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[Behind the Wheel] Land Rover’s iconic Defender 90 comes back stronger

Once discontinued, one of the oldest off-roaders returns with sturdiest chassis, futuristic appearance

The original Land Rover Defender (left) and the new Defender 90 (Jaguar Land Rover Korea)
The original Land Rover Defender (left) and the new Defender 90 (Jaguar Land Rover Korea)

First launched in 1948, Jaguar Land Rover’s legendary off-roader Defender has made a grand comeback with a completely new look.

At first glance, the makeover gives the Defender 90 a futuristic look yet embraces enough of its original features to retain its identity as the iconic sport utility vehicle specializing in off-road driving.

One of the most noticeable changes was the round edges of the four-wheel car’s contour, which used to be sharp and angular in the original models. The renewed look earned some 50 design awards from various institutes around the world, including the prestigious World Car Design of the Year Award at the 2021 World Car Awards.

The Korea Herald had the chance to test drive the Defender 90 D250 SE for a roundtrip of about 300 kilometers to Mungyeong, North Gyeongsang Province, to see how the cool-looking SUV fares on hilly mountain roads.

When it comes to the new look, opinions may vary depending on personal taste. But on the performance front, there may be little disagreement over how this rounder, cute Defender measures up to other similar models in off-road driving.

Thanks to the brand’s newly developed lightweight, all-aluminum monocoque chassis, the D7x platform, the renewed Defender is the sturdiest vehicle it has ever produced, the carmaker said. It is at least three times more durable than the previous models.

The three-door Defender 90 is 4,583 millimeters in length, 1,996 mm in width and 1,974 mm in height. With a robust presence, the car boasts of 291mm of ground clearance, and an approach angle of 31.5 degrees and a departure angle of 35.5 degrees -- slightly more than its longer sibling Defender 110 -- and made versatile for all terrains.

To detect scattered boughs and boulders in off-road situations, the Defender has the ClearSight Ground View function, which gives drivers a virtual view of the road in front of the front tires for easier navigation. 

Land Rover Defender 90 D250 SE in Pangea Green (Jo He-rim/The Korea Herald)
Land Rover Defender 90 D250 SE in Pangea Green (Jo He-rim/The Korea Herald)
Land Rover Defender 90 D250 SE in Pangea Green (Jo He-rim/The Korea Herald)
Land Rover Defender 90 D250 SE in Pangea Green (Jo He-rim/The Korea Herald)

Various terrain response modes are also available, which change the accelerator response and traction sensitivity according to conditions such as wading through water, or driving in mud, sand or snow.

As expected from its high-ground clearance, drivers have a clear and open view of the road ahead, above all other passenger cars.

Behind the wheel, the Defender 90 glided effortlessly on the road.

With the Defender 90, the automaker replaced the previous four-cylinder diesel engine with a six-cylinder inline Ingenium diesel engine, to exert up to 249 horsepower and a maximum torque of 58.1 kilogram-meter.

As it went up steep hills, the car made powerful roaring noises and the wheels had good traction.

As sturdy as it looks, the Defender 90 can tow up to 3,500 kilograms.

To make sure the car can withstand the harshest driving conditions, the automaker put the prototype vehicles into extreme situations, such as in deserts with 50 degrees Celsius temperatures, and conducted vigorous testing. The cars underwent at least 45,000 different tests and 62,000 engineering tests, Land Rover said.

Inside the car, the interior space and headroom in the front and rear seats are ample.

Due to the short overhang, the car has a small trunk space of 297 liters. But this expands to 1,263 liters when the rear seats are folded.

A bonus was the hidden storage spaces which came in handy as items could be stashed by the driver’s seat and not in the rear seat.

In the center console, the test-drive car was fitted with a refrigerator compartment, which comes as an add-on option for drivers.

The vehicle is equipped with a 10-inch Pivi Pro infotainment system, and also comes with its own local navigation system, both of which came as very satisfactory. The quick and smooth in-car entertainment system, often somewhat lacking in other foreign car brands’ vehicles, was easy to access, and very up to date.

The Pivi Pro is an award-winning infotainment system jointly developed with LG Electronics for global sales. Jaguar Land Rover Korea also worked with SK Telecom, the country’s top mobile carrier and navigation system provider, to develop its own T map service, according to the company.

Defender 90 comes in two trims starting from a price of 84.2 million won ($71,800) for the D250 model, and 92.9 million won for the D250 SE model. By Jo He-rim (