Going to New York City during the holidays is an exercise in insanity. Everything is cold, crowded, and wildly expensive. Still, my daughter had never been, and it’s an experience worth doing at least once. So we packed up, headed east, and set off to see the city. Just for two days, though, then it was time to head north to visit family. And I arranged the perfect shuttle for chewing up highway miles, dealing with any weather that might arrive, and exploring off the beaten path should the mood strike. The 2023 Land Rover Defender 90 V8 proved to be a nearly perfect urban escape vehicle.
Any Defender would be a decent choice for this mission. But one with a V8 under the hood is my personal favorite. I’d prefer the 110 body style since it offers up way more room inside for our luggage, but in terms of passenger space, the D90 is surprisingly decent. There’s great room in that second row, which means my kiddo stays comfortable and can fall asleep on the longer parts of the trip.
With our adventures in NYC complete, we popped over to a nondescript garage in the Chelsea section of the city. Someone shuffled off to bring the car to us. We loaded it up and got the hell out of town. Thankfully, this garage was a block away from an entrance to the Hudson Expressway, which meant leaving New York was a simple assignment. And that’s where the Land Rover first shows off why it’s a perfect tool for the task. The 518-horsepower having supercharged V8 dispatches surrounding traffic with ease, and before you know it, New York turns to Connecticut. Connecticut becomes Rhode Island. And we’re roaming all over New England, through Massachusetts and up on into New Hampshire.
On the highway and around town, the Defender 90 is comfortable and composed. It’s a far cry from the driving experience of other capable off-road SUVs. A Jeep Wrangler starts at the bottom tier of this hierarchy. The Ford Bronco is a cut above. But then the Defender exists on another level, similar to where the Mercedes-Benz G-Class lives. While all of them are good to great off-road, the G and the D are simply excellent on pavement too.
Still, this is a Defender, and I expect it to be excellent off-road. In fact, I know it can be. A few years ago, I was invited to take part in a media wave of the Land Rover TReK event held at the Biltmore resort in North Carolina. My team actually won that event. We did so well that Land Rover invited us back in 2022 to do another iteration of the event. This time the TReK began at Land Rover headquarters in New Jersey and then traveled up to Vermont and back. My team won that one too. And both times, we did so in the non-V8 models of the 110. So I fully expect a V8-powered D90 to be a mountain goat.
And it can be… as long as it’s wearing the right tires. This particular Defender, however, was not. While these Continentals gave me no issue on road, I found them to be horrid off pavement. While up in New Hampshire with the truck, I found a nearby trail. There was a mix of dirt, grass, mud, and even some ice, but none of it was what I would consider challenging. One section that drove me mad was a short incline with a bit of mud and rock. In my Montero, I’m convinced I wouldn’t even have needed to put the truck into 4WD. But with the Defender, I had it in 4LO and with locked diffs, and it still couldn’t make it up the hill. And it’s because of those dreadful tires. Defeated, I back the Defender down the slope and headed back out the trail, fully cursing the tires.
Back on the road, and with our trip coming to an end, I pointed the nose of the Defender towards Boston. Once again, it shined on the freeway even as the weather around us switched to pouring and nearly freezing rain. There were no hiccups, no issues, and no faults to be found on the rest of the journey. The Defender 90 is a great machine.
But if you’re going to charge the $112,000 or so (as-tested) for this model, and it has a Defender badge on the outside, it should damn well be able to tackle a slightly muddy hill. If you buy one of these, the very first thing you should do to it is order a proper set of all-terrain tires. Otherwise, it’s nearly perfect.