V8 makes luxurious Defender crazy fast, but for off-roading? …
If vehicles were to be judged strictly on how well they drive then Land Rover’s two-door Defender 90 V8 would be a champ, both on and off road.
You see, Defender is a short-wheelbase British designed Jeep, historically, and the entry step into Land Rover’s now ritzy luxury lineup of larger SUVs. Defender is meant to be taken off road, to bound over boulders, to slop in mud, to ford streams (it’ll wade in up to 35.4 inches of bubbling brook).
Yet it’s not a Jeep, it’s a luxury SUV all its own and this version packs an ego-pleasing 518-horsepower V8. That’s better for highway hot-rodding than off-roading, and the ride and handling here deliver a luxury feel that you won’t find in any Jeep Wrangler, even the 4-door Unlimited.
No, the Defender 90 V8 is a luxury two-door with all the fixins and a price tag of $105,550 that seems to discourage off-roading and the dents, scrapes and mud that come with it.
Still, it’s a land-based cruise missile with a top speed of 149 mph and a 0 to 60 mph time of 4.4 to 4.9 seconds, says Car and Driver magazine. Land Rover’s 8-speed automatic shifts smoothly and the pistol-grip shifter delivers a jet pilot’s control mindset.
Handling is light and easy and cornering a pleasure. Parking this big beauty is a breeze.
Top heavy? Sure, a little bit, but with 22-inch Continental tires underneath you feel pretty sure-footed and the air suspension soaks up the city street cracks and crevices with ease, mostly. That’s saying something for an SUV with just a 101.9-inch wheelbase. Normally something this short is akin to riding on a skateboard, sitting down.
See Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2022 Land Rover Defender 90 – YouTube
Around town Defender delivers a decidedly luxury ride, feel and handling. Put it off into the weeds and gravel and it’ll perform nicely too. Sadly Rover thinks everything should be controlled through its 11.4-inch touchscreen, which is plenty big and easy to see. Oh, but that size screen costs $140 extra. Really? Even bigger screens are standard on $40k vehicles.
And let’s admit this right here, touchscreens are fine for adjusting the radio and such, mostly while sitting at a traffic light or in your driveway, but when driving, a dedicated button often is the wiser choice. So to go several layers deep into the screen and try to find the one of 16 icons that takes you to 4WD, etc. Well, that’s not easy and can be frustrating. Decide on any off-road settings before you roll.
That touchscreen though is just the beginning of some questionable styling and functional attributes inside the Land Rover.
My tester was a deep color-shifting black, or Santorini Black, as Rover calls it. The interior was equally black, just not as shiny. Seats though were cloth with suede-like inserts, which were plenty comfy and power adjustable. But I’d expect soft high-end leather standard at the $100k price, plus wouldn’t leather be easier to clean if I did go off-roading and flipped some mud inside? I mean there are thick rubber floor mats all around so you won’t sludge up carpets.
The pistol-grip shifter, nice as it is to shift, is on the center stack, but juts out to block an easy reach to the climate control dials, which by the way include the heated and cooled seat functions. Those also can be found through the info screen.
Extending from the center stack back to between the front seats is a giant semi-open bin, cup holders and cooler/storage box just under the armrest. Nice again that the box cools so you could carry two cans of soda there on a trip, but that big bin under the stack is not real useful as the industrial looking supports all around it make it hard to retrieve anything dropped down in the bin.
That leads to the oversized lid on the cooler/storage box that partially covers the wireless charging tray just in front of that box. Easy to slide the phone in for charging, but to retrieve it you’ll need to open the box’s lid. Awkward!
Likewise it’s awkward to climb in the Rover and especially so for rear seat riders. First problem, this is a two-door. Second problem it’s a huge step up (11.5 inches of ground clearance) to get inside, but there are plenty of grab handles on the dash and ceiling. Third, for the rear seat, which is fairly roomy, a person must press a button once to power the front seat forward, then flip a stiff lever atop the seat to flip the seatback forward. Once settled in back it’s easiest for your passenger-side front seat occupant to press, and hold, a power seat button to return the seat ever so slowly to its original setting. Again, really? I’ve been in $20k econo-coupes with one-lever manual seat access to the rear seat.
Note too that if the rear seat is occupied there is precious little cargo room behind the seat, maybe one upright suitcase or several grocery bags. The rear seats do fold down to boost storage. But in practical terms the Defender is a two-person vehicle, while five could tolerate short hops around town.
One final clunker is that rear door in place of a hatch. I know Jeep-like vehicles have this feature and it does fit in well with the snazzy retro styling, including the mammoth 22-inch tire on the rear door. But that makes that door heavy and, again, awkward for loading in certain circumstances. Having the tire handy on the rear door though will be convenient when you blow a tire on a rocky outcropping when off-roading in your luxury ute.
Naturally there are good points too, like the styling, which received several compliments during my drive, and the side skylight windows just under the rear roofline.
A panoramic sunroof is standard too and the seats are both heated and cooled, and incredibly comfortable. I like the radio volume roller on the steering wheel hub and the wheel itself is wrapped in the coziest suede covering I’ve experienced in a vehicle. I’d pay extra for that on any vehicle, along with the heated wheel, which is standard here.
The sound system is stellar too, a premium Meridian surround system with 700 watts of power. Boom!
Gas mileage is mild to say the least, but then you had to have the V8, right? The EPA rates this at 15 mpg city and 19 mpg highway. I managed 16.9 mpg in a week’s mixed driving. Premium petrol is preferred, naturally. A 3.0-liter inline 6 mild hybrid also is available by the way.
Again, the starting price is $105,550 and with three small options this one drains an IRA account for $106,710. But honestly, I’m not sure anything should be optional at the starting price here for a small SUV, no matter how off-road worthy.
That said, there are eight trim levels for the Defender 90, and the base starts at $57,700 with delivery, so avoiding the higher trims and the V8 will put this into a whole other price category. And for folks wanting a more useful, but equally ornamental, version there’s the Defender 110 with a 17-inch longer wheelbase and four doors, so a family could properly use it.
That would compete well with Jeep’s new Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer.
As it is, this one competes with the likes of the Jeep Wrangler, Wrangler Unlimited (4 doors), and Grand Cherokee. Other possible capable off-roaders with luxury leanings include Toyota’s 4Runner or even its Highlander and of course Ford’s new Bronco, although its ride is not nearly so nice as the Rover’s. Most of these start in the upper-$40,000 range.
If you simply must spend more than $100 grand on a luxury off-road worthy SUV there’s also the Mercedes-Benz G Class, or G-Wagon as most folks call it. That starts about $141,000 and is even boxier. The Rover certainly wins that matchup on the styling front.
Fast Stats: 2022 Land Rover Defender 90 V8
Hits: Thrilling power, snazzy retro looks, off-roading ability in spades, easy handling, nice ride for short wheelbase. Panoramic sunroof, heated/cooled seats, radio volume roller on wheel, Meridian sound system, heated suede-wrapped steering wheel, easy to park and a lot of grab handles.
Misses: Rear hatch opens out like door, tire on door makes it heavy, gear shift lever in way of climate controls, difficult multi-layer touchscreen, awkward access to off-road settings and clunky access to rear seats. Big step-up height, wireless charger partially blocked by big armrest/storage box lid and little cargo room.
Made in: Nitra, Slovakia
Engine: 5.0-liter V8, 518 hp/461 torque
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Weight: 5,334 lbs.
Wheelbase: 101.9 in.
Length: 180.4 in.
Cargo: 14-34 cu.ft.
Tow: 8,200 lbs.
MPG: 16.9 (tested)
Base Price: $105,550 (includes delivery)
WiFi-enabled w/limited data plan, $360
Premium interior protection w/storage pack, $660
11.4-inch touchscreen, $140
Test vehicle: $106,710
Sources: Land Rover, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage