When Land Rover created the modern interpretation of its ever-popular Defender series two years ago — first arriving as a four-door wagon — longtime fans salivated at the prospect of a righteous two-door model to commemorate the original Defender. The four-door was necessary in the Rover lineup to assure profitability, and the Defender 110 series is now the brand’s top-selling model.

As promised, the two-door Defender 90 is now here. It is apparent that the Defender is very grown up and must execute two opposed missions: carry the torch for the loyalists who believe a Land Rover must be capable of any type of off-roading, while the market subscribes to the image of such driving while swathing owners in luxury and the appropriate levels of on-road driving acumen that occur 98 percent of the time.

The brand will also add a long wheelbase, three-row SUV model, the 130, later this year.

Visually, our Carpathian Gray Defender 90 makes a definite statement. The unique LED forward lighting is like nothing else, while the two-tone paint on top-of-the-line Carpathian trim — black top and lower body panels, plus black wheels, Carpathian Gray wrap around the center body — is eye-catching at the very least. Add quad-exhaust tips at the rear and a full-size spare tire — 22 inches — hanging on the rear swing-gate, all indicate more than a “normal” premium SUV.

Yet the proportions seem odd. The four-door Defender checks all of the correct styling boxes for both Land Rover and a marketplace that embraces new, and, different, in all of the right ways — LED lights, beefy stance, broad shoulders, capable-looking.

The two-door Defender appears that beyond the rear wheels, the body was abruptly severed, which in contrast to the long entrance doors (so you can enter the rear seating) simply accentuates the stance. Wide, tall and with big ground clearance numbers — over 11 inches — the Defender looks ready for the trail, it’s just that the shape takes some getting used to.

The Defender 90’s interior.

This impression is reinforced inside. The front cabin is comfortable all around — big seats, heated and cooled and swathed in suede and leather, while the split-folding rear bench affords ample space for three passengers with plenty of head and leg room. Access is an exercise in gymnastics, but this is common to any two-door vehicle, despite the power-sliding front seats.

The surprise is, again, in the rear, where the tiny cargo hold is almost an afterthought. The specs say 16 cubic feet, which may be true vertically, but beyond four or five bags of groceries, this space is not very practical. Flopping the rear seats forward doesn’t help a heck of a lot, as they don’t recline to anything more than 30 degrees, so anything stacked on top slides to the back.

Yet, driving the Defender 90 proves that Land Rover got the dynamics necessary to make an impact in the personal expression luxury SUV market. Lots of automakers have high-output SUVs in production. Cadillac, Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Porsche all build high-powered SUVs now, so this Rover has the engine room ready to join them. While a 2-liter four is base power, with 296 horsepower, and an in-line six-cylinder is optional, this Carpathian Edition featured the 5-liter supercharged V8 making a sonorous 518 horsepower.

Running through a slick eight-speed automatic, the Defender 90 is a full-time AWD wagon with all of the hardware that Rover buyers expect for off-roading — twin-speed transfer case, locking diffs front and rear, myriad configurable traction selections, hill ascent and descent systems, plus dynamic Terrain Response system with air-ride height adjustments. Equally impressive, the chassis engineers built a suspension that capably manages the demand of “sporty” on-road driving. Turning, braking and general driving dynamics with the wide, on-road biased 22-inch tires is more rewarding than might be expected in a Rover.

So, comparisons with its Americanized rivals — Wrangler and Bronco — are natural. As one might expect, the Defender has a nicer interior; the shelf along the dash is welcome, with big grab handles at each end, while the fit, finish and detailing are superior. The suede-wrapped steering wheel is a very nice touch. The console is easier to live with, the controls are better, although the entertainment screen is not at all an early adopter device compared to Wrangler’s and Bronco’s more intuitive efforts. Wrangler offers a 392 V8 option that is quicker than the Defender, but you must get the four-door version. Bronco’s turbocharged lineup is a step slower than either.

Defender 90 pricing begins at $54,975 and reaches an eye-watering $113,620 for our fully equipped Carpathian Edition shown, loaded with electronic driving aids, upgraded audio, etc. A personal expression vehicle for an exclusive niche, the Defender 90 is also a statement that Land Rover is a significant player in this lucrative market.

Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles for more than 20 years.