Strictly Tarmac | Defender 90 / XF / F-PACE

2021 Land Rover Defender 90


It was a welcome sign of normality returning to have an invitation to a drive program show up in my inbox from Jaguar Land Rover. Not far from NYC is JLR’s North American headquarters in Mahwah, New Jersey. So with a negative COVID test and completed vaccination card, I departed Brooklyn in a rented Honda Civic at 6:15am on a bright spring day to go sample a few of JLR’s newest products.

On the agenda for the day was drive time in a 2021 Jaguar XF followed by a 2021 Jaguar F-PACE and finally the 2021 Land Rover Defender 90. Before that, a short product briefing and some time to wander around the corporate showroom. On display were a pair of predecessor classics. Interesting to see the progression of the pristine and stately white XJ6 sedan to the performance-inspired ’21 XF. The stretched out proportions contribute to shapes that convey grace over aggression. Just take in how long that body side belt line crease detail is.

To see a real study in contrasts, there’s the vintage Defender 90 compared to the new 2021 model. It’s literally analog opposite digital. The vintage Defender 90 is an icon, it now supports a cottage industry of manufacturers making new-old models and all manner of custom conversions. What remains visually compelling about the original 90 is its functionally derived design. It was one of a handful of vehicles that crossed over from utilitarian and military use to become a consumer model. The exterior exposed fasteners and rivets reinforce the purposeful and rugged attributes the 90 is legendary for.

2021 Jaguar XF

The ’21 XF is a final chapter for Jaguar. This will be last sedan the company produces with an internal combustion engine while the brand transitions to produce all-electric vehicles. I think it might have been interesting to fold in more nostalgia with this last version of the ICE XF. Give it more of a reason to be collected and preserved.

The overall refresh has some pluses and minuses. The exterior now features a satin metal side vent and leaper badge detail inspired by handcrafted knives. A nod to the performance edge of the XF and a thoughtful touch. However, the lower front faux air intakes however look quite out of proportion and visually compete with the center grille for dominance. The arrow head shape of these vents could benefit from some softening and more detail. For instance, some driving lights.

The interior has been completely redone and is quite clean and refined. The design is restrained, and I appreciate the center screen integrated into the dash instead of tacked on. There’s a few nice details including the leaper logo in relief on the front headrests and the perf pattern that mimics the shape of the front grille covering the seats.

The XF was best suited for the drive route through the twisty roads surrounding Lake Welch and Harriman State Park. The 296-hp 4-cyl. AWD R-Dynamic model I drove felt most fun in high revs and the brakes had predictable response even after repeatedly going deep. At just about an hour of drive time, It was a short but good start to the day.

2021 Jaguar F-PACE

The last time I drove an F-PACE was around Montenegro for the initial global launch. That drive featured a much greater variety of surface conditions to experience the F-PACE’s capabilities than the well maintained roads north of Mahwah. So instead I took some time to cool down from corner busting in the XF and just enjoyed some cruising.

The XF and F-PACE are related in a lot of ways. They’re both mid-sized vehicles. Visually you can kind of stretch and morph one into the other. The F-PACE is Jaguar’s best selling model and that makes sense with all the boxes it checks pertaining to practicality, design and the Jaguar badge.

Jag’s current design language feels best suited to size of the F-PACE. The larger volumes give the surfaces and details more room to transition. Comparing the front end graphics of the XF to the F-PACE, they just appear more cohesive on the SUV.

My hour or so drive route was more at touring pace (my best effort at replicating a suburban use case) and I made several stops to take in some sights. There was some fresh green spring foliage at Ringwood State Park, crossing the Monksville Reservoir, Long Pond Ironworks and some benchmarking with an old Ford.

2021 Land Rover Defender 90

Honestly, the Defender 90 was what I was most looking forward to both seeing and driving. The new 90 has solid exterior proportions, the Defender 110 being a bit big for my taste. The side profile divides up cleanly into 2/3 cabin and 1/3 engine bay. An immediate quirk of the 90, and many other current car/truck/suv designs, is how it translates when photographed. I think it comes down to the overall scale and details are bigger in real life than they appear in a 2d image. You’d assume the smaller Defender 90 to be small, it isn’t. I would have liked to see the classic 90 and new 90 parked side by side to get an idea of which appears truer to its perceived size.

The route sadly didn’t include any off-road driving, and I burned a lot more of my time shooting photos than behind the wheel. This included trying to get some shots along Lake Welch beach during which some driving companions and me were thwarted by security. Plus points for the 90’s large video rear view mirror which made easy work of spotting the security golf cart approaching in advance.

This Launch Edition of the 90 comes with a fully extendable cloth roof, which on a warm spring day made for some enjoyable open air motoring. The two-tone muted green and white paint scheme looks great and I’d make it my default choice. At times it reads almost silver and others gets closer to a deeper shade of green. It’s very modern feeling, not too strong but also not forgettable.

I spent most of my time in a seemingly abandoned section of parking lot near Lake Welch and yet random people made the effort to came to have a closer look at the 90. I think it benefits from a strong graphic read that can catch your attention from pretty far away. The 90’s face isn’t overly aggressive or menacing, more tough and confident looking. This comes from a combination of the repeating horizontal elements and the cropped circular headlights.

If I had to pick apart one detail I’d change, it’s the smaller pairs of lights adjacent to the rear brake lights. Something about the size, shape and spacing is awkward. Maybe these would look better if they were round and positioned a bit lower, a small nod to the classic model.

This latest generation Defender 90 is certainly more refined and elevated. I’d love to see a Camel Trophy-inspired take using this new 90 as a base. Pushing more of the industrial design aesthetic akin to Singer’s brilliant but doomed Safari 911. Hoping I’ll get some more time with a Defender 90 in the near future to give it a test around Brooklyn and Manhattan’s concrete canyons.

Thanks to Jaguar Land Rover USA for hosting this event with the strictness of safety protocols. They included breakfast, lunch and as much hand sanitizer and masks as we needed.

Photos and Text: Dave Pinter