No mall crawler, this 2-door Defender gets a proper off-road test.
Decades of adventures around the globe give the Land Rover Defender credentials few vehicles can match. During its more recent history, Land Rover has become a brand synonymous with well-heeled drivers who want a luxury vehicle in the city that can occasionally lug things around on the farm, but there are still plenty of people who know what it’s capable of. When this new Defender was released, Land Rover set out to bring back that popular off-road status back into focus while still delivering a composed city cruiser.
When I gave the new Defender 110 an initial test earlier this year, I was limited to gathering my impressions in the city without going off-road, as a winter disaster hit Texas during my time with it. This massive storm covered the Lone Star State in unprecedented amounts ice and snow, took out Texas’ flawed power grid, and after over a week with millions of people without power or running water, energy companies continued to achieve record prots rather than investing in equipment and winterization improvements, and government officials either remained silent–or tucked their tails and skipped town to seek warmer conditions–as hundreds of people lost their lives while freezing inside their own homes.
To keep the roads clear, and allow emergency workers to serve their communities, I scrapped my plans of taking the Defender 110 to a favorite off-road park to evaluate its capabilities. As I step off my soapbox, I’ll state that I was fortunate to remain safe throughout the winter disaster, though I did lose power and water for several days. Since then, Land Rover released the two-door Defender 90, and offered me a chance to pick up where I left off.
The Useful Specs
Land Rover ships the Defender as either two- and four-door models, named the 90 and 110, respectively. In the previous generation, those numbers indicated the inches of wheelbase for the Defender. Though the proportions have grown for the new Defender– with the 90 now sporting a 101.9-inch wheelbase and overall length of 184 inches, and the 110 boasting a 119-inch wheelbase and 197-inch overall length–Land Rover opted to maintain its previous naming conventions.
Base trims of the Defender can be equipped with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four, producing 296 horsepower. Just like the Defender 110 I reviewed earlier this year, the two-door 90 model shown here–known as the P400 option–is powered by a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six, supplemented by a mild hybrid pack, making 395 horsepower and 406 lb-ft (550 Nm) of torque. Mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission, the Defender is driven by all-wheel-drive and a 2-speed transfer box intended for your off-road excursions.
Starting price for the Land Rover Defender 90 in its S and SE trim levels actually start a hint higher than its 110 sibling, with a bit more standard equipment, at $52,300. Other trim levels include X, X-Dynamic, and a 518-horsepower V8 selection that loads up the features list while hitting a sticker price just over $100,000. The Pangea Green First Edition model–which packages together plenty of popular options into a middle of the road trim level–I tested has an MSRP of $64,100, and after adding a tow hitch receiver, off-road tires, and the destination charge, the total price as tested hit $66,475.
THE URBAN ADVENTURE VEHICLE
Despite its large proportions and a commanding presence, the Land Rover Defender 90 is remarkably composed as a city driver. Both Defender models I’ve driven have been equipped with the optional–and truly sublime–adaptive air suspension which easily masks the 5,000-pound curb weight as this Land Rover glides through the concrete jungle with only the slightest bit of body roll.
Contrary to my initial concerns for a massive SUV equipped with Goodyear’s All-Terrain Adventure rubber that’s more suited to unpaved surfaces, the Defender 90’s electric- assisted power steering was precise and offered the ideal amount of steady feedback, while needing little elbow grease to maneuver. It may resemble the utilitarian look and target demographic of the Mercedes G-Class–which I gave good marks during a recent review–but the Defender exhibits far better on-road manners at a significantly lower price.
The mild-hybrid powertrain is eortlessly smooth, delivering a subtle shove when you apply the Defender’s throttle. The P400 powertrain is great, even if a 0-60 MPH sprint in 7.6 seconds isn’t impressive, but the Defender has a sucient amount of power and torque according to this enthusiast driver. There are plenty of people who will spend more money to opt for the new V8 Defender if they don’t think the P400 is quick enough.
Moderate use of the go pedal will make it easier for the Land Rover Defender to hit its EPA estimated 17/22/19 MPGs. While the cabin is exceptionally quiet, I still appreciate hearing the slightest rumble from the Defender’s straight-six. The two-door Land Rover’s 8-speed automatic changes gears at an imperceptible level, rounding out a rened driving experience.
Interior treatments in the Defender 90 are a nice ensemble of functional and stylish materials. There are ways to increase your level of luxury, but I like the mixed materials in this First Edition trim that’s exactly like the cockpit in the Defender 110 I previously reviewed. The Defender’s interior is denitely nicer than the upgraded trim you can get inside the Ford Bronco I evaluated this summer, which is still good for its class. Heated memory front seats are standard, and seat ventilation is available in upper trim levels. With the folding fabric roof fitted, rather than the panoramic glass sunroof, I liked driving the Defender with its cabin totally exposed to the sun and sounds of the city.
Land Rover claims the Defender 90 can seat 6 if you opt for the front jump seat–as my tester had–having three occupants up front and out back, but a tiny child would be the only person to sit in the middle of either row. The Defender 90 is a cool package with good proportions in its two-door form, but most drivers will benefit from having easier entry to the back seats while utilizing added cargo space found in the four-door Defender 110. Even though the boot space isn’t great in the Defender 90, the rear seat folds down 40/20/40 when more storage is needed.
Tech equipment is plentiful in the Defender, with a big and customizable instrument cluster, a 10-inch infotainment screen featuring JLR’s PIVI Pro infotainment UI that’s supplemented by Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and featuring sounds that pump through a 400-watt Meridian audio system. The Defender also has plenty of USB-A and USB-C outlets spread throughout its interior, for all your devices. Because rearward visibility is compromised by the optional spare tire mounted to the tailgate, Land Rover supplies a digital screen feature in its rearview mirror, which works in harmony with a high-resolution camera mounted atop the Defender. It does take a bit of getting used to, since it’s not a true representation of the distance between you and the car behind you, but it does a good job.
TOUGH YET USEFUL DETAILS
Maintaining a classic Defender appearance while incorporating a new Land Rover design language, the shape of the Defender 90 is cool yet refined. The fascia is impactful yet upmarket, and the fenders are ever so slightly around the meaty tires to give a muscular impression. Atop the hood are rubbery trim panels that allow you to make the spot a workspace without the worry of your stuff slipping off. The tailgate is still a flat surface, and there’s a cool nod to the old Defender’s taillight design that now uses LED strips around the edges with updated lighting components to add a modern finish.
Seating surfaces have a combination of durable leather and textile to offer a hint of luxury while being easy to clean whether you’re wiping up your kid’s breakfast or mud you splattered on the trails. Floors are rubberized for quick cleanups, and all-weather mats have deep walls to help keep any mud, sand, or water from sneaking under the Defender’s seats.
The dash and top of the interior door panels are treated with a rubberized material that looks like a blend of Alcantara and leather, which has a soft touch. Neatly incorporated into the dash panel are a set of pockets and shelves, perfect for stashing smaller items when you’re out exploring. I also like the exposed fasteners in the door panel, showing the trim fitted to the exterior color-painted metal.
DOMINATING ANY TERRAIN
Proving its worth in the great unpaved domain, the Land Rover Defender 90 and I headed to Hidden Falls Adventure Park, about an hour’s drive from the bustle of downtown Austin, Texas. Having evaluated the Ford Bronco along these trails this summer, I wanted to see how a more luxurious and slightly better equipped Defender 90 got along. In this environment, the Defender exhibited its off-road prowess in demanding conditions.
With a quick tap of a button next to the climate control system, the Defender temporarily converts the passenger side temperature knob into a dial to engage its terrain response modes, and opens up its 4×4 settings on the infotainment screen. Offering several dedicated terrain modes (including rock crawl, grass/gravel/snow, mud / ruts, and sand) in addition to allowing a custom conguration, Land Rover makes it simple to dial in the Defender to conquer any surface.
There are also quick buttons to engage the hill descent control and lock the differentials as you see fit. Once you’re in any of the off-road drive modes, the infotainment screen will activate its cameras, offering a wide angle front view, in addition to this view with side views provided by cameras mounted under the side mirrors. I found that trio of displays vital when working the Defender along some trickier paths that were lined with rocks and brush.
While exploring a good variety of terrains at this off-road park, I was able to quickly swap between Land Rover’s modes and test them all. I would also set the ride height to its tallest setting, to avoid damaging any of the Defender 90’s undercarriage. Over moderate rocky stuff, I could simply keep the Defender in its comfort mode with the suspension raised, and this SUV wouldn’t stress at all. As the incline increased, and texture got more dramatic, the 20-inch Goodyear All-Terrain Adventure tires easily grasped the surface, and steadily worked the Defender onward.
When crawling over rocks, the Defender 90 (fitted with its air suspension) has 38º approach and 40º departure angles, and thanks to its shorter overall length and wheelbase versus its big brother Defender 110, the breakover angle bumps up from 28º to 31º. Overhangs are 38 inches up front and 45 inches in the back. Ground clearance is 8.9 inches with the coil springs, and increases to 11.5 inches in the most aggressive off-road setting when equipped with the air suspension. The Defender 90’s maximum angles for ascent, descent, and traverse are all 45º. Should you approach a stream, you’ll have no issues wading through water up to 34 inches deep, and the infotainment screen lets you see just how much wet stuff you’re working through.
I gave the Defender 90 an extensive test alongside a few friends in other off-road customized vehicles, and this Land Rover stood above them all, while impressing a few other park patrons in wildly kitted-out Jeeps who initially scoffed at this class of vehicle invading their turf. I’m an amateur off-road driver at best, and in no way did I feel uncomfortable pushing the Defender along technical trails that blended variations of mud, rocks, sand, and some massive water puddles because it was so capable and easy to drive. Purists may say that the hardware and tech Land Rover offers takes away from the experience, but I’d rather reduce my stress along a rocky path and be able to fully enjoy the trek.
THE ULTIMATE SUV MORE PEOPLE SHOULD PROPERLY EXERCISE
After giving this Land Rover two-door setup a complex test both in the city and along some rocky trails, I still feel that the Defender is the best off-road SUV you can buy, with abilities on the trails that easily match up with the Ford Bronco I loved, but with higher levels of renement in the cabin and on any streets you cruise along. It may cost more than the Bronco, depending on which trim level and options you desire, but the Land Rover Defender has a price point to satisfy many buyers’ demands and budgets.
Realizing that the vast majority of Land Rover buyers will only use them on the street, and barely explore the highest off-road competencies, that won’t stop me from telling you how exceptional the Defender is when you wander away from your comfortable city life. If you decide to make the Land Rover Defender your daily driver, I beg you to make sure to exploit its off-road capabilities–and tackle new adventures–as often as possible. You’ll be glad you did.
Stunning looks, more standard equipment, and loads of power, this special edition Audi sportback rips.
I love fast luxury sedans more than a fat kid loves cake. Practical size and functionality, packed with power and good features, and usually some good looks. Audi is definitely clutch in the exterior styling game these days, but its AMG and BMW rivals are still in the mix. As a sportback option, Audi gives this RS5 seating for five and a big cargo area opening. Getting to review a handful of fast Audi models, including the RS6 Avant, I’m getting to understand the advantages and benefits of each segment.
When I tested the updated Audi S4 last summer, I thought it could use more power for the money, and this RS5 packs plenty by comparison. Naming this launch edition after racing legend–and two-time Formula One world champion–Alberto Ascari means this Audi has some expectations to live up to. To see how it all stacks up, I gave it a rigorous test in Los Angeles, in traffic, around the city, and along some twisty canyon roads.
THE KEY NUMBERS
Based on the same platform as the Audi S4 I reviewed, the RS5 sportback gets massive upgrades in the performance department. Under its hood, the RS5 packs a 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 that pumps out 444 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque. Hooked up to an eight-speed automatic, quattro all-wheel-drive, and the optional sport rear dierential, the RS5 Ascari can haul from 0-60 in 3.8 seconds on its way to a limited 155 MPH top speed. Tick the box for optional ceramic front brakes, and Audi will raise the top speed to 174.
Audi offers the RS5 as this sportback model (with four rear doors and a big rear hatch) in addition to a two-door coupe. I wish Audi had a wagon option for the RS5 in America, like it does with the RS6 Avant I tested recently. Competing with the Mercedes-AMG C 63 sedan and BMW M3, the Audi RS5 Sportback is down on power, while costing a hint more money at its base price.
For the same money as the standard Audi RS5 Sportback, you could step up to the AMG C 63 S or M3 Competition, which both boast 503 horsepower, nearly 60 more than the RS5’s. The Audi RS5 sportback also weighs a tick more than its German rivals, with a curb weight of 4,057 pounds. Audi gives the RS5 standard all-wheel-drive, which isn’t available on the AMG C63, but is an option on BMW’s M3 Competition.
Base price for the Audi RS5 Sportback starts at $75,400, and the Ascari launch edition includes a ton of popular options into one package–including ceramic front brakes (not offered on the standard RS5) with blue calipers, 20-inch wheels with summer tires, Audi Exclusive Ascari Blue metallic paint, matte alu optic trim around the exterior, a carbon fiber engine cover, dynamic steering, at bottom steering wheel covered in Alcantara, carbon fiber interior trim, RS sport exhaust, sport suspension plus with dynamic ride control, and a few cool driver aid systems–which add $20,500 to the sticker, which jumps up to an MSRP of $96,945 after destination.
A STYLISH AND FAST DAILY DRIVER
Attractive without being too flashy, the Audi RS5 sportback gets several long stares of approval from passersby. Sharp angles, a big grille and (mostly fake) vents, a long wheelbase, a high beltline with a swept rooine, and massive wheels tucked into the wheel wells make this perfectly-sized Audi appealing in many ways. I definitely prefer the appearance of the RS5 sportback over the AMG C 63 and BMW M3, even if the matte silver trim around the windows and bumpers is a bit thicker than it should be.
The Audi RS5 sportback’s initial driving experience carries the theme that catches your eye. Without being forceful, the potent turbocharged engine waits to play without being too jumpy. The peak power figure may be smaller than its primary rivals, but the RS5 sportback will easily find its way to–and beyond–the posted speed limit. Growling without being too pronounced, the RS5’s exhaust tone emitted from huge oval tips is just racy enough in its comfort mode. Surprisingly the world outside the Audi RS5 sportback is muted perfectly, thanks to plenty of attention and materials invested into reducing cabin decibels.
The comfort drive mode allows the powerplant to maintain its composure, but also enables a smooth-riding adaptive suspension to eliminate bumps along your commute. In that comfort mode, Audi’s optional dynamic steering system is a bit over-boosted at city speeds, similar to what I mentioned in my review of the Audi SQ5. Subtle shifts from the eight-speed automatic transmission ensure a smooth ride around the city. Be mindful of your throttle application, and you’ll actually hit the EPA estimates of 18/25/21 MPGs.
Once you step into the RS5’s cockpit, the trend continues. Modern lines and materials wrap around the cabin, a space age instrument cluster sits ahead, and the whole space is covered with cool, intuitive controls. I do wish the infotainment screen was better designed into the dash, rather than appearing to be slapped on like an aftermarket installation. Thankfully the screen’s resolution is high, offering a clean look, with iconography and font selection that makes this Audi even cooler. Wireless Apple CarPlay is standard, and the Bang & Olufsen audio system is strong and clear.
Seats in the RS5 are cool while functional, with perfect support for my old back, and are styled with the same hexagonal stitching in the center inserts you see in other Audi RS models. The seats are mounted a bit tall on their rails, and I prefer them lower for a sportier feel and a lower center of gravity. Being the sportback body style, this RS5 is a functional fast four door that can seat five passengers, but truly only two adults in the back seat. The boot space is massive, with a huge power lift back setup to tuck away all your groceries and luggage. I’ll nag this Audi for the rear privacy panel rattling a bit when hitting small bumps on the road, but the cargo capacity is considerable.
MAKING CANYON RUNS
Provide an RS-badged Audi to me in Los Angeles, and you can bet your ass I’m taking it to the twisty canyon roads of Malibu and the Angeles National Forest. With a healthy dose of turbocharged power, all-wheel-drive, a sporty rear diff, and some better front brakes installed, the RS5 Sportback Ascari Launch Edition looked up to the task on some of my favorite routes. I gave the RS5’s less potent S4 sibling the same tests last summer, and while the S4 was fun, the added performance of the RS5 sportback was happily on display.
As you expect from performance cars in this segment, the Audi RS5 has a drive select system on-tap, and like the BMW M3 it sports two custom setups to allow the driver greater exibility outside of the default drive modes. Unlike the BMW M mode buttons (which look like an afterthought), Audi uses one simple button to engage the RS modes, with a quick tap of the button that’s more neatly integrated into the steering wheel controls. Like I’ve said in other Audi reviews, the default drive modes aren’t separated enough to make them feel unique, but the RS5’s dynamic mode is truly sporty.
I liked using the two RS mode feature to give myself a sporty daily driver setup in the RS1 position, but employed the RS2 option to quickly engage a more powerful setting when I wanted to storm the canyons. In that setup, I went hardcore with everything except for the suspension, which I set to comfort. I also turned the stability control to its sport mode, by tapping the button once, after learning how often the system would cut throttle mid-corner, if there was a hint of slip angle.
Settings dialed-in, this quick Audi liked to dance while trying to conceal its weight. When I hinted that the daily driving steering feel felt articial, when you increase the pace on a fun road, the RS5 feels more balanced. Steering input is heavier in the dynamic mode, with sharp response as you peg the apex. The sport rear differential does a great job of managing torque vectoring too. The Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel looks the part of a sporty car, but I prefer leather that doesn’t suck all the moisture from my hands.
While the 444-horsepower twin-turbo engine isn’t as forceful from a standstill–like its 591-horsepower RS6 Avant big brother–the delivery of its power is smooth yet understated, easily sending the quick Audi’s speedometer toward triple digits. I wonder just how much more fun the RS5 would be if it possessed the same 500-horsepower gure its AMG and BMW rivals boast. The mass this Audi is carrying holds back truly fast acceleration figures, and the girth is apparent in the corners. Thankfully the sport differential and adaptive suspension do a great job at managing the RS5’s balance in faster bends.
When I was ripping around the canyons of Malibu, the RS5 sportback was given a harder test, due to the tighter, slower turns, and lots of bumps. This fast Audi was definitely enjoyable in Malibu, but the weight induced loads of stress on the chassis, tires, and brakes. The test in the Angeles National Forest was more suited to the Audi RS5 sportback, with higher speed sweepers, longer straights, and a considerably longer route on which to play. I appreciate the mid-range power from the RS5’s twin-turbo V6, that helped close gaps between bends in a somewhat surprising hurry. This demanding environment exposed two challenges I have with the RS5’s setup, if you’re really pushing the car as quickly as it craves.
Pirelli P Zero rubber is far from my favorite, as the tires have a small operating range, which quickly gets too hot when fitted to heavier cars. I had to drop a lot of pressure out of them when cold, knowing the pressures skyrocket once the rubber is given some exercise. These Pirellis also get super greasy when hot, which induces loads of the already present (in almost Audi signature fashion) understeer too easily. Pirelli must be making the fast German OEMs great deals to slap the P Zero on so many models I’ve tested over the past year, and wonder how much better the Pirelli P Zero Corsa would do on the RS5. I would love to give the RS5 sportback a go with a set of Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber tted, which seem to be the most perfect all-around performance tire on the market.
Then we get to the brakes. I appreciate that Audi opted for ceramic rotors on the outright performance-focused RS5 sportback, but don’t understand why they’re only fitted to the front, with steel rotors at the back. To reduce unsprung weight while allowing for more intense sessions, ceramic brakes are great, but when mismatched with steel rear discs, the heat tolerance is inconsistent. If I tossed the RS5 around the Angeles Crest for more than 20 minutes, the rears would get too hot, and induce a strange mix of fade. Ultimately the RS5 is still great in the canyons, but there are two big factors that are hindering its true abilities.
LOTS OF PERFORMANCE, BUT NOT QUITE PERFECT
On its own, the Audi RS5 Sportback is a great car. The looks of the RS5 can’t be touched by its rivals, with the C 63 S being more subtle, and the M3 being downright ugly up front. The trouble is that I have to objectively compare the RS5 against its competition, and those have more power. Under the hood, the RS5 has a big disadvantage versus the AMG and BMW offerings, and I’d love to see how well it would perform with that extra juice.
Audi did a good job packaging the RS5 Sportback Ascari Launch Edition as a performance four-door, but the Ascari name belongs on an R8 or some extremely potent Audi supercar instead. As a daily driver, the RS5 continues the trend I’ve experienced in Audis I’ve reviewed over the last year, with loads of comfort and plenty of performance ready to strike. When you put the RS5 to a hard test on the twisty roads, a couple small flaws are revealed, but only when a talented driver pushes the limit. If you aren’t planning on absolutely caning the RS5 regularly, it’s going to be a great addition to your garage.