Land Rover Defender 90 XS: Drive / NVH



Intro / Mods



Practicality / Spec Engine / Performance Driving / NVH

Faults / Injuries

    Options / Verdict  


If you can drive a Defender, you can drive anything modern. Every other car is so much easier to pilot after driving this, and it’s probably worth noting that you might need to relearn what ‘delicacy’ is.

For every car I’ve been in ever since, I’m essentially now stamping on pedals and yanking the gear lever off.

From the first moment I’d set off in the 90, I did wonder what I’d let myself in for…

You have big heavy pedals to stamp on from atop, a long gear lever that feels like it doesn’t want to go in gear, and a big, unresponsive steering wheel positioned at a jaunty angle.  And you do all this from a skewed seating position.

LR Defender Interior front

My left knee hurts, my left arm is bigger, and coming from someone who wouldn’t last 10 minutes of rugby, I’m now arriving everywhere in a sweat – it’s a workout just to drive this thing and you’re quite self-conscious about having bad deodorant days.

It’s definitely an acquired taste at first, and you’ll be apprehensive about how the car reacts through its indirect controls and slightly unpredictable behaviour.

The turning circle is shocking too; 3-point turns are now 5-point, and the only perk of being so slab sided is that you easily know where your boundaries are when parallel parking.

Bay parking on the other hand….. I’ll religiously avoid when I can considering:

a) the turning circle won’t let me in (or back out) without >3 adjustments



b) I usually can’t get out afterwards, although clambering out the back door has certainly been a bonus and a way to make an entrance…

Reversing at night is also a bit of a pain – too often have I had to slam on the brakes from not seeing a black car in the dark behind me. Owners have fitted either a brighter reverse light or a second light altogether. Some on the other hand just resort to using the work light they’ve fitted to the roof! Genius, and I can understand their reasoning now.

Coming from someone used to driving modern road cars, I’m not kidding when I say it takes ‘a good while’ to understand the love for a Defender, but after 1,100 miles….
I’m loving the drive of it.

Man-handling the thing takes out any form of stress that I’d might have had at the start of the journey, and there genuinely is fun to be had in just getting it going.

What was a notchy gearbox is actually quite nice to use by this point. It’s not slick unless you’re vigourous it. While it always felt stubborn and pretty much half in-gear, the shifts are now quite clean and positive. Maybe putting all that effort in has paid off!

The super-short first gear helps crawling through traffic jams / queues at 4mph – it literally is a barge at that point – but Reverse gear remains a bit of a pig to engage when you’re in a hurry. The clutch pedal is still a heavy bastard to use though and it doesn’t take long to make itself felt through your knee. Speaking of which: my knee doesn’t necessarily hurt anymore mid-journey, it now just clicks sometimes when I’m out of the car instead.

That said, I’ve gotten used to driving the pedals with the balls of my feet; never mind any delicacy with a Defender – this car screws that rulebook – just cover the pedals with the majority of your shoes and stamp on them.  The brake / accelerator pedals need to travel a good few inches downwards before they respond!

The brute force required to drive this car makes everything else less involving and rather quite dull afterwards. I can sense my attention wandering elsewhere when I’m driving anything else these days as it’s so serene in comparison!

Timing gear changes have become an art now too: after being used to hanging in-gear with petrol engines, it’s become quite useful to now short-shift for some bends to give you a bit of breathing space while exiting.

I still can’t get over the handbrake though; you reach down to simultaneously headbutt the steering wheel and then burn your hand from the footwell heater to stop rolling away when stationary.Duff gardens

It’s funny how the Evoque feels sporty nowadays, a Fiesta diesel even more so. Watching a friend’s dog sway from side to side also adds to the comedy for another aspect too:
The handling.
Im on a boat (2)
“I’m on a boat motherfucker.”

The large steering wheel feels like it will forever turn, and those large profiled tyres mean you have no idea where they’re pointing, or where grip levels are. The steering isn’t particularly positive and only responds lazily past 11 – 1 o’ Clock position.

There’s a strange handling characteristic too: In a normal car, you approach a bend, turn the wheel a certain degree and the car then tracks consistently as you go along throughout. With the Defender, it’ll turn but lose interest halfway and you’ll have to reapply more lock just to make it round!
Tie that in with the awkward position/lack of elbow room and its not the easiest of steers –  we’dd recommend getting a slightly smaller steering wheel to ease both elbow room and manoeuvring.

The ride is markedly soft up to a point but since there’s much not in the way of springing anyway, you can feel the larger bumps sending a jolt through the large girders of metal in the chassis.  The shorter wheel base makes the car feel like it could bunnyhop over them too!


Unsurprisingly, body roll is pronounced to the point where you counter-lean through corners. In the wet, you can encourage a combination of mild understeer and oversteer as the short wheelbase brings the rear back into line in a delayed fashion. You’d have to be brave to explore beyond this, and despite pressing the button, ESP won’t switch off – it doesn’t like any prod of the accelerator pedal when the steering is anything other than straight!

It’s hard to justify what you’d gain by even trying to hoon a Defender down any country lane, but the huge slug of low down torque is pretty effective when exiting out of corners and can be quite encouraging – provided you don’t have to emergency brake that is.

The all-round disc brakes are fine; in fact they more confidence-inspiring than a Freelander 2’s, but you still need to brake early despite resisting fade.

The engine is quieter and smoother than I was expecting (especially on start-up/switch off) with little vibration coming through the cabin / seats. Don’t get me wrong though, vibrations from everywhere else otherwise is quite high! You can feel it from most surfaces, which is why the dash has shaken itself into creaking and buzzing (see Faults / Injuries), the gearlever weights go, and sometimes when you think your phone is buzzing in your pocket from a call or text…no, it’s not – it’s just the car.
You could probably get RSI from just resting your hand on the gearlever in Neutral.

‘Quiet’ would be a misleading word to describe the engine too, but it’s not the loudest diesel either. I do wish it sounded less like a Ford Transit, but that’s a minor gripe at the end of the day.

While it doesn’t scream into your ears all the time, everything else will be – the myriad of noises elsewhere was just not something that I would have expected. The induction noise from the side vent is epic, the delayed, heavy thump you hear whenever you press on the clutch in neutral. There’s road noise, transmission noise, wind noise…..stone’s bounce off the bodywork with a loud, resonating ping, and it all adds to the rally-stage feel. If you ever have to give a lift to someone who you don’t like, seat them in the back; you wont hear each other enough to have a conversation.

LR Defender wheelarch
Still find it bizarre not seeing any springs/dampers when peering beneath the wheelarches.

If it rains, great! The tyre spray hitting the wheelarches make it sound like the car is being sandblasted, and if the journey involves a motorway, even better! Noise levels on there are about as loud as being in a plane.

The refinement levels of a Defender 90 ~60mph!

With the Defender’s class leading aerodynamics – i.e. the lack of – motorways mean that it will be fighting wind resistance quite a lot! I do love how all the dirt builds up on all the harsh edges of this, and in between the bonnet lettering.

It’s so slab slided you can be caught out by side-winds too – no longer will I hate on these cars when every once in a while they creep over onto your lane. With a big enough side-wind, and that slow-responding steering, this car can be made to veer! Its like a child learning to walk but at the stage when they can only muster the drunken look.

One of the greatest aspects of the Defender though is that you do get an attitude of being invincible. There’s no need for ‘Terrain Response’ or ‘Hill Decent Control’ here: Just knowing that it has 47-degree departure angles, a 500mm wading depth, and enough strength to out-tow a Dodge Ram (despite a power deficit), means you can see anything and think ‘I’m having it’.

Defender Vs Dodge Ram
Spec: 90 XS County Station Wagon 2015MY 
Engine: 2.2 TDCI Diesel, 122bhp, 266lb ft 
Transmission: 6 Speed Manual 
Mpg: Official: 27.3mpg Achieved: 23mpg 
Performance: 0-62mph: 15.5 Secs, 90mph (Ltd) 
Colour: Montalcino Red 
Running Period: Winter 2014 – Summer 2015, 6100 Miles 
Options: Tow ball + electrics

6 thoughts on “Land Rover Defender 90 XS: Drive / NVH

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