one costs a scary £77,000 without options.
Far more interesting, however, is the 90 SE P300 we step into at Gaydon. It’s not quite the cheapest Defender 90 you can buy – the entry-level S at £43,625 has that honour (if you ignore the Hard Top commercial version, that is) – but our SE’s £50,930 price is palatable.
Of course you can send that number soaring with add-ons.
The 110 has only air suspension but the 90 can be had with conventional coil springs. With no air you can’t raise the ride height, but with its shorter wheelbase it’s far less likely to ground out over a hump anyway – and its off-road ability is astonishing.
Our SE model has the simpler terrain response system and doesn’t have an active rear differential or all-terrain progress control which is like cruise control for off-road. But the Defender is formidable enough without them.
The big six-cylinder engine has character and an abundance of poke, the four-cylinder 300bhp engine sounds less exciting but has ample performance on tarmac and certainly in mud. The eight-speed transmission in both the P400 and P300 is smooth and shifts seamlessly.
There’s a price to pay for the Defender 90’s squat three-door body. The boot holds only 397 litres with the rear seats in place but you can always order panniers, roof racks and ladders. All very Land Rover.
Getting into the back of the 90 is a bit of a squash and you have to wait for the electric front seats to shuffle forwards.
Kids will love the back though, and what they’ll love even more is you speccing your Defender with the optional centre seat between the driver and front passenger’s seat.
They’ll have a grandstand view of JLR’s new Pivi Pro infotainment system which is a belter.
The new Defender, both this new short-wheelbase model and the five-door 110, are a triumph of engineering and design.
Following in the tyre tracks of the old legendary Defender was no easy task but JLR has done a fantastic job. It’s a five star motor, short or long.
Land Rover Defender 90 SE P300 4×4
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel petrol, 300bhp
0-62mph: 7.1 sec
Fuel consumption: 24.6mpg
Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Massively capable off road and very cool. Not as good on-road as the Defender.
Mercedes-Benz G350d AMG Line
A classic that’s modern and capable but at a ridiculous price.
Toyota Land Cruiser Active
Tough and reliable and a legend itself. Nothing like as luxurious inside but a great workhorse.