The Land Rover Defender 90 is the UK's most in-demand car, but what was it like to live with?

Why we ran it: to see if the Land Rover Defender’s breadth of appeal really could cover everything, from disaster zone to congestion charge zone

Month 3 - Month 2Month 1 - Prices and specs

14 Land rover defender 2022 long term review birds

Life with a Defender 90: Month 3

Would we recommend joining a very long queue for this 4x4? You betcha - 18 May

There are few rational levels on which the Land Rover Defender 90 makes obvious sense – which is why I’m about to recommend you buy one, albeit with a few provisos and a caution that you will be joining the back of a very long queue.

That’s not to say it’s in any way a bad car; in fact, bar a few potentially cynically deliberate shortfalls, it’s extremely capable, remarkable as much for its breadth of abilities as the extremes of them. 

It’s (almost) as good to drive on road as off it, comfortable even over long distances, practical and reasonably economical, just tipping 30mpg as an average at the end of our test. In all those regards, it hauls the shortcomings of its predecessor bang up to date. But therein lies the rub: it’s bang up to date yet a car everyone feels compelled to ask about.

And, frankly, who can blame them? As well as being out of step with the modern world in terms of its scale and unapologetic off-road bias, it is also irrationally expensive, has a boot that a Volkswagen Golf would smirk at and rear seats that require a mountaineer’s mindset to climb in or out of. Most unforgivably of all, the rear seats don’t fold flat, alienating a core target market of owners who like to travel with their dogs in cages.

Just this week, a reader sent me a link to a video to fix this problem, the solution so simple that Land Rover could implement it in a jiffy if it chose. The suspicion must be that it would rather push you to buy a pricier 110. A surprising number of people have written to tell me that they have just shopped elsewhere instead.

1 Land rover defender long term

Back to top

Yet I loved it and I already miss it – and I suspect everyone asking the questions was motivated by an undercurrent of ‘I know I shouldn’t, but I want one’ too. It had character, showing off without ever resorting to peacocking, resultantly making every journey special. Despite the sometimes puzzled, often rational questions it attracted, it was always a car that I would clamber out of ready to passionately promote or defend.

Part of that was undoubtedly down to the way it was specced, with editor-at-large Matt Prior playing a blinder by mixing old-school charm and off-road capability with the ultra-modern design – albeit, all in, adding 15% to the already chunky price tag of the high-end HSE model in the process. Only his decision to go for steel wheels was controversial and by my scoring (and surprise) more unpopular than popular.

But here at least, and assuming you agree with the detractors, the vagaries of the chip crisis have an upside: these non-cost items appear to have slipped, for now, from the options list. I assume that’s because Land Rover is trying to prioritise higher-priced models while it has limited supply. I appreciate that

I seem to be in the minority, but I would have paid extra for them. The other pick worth highlighting is the 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel engine. The numbers say it was good for 0-62mph in 8.0sec even at a 2.2-tonne kerb weight. That’s impressive but only really hints at the real significance of the lashings of smoothly delivered torque that made going anywhere from congested cityscape to boggy field a doddle.

3 Land rover defender long term

Back to top

My only criticism would be the delay in step-off, a Land Rover characteristic for so long that I can only assume it’s deliberate but which could make pulling out of junctions sharply a bit tight. If a vehicle of this heft is to be driven over anything more than very short journeys, diesel still seems to be the logical choice.

So it was that during its time with us we drove it far and wide: Prior to Bugatti’s headquarters in France, editor Mark Tisshaw to Cornwall and me to Wales. One and all we returned singing its praises. Comfy, quiet, easy to place on even tight roads, every pre-conception or concern banished, and this on a car fitted with far from ideal knobbly off-road tyres that drew no criticism of compromises.

Likewise, I used it most regularly for my three-mile outer-London commute, a slightly ridiculous task for such a car, not least as it pivoted around a car park built for cars of substantially smaller proportions to the extent that the roof aerial would clonk (gently and undamagingly) on the height restriction board every day by way of greeting.

5 Land rover defender long term

Yet armed with an array of sensors and cameras, it was astonishing just how easy it was to thread its 4.5m of length, 2m of width and just a fraction less than 2m of height where you wanted it. I’ve driven other large SUVs in the same way but never felt so at home in them; that high driving position and good forward and side visibility shouldn’t be underestimated for helping you settle in.

Back to top

The Defender fitted into life – all of it, no matter how incongruous you might think it, given the car’s obvious and not so obvious drawbacks – and made it better. No wonder there’s a queue stretching towards the tail end of 2023 to get one, even at this price. 

Second Opinion

There’s nothing quite like a Defender off-road (there are 4x4s that will go as far, but few make it quite as easy), but what struck me most about this one is how good it is on road over long distances. It’s serenely capable, isolated and comfortable, even though it’s not in optimum road comfort specification. 

Matt Prior

Back to the top

Love it:

Rural spec Shabby chic is a bit harsh, but I enjoyed running a do-anything- looking Defender around town.

Big car, big diesel Its popularity has collapsed, but this was a reminder that diesel can be (relatively) clean and efficient. 

Rear seats It was a monumental effort to get in there, but once ensconced, rear passengers had oodles of space. 

Loathe it:

Price There's no getting away from it: the Defender badge holds huge appeal and commands a huge premium

Boot It’s only 397 litres, and most of what I put in tumbled out when I opened the side-hinged door

Final mileage: 4456

Back to the top

Off-roading in Wales and 1000 miles across France - 20 April 2022

Defender 2

Back to top

You might recall that I introduced the Defender as the car that Matt Prior built, our esteemed editor-at-large getting himself all excited speccing it to perfection and then watching in (polite, restrained) frustration as production delays meant he had another car lined up.

I didn’t, and so it was that I became the lucky custodian of one of the most in-demand cars in the country. And sure enough, in demand it has been, the aforementioned Prior not unreasonably wasting little time in securing his position at the front of the queue. First up was a trip to Wales for some off-roading.

Says Prior: “It was light stuff, but what stood out was that it just wants to make life easy for you. Whereas the Jeep Wrangler or the Ford Bronco wants to involve  you in the process, the Defender just takes care of it for you. From that point of view, I think it’s one of the most relaxing cars around to drive.”

Watch-outs? Just one of note: “It’s a bit wide for some country lanes but very square and easy to place, plus you don’t have to concentrate on grip levels and so on while off-roading. In terms of a working vehicle, I suspect there are few better or more chilled. So long as nobody lets the tyres down in the night.”

That last comment is a reference to the recent spate of ‘direct actions’ by SUV-hating environmentalists. However, another experience taking the Defender from London to Molsheim, France, the home of Bugatti, provided some more insights into its all-round capabilities that, on this evidence, are perfectly fit for the modern world.

“It was just mega,” says Prior, who travelled two-up with photographer Max Edleston and all his kit on the 1000-mile round trip. “Aside from the fact that the rear seats don’t fold f lat and the boot would’ve been rather small if we had been more than two-up, it was terrific.

“Throughout, it offered outstanding stability, an isolated ride and a very long range. I filled it up at Ashford services in Kent, drove to Molsheim and about halfway back across France before needing to refuel. An average of over 30mpg was quite possible.

Back to top

“I also loved the amount of storage space up front. Sure, the bit in front of the cupholders is a little random, but it’s great for just lobbing stuff in. The fact that there are plenty of power sockets is helpful, too, although it couldn’t quite decide whose phone it wanted to pair with first.”

It seems as though anyone who worried a Defender couldn’t do off- road and luxury needs to reappraise their biases: this one is capable and cosseting off and on road.

“There’s nothing agricultural or unrefined about it at all,” summarises Prior. “I loved it.”

Love it: Power to the people

There’s a charging point for everyone, eradicating one common source of family arguments.

Loathe it: Flat refusal 

The fact that the rear seats don’t fold flat is inconvenient for most and ruinous for many.

Mileage: 6727

Back to the top

Its size seems daunting at first, but we’ve quickly got used to it - 6 April 2022

It’s no revelation to say that even this ‘baby’ Land Rover Defender is a big car. It’s 4.3 metres long (before you factor in the spare wheel), 2.1 metres wide (mirrors out) and, give or take, two metres tall – enough to be at risk of a serious clonk in restricted car parks.

What has taken me by surprise, though, is how quickly you get used to those dimensions. Every time I clap eyes on it, I think again how absurd such a large car is for outer-London life; yet bum on seat and threading around even the most congested spots, I’ve rarely had to give a second thought to any compromises on where I can go or what I can do.

I’ve found the same phenomenon with other large Land Rovers. It takes about a week to adjust and then instinctively you start to know where the corners are, adjust to the steering and slightly laggy throttle and make use of what must be some of the best- adjusted brakes in the business – all from an imperious seating position just a bit higher than that of almost anything else on the road. In short, you become at one with the car.

Back to top

This is worth noting because I’ve had a few emails from would- be buyers who’ve turned up for a test drive and been put off by the experience; dwarfed by the dimensions when stationary and then overwhelmed by them when on the move. Funnily enough, I still look at Defender 110s and think much the same, but my experiences here tell me that, with time behind the wheel, good times are likely ahead.

3 Land rover defender long term

The main watch-out is that spare tyre, which looks so good that I once parked it at a golf club and came back to find someone looking to see if they could take it home with them. Thankfully they thought I was as rugged as the car and left in a hurry, although that might have had more to do with the locking wheel nut and the weight of a full wheel being enough to make a bodybuilder sweat.

It lengthens the car by 26cm, but you have to remember the height at which that extra length sits. Many a time I’ve used the reversing camera to park bumper to bumper only to hop out and find the spare wheel overhanging another bonnet – the automotive equivalent of invading someone’s personal space.

Likewise, if reversing against a wall or line astern with a rear-parked SUV, you have to remember that the camera is set up more to show you where your car ends, not its spare tyre. You learn to make allowances, but it presents a potentially costly risk if you get it wrong.

Back to top

Love it:

Tidy touchscreen Land Rover’s infotainment system is – finally – up there with the best.

Loathe it:

Untidy cabin Cubbies abound, but some are so out of sight it’s easy to lose stuff.

Mileage: 5427

Back to the top

90 isn’t suited to big shops - 23 March 2022

It’s hard not to be slightly cynical about the boot space in the 90, which is a frankly mean 297 litres and at odds with the very generous second-row passenger space. A more sensible trade-off between the back seats and loadspace would surely have been easy. I can’t help feeling the urge to sell you a (more expensive) 110 was the motive.

Mileage: 4690

Back to the top

It’s built to go the distance, and to make that easy, but there is one thing we’d change - 16 March 2022

2 Land rover defender long term

However fond I may have been of the old Land Rover Defender, the prospect of covering any kind of long-distance journey in it was not one to savour. I know colleagues who have owned and driven them as far as the Iberian Peninsula on holidays (hello, Matthew Prior). But no, not for me.

Back to top

Clearly, any car designed and engineered by Land Rover to go on sale in the 2020s is going to be immensely capable of devouring long distances, and the new Defender is no exception. But just how capable it was of doing big miles blew me away recently, when I racked up more than 500 miles on a whistle-stop 48-hour tour of Cornwall one wet and windy February weekend.

My only real experience of the new model to date had been a day on the Eastnor Castle estate at the Land Rover Experience (still about as good a day out for an enthusiast as you can get), where we skipped straight to the harshest terrains to show off the car’s quite incredible off-road prowess. Unsurprisingly, it excelled, the only limitations seemingly the driver’s confidence to attack the obstacles in the first place.

That such a car could then be so quiet, refined and comfortable on the motorway blew me away all over again. When Land Rover talks about the Defender being the most capable 4x4 in the world, it doesn’t only mean on the mucky stuff.

Two key things are in the favour of our beautifully specced Defender 90 in this respect: the large tyres with as chunky a sidewall as I’ve seen on a modern car in a long time, wrapping those oh-so-desirable steel wheels, to help set up such a comfortable ride; and the silky-smooth straight- six diesel engine offering all that refinement.

The ride quality of the Defender is fantastic, with more in common with a Range Rover than any Defender before it. Those tyres are the first line of defence in insulating occupants from bumps in the road. As my passenger noted: “Didn’t the roads down here used to be much worse than this?” What our eyes saw and backsides felt were very different things.

As for that engine, the Defender’s key keeper, Jim Holder, has noted before just how well suited that six-pot diesel power is to the car, and I’d echo every word. The hushed tones were welcome on the extended motorway runs and the low-end torque a boon on narrow Cornish lanes. We returned around 30mpg over the 500 or so miles, which impressed me for a car of the Defender’s size and weight and the nature of many of those miles.

Back to top

What else did I enjoy? Those looks, for starters. The heart fluttered each time I set eyes on the car before driving it. So many cars have become so serious to look at, over-styled or even aggressive. The Defender just looks fun. The blue and white contrasting paint and trim really helps set things off, and I’ve still yet to see a Defender that looks better than this one.

Much has been written about the reverse Tardis effect of the Defender 90, though. Actually, I found the rear cabin in particular massive, but the issue is access to it. So here’s a solution (royalties to the usual address please, Land Rover): what the 90 needs is a small rear-hinged door that opens only once the front door has opened, much like on a BMW i3. Access to such a large, useful space would then improve dramatically. What it will do to the aesthetics I don’t know, but luckily our own Ben Summerell-Youde is on hand to show us.

1 Land rover defender long term

Love it:

Comfort Who’d have thought a Defender would be such a relaxing place to cover big miles?

Loathe it:

Width It feels like the Defender 90 is almost as wide as it is long and tall...

Mileage: 4422

Back to the top

Back to top

Life with a Defender 90: Month 2

To three-door or not to three-door? That is the question - 9 March

I’ll um and ah over whether the three-door was the right choice for someone with three kids forever more. It looks better to my eyes, and the space in the back is ginormous and comfortable once you’re in there, but the hassle of opening the large, heavy doors, sliding the seat back and then shutting yourself in is a palaver a passenger has yet to complete without a groan. JH

Mileage: 2091

It’s a great ad for not only its maker but the forgotten fuel, too - 2 March

Diesel: so much maligned these past years that it’s now on the cusp of becoming the minority powertrain of new car sales, long eclipsed by electric cars, soon to be eclipsed by plug-in hybrids and heading for the file labelled ‘history’.

Yet here I am, driving around in a car powered by a 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel engine – and I couldn’t make a case for anything more suitable. It’s powerful, smooth, refined, relatively economical (at around 30.0mpg) considering the Defender’s 2.2-tonne weight and, dare I say it, while acknowledging the life-threatening shortcomings of what it emits, relatively clean, given the toughest-ever emissions tests that it must now pass.

For this car at this time, it offers everything almost every owner could ever want, and any improvements, in terms of performance, economy, emissions or suchlike, can only be delivered with serious compromises from one to the other. In my view, the petrol or PHEV variants are likely to suit only very specific use cases.

You might make a case that, living on the outskirts of London and commuting regularly into a built-up area, a PHEV would suit me better. Maybe, just maybe, some of the time that could be true – but even my short commute would probably bea challenge for its all-electric range, and my occasional 100-to-300-mile trips further afield would be catastrophic in terms of economy.

Back to top

In a car of this size and with such bluff aerodynamics, I can’t believe petrol would be a strong choice for anyone but the lowest-mileage drivers, either. And if you are going to drive low miles, I’d suggest the Defender might not be the car for you at all, unless you’re a total show-off with an ego only the V8 can satisfy.

So diesel it is, and diesel I’d recommend. Aside from a short pause at step-off (a Land Rover characteristic), it offers layers of power and torque, taking the Defender from 0-62mph in a scarcely believable 8.0sec, but more crucially also giving total flexibility in tricky conditions (yes, Matt Prior has been off-roading, of which more another time) as well as keeping fuel bills manageable. It’s even pretty refined – certainly more so than you might expect from something paired to a car with such humble roots. 

Do I expect all buyers to follow suit and opt for diesel? No, I don’t. But for those who are wavering, despite still being less than 2000 miles into my time with the car, I have no hesitation in recommending feeling at ease with going against the wider trend. Diesel isn’t dead yet, and this car is the perfect example of why.

Mileage: 1927

12 Land rover defender 2022 long term review theatre

Defender's full-size spare wheel comes in handy - 16 February

Gah! The unluckiest of starts to life with the go-anywhere Defender as a metal tack found its way past the heavily treaded part of the wheel to cause an at first slow and then fast puncture. The full-size spare helped to get me going again, but the sheer weight of the wheel and tyre made locating it on its lugs a test of strength that I was only just able to pass.

Mileage: 1276

Life with a Defender 90: Month 1

Welcoming the Defender to the fleet - 9 February 2022

This is the car that Matt Prior built – something I mention early on both because I suspect that anyone who knows me will be pondering where this outbreak of good taste has come from and because it swiftly explains why someone who lives in the suburbs of London has gone all in for the off-road vibe, from the who-cares-if-you-scratch-them steel wheels to the chunky all-terrain tyres (plus an active differential).

Back to top

Don’t worry: this is one Land Rover Defender that will make it outside the M25, not least because it was a condition of the handover that Prior would be taking it back to point it at the scenery in Wales.

Heartbroken though I was by the calendar reshuffle that had Prior take custody of a Polestar 2 just a few weeks before the much-in-demand Defender finally made it down the production line, I gamely stepped forward and agreed to help him out.

I was hardly going to argue, was I? I dare say there’s barely a motoring enthusiast on the planet who doesn’t have an opinion on the new Defender and fewer still who would quibble when offered the chance to try one over a few months. It’s the hottest mainstream car in the world right now, as evidenced by the eye-watering premiums nearly new examples are selling for and the huge waiting lists prompting a growing number of people to pay them.

The ‘small’ model this 90 may be, but perhaps inevitably there’s nothing diminutive about its price. Powered by a powerful 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel engine (good for 0.62mph in 8.0sec even at a 2.2-tonne kerb weight) and in high-end HSE trim, the base car comes in north of £55,000 on the road and close to £65,000 after what looks like a mere smattering of options.

These were taken chiefly to give it the maximum off-road capability, from electronic diff to mudflaps and scuff plates, but also for the addition of the two-tone paintwork and a tow hook. Authenticity and fitness for purpose come at a price, it seems. Too much for a three-door car? I refer you once again to those waiting lists...

7 Land rover defender 2022 long term review on road front

But the contradictions are clear, and I might as well get them out there. This is a £65,000 car that might not entirely suit a town-dwelling, family lifestyle.

It has, for instance, a Volkswagen Golf-like 397-litre boot that requires you to have the dexterity of a bomb disposal expert if you want to balance anything inside it without it dropping out when you swing the back open.

Back to top

Land Rover is so sure you will use the rear seats for carrying stuff rather than people if you opt for the Country Pack that it installs a heavy metal divider behind the front seats, which I’ve now had to remove as a result of having children. Access to those rear seats is hard, requiring you to haul yourself up, shuffle round and then, if nobody is in the front passenger seat, thrust yourself a body length forward to be able to heave the vast door shut.

And, while highlighting that room up front and in the back is generous, there’s also the fact that these compromises are packed in a car 4.5m long with the spare tyre (already used) considered, 2m wide, of a length that makes it hard to park anywhere and of a height that makes entering many car parks a hazard.

And yet... after a week of thinking the world had gone barking mad and I would never be able to live with it, something clicked. One moment my brain was awash with negatives (a list you could add to with the age-old Land Rover characteristic of hesitant step-off and slightly vague steering, perhaps not helped by the knobbly tyres), the next I was pondering how I could ever live without it.

I’ve experienced this before, including with a Range Rover, and it’s easy to explain but hard to fathom. These are cars that just click; suddenly you know your way round it, know and anticipate its foibles; and then, just like that, your right elbow is resting on the door frame, you’re steering with one hand and you would be devastated if it were taken away.

9 Land rover defender 2022 long term review on road rear

Hold the five-door 110 solution. Even the kids, pectorals now built up from all the steps and lunges they’ve been doing, are hopping in with relative ease, if still needing to be caught on the way out.

Where does this leave me? Maybe it should be no surprise, given that the world’s most famous utility vehicle has morphed into one of the most fashionable, that I’m wondering if this love affair, compromised and contradictory though it is in part, will continue to flourish in town, on the motorway and off road. For this money, I want a car that can win my heart and mind – and there’s plenty more hurdles it will have to overcome in the coming months to do that.

Back to top

Second Opinion

Unsurprisingly, I’m rather taken with the Defender. It’s so unlike the old one I own: it’s exceptionally refined over long distances, large outside yet small in the back. But like the old one, it’s at its best in the sticks. Twice I’ve had to change parking spaces as it was too wide for me to get out.

Matt Prior

Back to the top

Land Rover Defender 90 3.0 Ingenium D250 MHEV HSE specification

Prices: List price new £58,875 List price now £58,875 Price as tested £64,485 Dealer value now

Options: Country Pack (classic mudflaps, load-space partition, scuff plate, wheel-arch protection, portable rinse system) £1585, Off-Road Pack (electronic diff with active torque vectoring, black roof rails, off-road tyres, domestic plug socket) £1450, Tasman Blue paint £895, white contrast roof £900, detachable towbar £780 

Fuel consumption and range: Claimed economy 31.1mpg Fuel tank 89 litres Test average 30.1mpg Test best 31.1mpg Test worst 26.5mpg Real-world range 589 miles

Tech highlights: 0-62mph 8.0sec Top speed 117mph Engine 6 cyls, 2997cc, turbocharged, diesel Max power 246bhp Max torque 420lb ft Transmission 8-spd automatic Boot capacity 397 litres Wheels 18in steel Tyres 275/65/R18 Kerb weight 2228kg

Service and running costs: Contract hire rate £588.56pcm CO2 238g/km Service costs None Other costs Puncture repair - £48 Fuel costs £958.77 Running costs inc fuel £1006.77 Cost per mile 26 pence Faults None

Back to the top

4 Land rover defender 2022 long term review jh driving

Back to the top

Join the debate

Add a comment…
Jules59 18 July 2022

"Likewise, I used it most regularly for my three-mile outer-London commute, a slightly ridiculous task for such a car"Ridiculous indeed. Ever thought of getting a bicycle ?

Jules59 18 July 2022

"Likewise, I used it most regularly for my three-mile outer-London commute, a slightly ridiculous task for such a car"Ridiculous indeed. Ever thought of getting a bicycle ?

lukeski 14 July 2022

Although it think it is worth noting that Toyota Hilux outsells all Land Rover and Range Rovers put together.

xxxx 15 July 2022

And everyone of them is a pickup, worth noting.

After_shock 15 July 2022

I dont think JLR offers hard points for AK47's, maybes if they did the numbers would go up.