2021 Land Rover Defender 90 First Edition Review by Ben Lewis

So, we road test a lot of different vehicles. And some of them are very expensive, status-y models, and it’s no surprise that you get an interesting range of responses. Often times with the pricey ones, you get pushback, the anti-snobbism.

So, it’s interesting when you have a vehicle that’s a luxury brand, loaded with status, yet everyone seems to love it. Case in point – our 2021 Land Rover Defender 90. It’s a charmer.

Lovable Looks

Well, the first thing that bowls people over is the Defender’s design. Our 2-door 90 model looks like a giant Tonka Toy – you could easily see a kid having a matchbox version and loving it to death. While it is joyfully designed, it’s also quite clever – Land Rover knows how to design vehicles.

Like many famous names, Land Rover /Range Rover has a long and famous heritage to uphold. So, you find nods to the past along with a feeling of modernity.

At the front, you get a powerful statement, with LED lights that have a retro circular vibe, a prominent nose that hints at power, and a textured lower fascia and skid pan that look capable of taking a beating off-road. Of course, D E F E N D E R is spelled out in big letters across the hood. Yes, a lot of makers have gone for this style lately, but Land Rover has been doing it for a long time – so they own it.

The profile is all about capability, with extremely short front and rear overhangs, great for off-roading, while a somewhat slab-sided design (also perfect for sliding between boulders) gives a blocky toughness. The pictures may not do it justice, but this is actually a substantial, large machine, the proportions are tight, but the Defender does make a statement on the road.

Large vents on the front fenders and wheel-arch cladding add to the do-it-all impression. We love the white roof that gives a great contrast, and features slit side windows that help bathe the interior with light.

And really, what could feel more exotic than our First Edition’s Pangea Green paint color. Safari here we come. Well, in case that safari is an urban adventure, you’ll still be looking stylish on the massive 20-inch, 5-spoke alloy wheels.

The rear – like the front – has a traditional feel, with a large full-size spare mounted on the swing out rear door. You open the door with a traditional pull handle. No fancy power openers. We love the square taillights that are instantly identifiable as a Landy, and the rear bumper and lower fascia are silver, like the front. It’s a handsome vehicle that just makes you smile when you see it.  Charming, indeed.

Cozy Cabin

Inside is a blend of traditional and modern, that continues the good vibes. Wide horizontal lines, large chunky controls and an upright stance are all serious off-road cues. The front buckets are big and well padded. Land Rover does something interesting and puts a center seat in the front row to allow carrying up to 6, but we didn’t like it. When it’s up, it completely obscures your rear view, and when it’s down you have a tall, overstuffed pad (which is comfy), with dual cupholders and a few USB/Power outlets, but it really doesn’t function like a console with usable storage.

It’s a bit of a challenge to get into the rear seats, but once you’re there, it’s quite comfortable, and those window slits in the roof keep things bright and light. With the rears up you have a smallish cargo hold, but flip them down, and you’ve got good space. It’s a 2-door, after all…

You’ll want to be in the driver’s seat anyway. We love the fat steering wheel with spokes that look like stone, and a bright digital display that serves up large circular gauges and a middle driver’s info display that lets you call up all sorts of data.

Land Rover is also very clever in making what looks like a simple interface pull up a ton of things. The info-tainment display is bright and clear, and the panel below that houses the climate control also doubles up on capability. Press a button and the left side climate control gives you access to all the off-road functions. The right climate control doubles as the fan control if you’re not in Auto A/C mode.

We love this setup – it looks clean and elegant but houses all the advanced off-road tech in a simple menu-driven way.

Speaking of visibility, the tall upright stance, and square lines make it easy to see out, while around view cameras give you a 360-degree view and make it easy to place the 90 anywhere you want, on-road or off.

Go Anywhere, Anytime

Driving the Defender is a thrill, too.

While you can get a turbo four-cylinder engine, our tester had the 3.0-liter, 6-cylinder engine with a 48-volt electric supercharger and a 48-volt lithium-ion battery to store captured energy as the vehicle slows down. And it’s a powerhouse – pumping out 395 horsepower and 406 lb.-ft. of torque at just 2,000 rpm. With a deep rumble at idle and a growl as it revs, the 90 claws through the 8-speed automatic like a Cheetah on the plains and the acceleration is immediate and very, very quick. With all this power and a tough hell-bent for adventure chassis, 19 mpg combined is quite good. No Tonka Toy here!

Of course, you have an ultra-capable 4WD system, including a twin-speed transfer case, with a set of low ratios perfect for towing or when doing serious off-roading.

And if you are going serious off-roading, there’ not much that can match a Land Rover! With a system they call Configurable Terrain Response, you’ve got such goodies like Center Slip Limited and Center and Rear Slip limited options. You can also dial up response based on conditions including Grass, Gravel, Snow, Mud Ruts, Sand or Rock Crawl.

Need more? The Defender is also the first Land Rover vehicle to feature a “Wade” program that automatically softens the throttle response, sets the heating and ventilation to recirculate cabin air, locks the driveline and adjusts the ride height to its off-road setting while activating the Wade Sensing screen on the infotainment system. This allows drivers to see the depth of surrounding water and provides confidence when fording – allowing drivers to take full advantage of the maximum wading depth of 35.4 inches. How cool is that!

How much to put the Defender in De Garage?

Well, considering the luxury, design, and capability, it’s not bad. You can get a basic 2023 Defender starting at $52,300. We love the simplicity of this model, and with the great looks and amazing capability, it’s a luxury bargain. Those with more money to spend can opt for the 518 horsepower, V8 Carpathian Edition, which starts for $111,400.

Our tester was a 2021 Defender 90 First Edition, which was beautifully equipped and reasonably priced at $64,100. Land Rover made all the touch choices for you and served up a gorgeous vehicle. Options were limited to a Tow Hitch Receiver ($675) and Off-Road Tires ($350). Add in $1,350 for Destination, and we rang the bell at $66,475.

Competition? Oh dear…there’s not really that much. The Ford Bronco is offered as a 2-door, and can list at over $50,000 – but with demand so high, we’ve seen them sticker for more than our Defender! We think the Ford is cool. But we’d take the Defender!

Luxurious, capable, and well – just look at it! How can you not love the Land Rover Defender 90? Charmed? For sure!