May 25, 2022

Alice-in-chains

Automotive forever

2021 Osprey Custom 4×4 OC90 Soft Top First Drive

Every now and again, auto manufacturers—especially small-volume, boutique-type outfits making fewer than 325 units annually—bring to market significantly updated recreations of vehicles that were popular at some point in their history. The throwback rides retain their predecessors’ physical traits through simple revival or replacement of sheet metal on original frames, or, in the case of the Land Rover Defenders (90, 110 and 130) produced by Osprey Custom Cars of Wilmington, North Carolina, with all-new hardware from the bottom to the top.

While the company does restore heretic Land Rovers, ground-up builds start with a brand-new, OEM-spec, hot-dip galvanized chassis that’s made from 2.5mm mild-steel rails and 3mm S355 carbon-steel front, rear, and A-frame crossmembers. Then Osprey replicates (near-exactly) 1990s-era Land Rover Defenders using new body parts throughout.

Osprey calls the model we recently experienced its “2021 Custom 4×4 OC90 Soft Top,” a six-passenger throwback to the OG Defender 90 that melds the legendary off-road rig’s rugged exterior (in Desert Sand Mica paint and updated with 16-inch Zu wheels, LT285/75R16 BFGoodrich Mud Terrain T/A tires, a Warn EVO 8S 8,000-pound winch, tubular high-approach-angle front bumper, and a full rollcage) with a leather-dominated, cosmopolitan cockpit featuring square-stitched black-with-tan seats, door panels, and center console/storage cubby, as well as LED lighting, power windows, Viper remote-start keyless entry, and a Sound Storm Labs and Rockford Fosgate eight-speaker audio system supporting navigation, wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Audio, and Bluetooth.

The interior treatments surely are touches of class that contribute to the SUV’s $159,950 MSRP. However, the biggest addition to this latest edition comes in the form of a powertrain upgrade: the Chevy Corvette’s 6.2-liter, 435-hp LS3 V-8 engine, and its 6L80E six-speed automatic transmission. Yes, it’s a very notable change from the 5.3-liter, 325-hp bullet of the company’s prior LS-swapped ‘Rovers, and one that anyone who drives the 2021 Custom 4×4 OC90 Soft Top had better be ready to handle before getting behind the wheel, especially on the street.

Driving Brutus

Driving a full-size truck with 435 ponies is one thing. On the other side of the performance experience, operating Osprey’s short-wheelbase (92 inches) OC90, with its aforementioned power and 445 lb-ft of torque, is a task requiring complete focus and two hands on the wheel when spirited drives are attempted.

Despite taking photos at an off-road site, our time behind the wheel was spent exclusively on pavement, where speeds ranged from cruising-around-the-neighborhood slow to OK-let’s-see-what-this-thing-can-do fast on open stretches of Southern California freeway (during the early hours of Sunday morning).

At low or high speed, despite the luxury touches inside, this SUV isn’t the best selection for pleasure trips. We believe the reasons for this are its suspension, which features slightly-taller-than-stock Terrafirma Pro Sport springs, heavy-duty shocks, caster-corrected front and cranked rear radius arms, a track rod, drag link, Terrafirma steering damper, very dirt-centric BFG tires, and in-cabin wind noise that intensifies with speed (courtesy of the soft top).

For the driver, everything in the road brings unpredictability about the direction you need to keep Osprey’s softtop OC90 from veering, especially as speed increases. Connect this element of surprise with maneuvering in windy conditions, and the reason for our “be ready” caution becomes clearer.

In any road or weather situation, when you gradually roll on the throttle the LS3 responds right away and runs hard, really hard, with an aggressive note from the SUV’s dual exhaust. But, unfortunately, flat-punching the go pedal—from a full stop or 30-mph roll (aka the kind of thing that just seems natural for a driver to do in this brute)—doesn’t result in the hoped-for thrill of instantly being launched forward. We suspect a misinterpreted throttle-position signal in the drive-by-wire system is the bothersome culprit, and it further manifests disorder within the 6L80E’s Powertrain Control Systems shift strategy, literally every time the throttle is suddenly mashed. We’re sure a solid ECM/TCM tuning guru could probably correct this drivability concern in short order.

Given the Osprey 2021 Custom 4×4 OC90 Soft Top’s weight, deceptively tall height and bumper-to-bumper shortness, heavy-duty suspension, off-road tires, 1,900-rpm-stall torque converter, and a .101 horsepower-to-weight ratio, it’s not made for high-speed cornering. Simply taking a deep-bending freeway on-ramp requires discretionary throttle input, for concern about upsetting the chassis and spinning out or rolling over. But, overall, it steers well and braking is sound.

Per our driving experience, the possible caveat is that this renewed Land Rover actually could be a blast to bomb around in on the sand dunes and through dirt washes.

Things to Consider

There are currently a lot of variables that we think weigh significantly on deciding whether to add an Osprey 2021 Custom 4×4 OC90 Soft Top to your fleet. First, it’s important to understand this piece falls solidly in the “toy” category and might be better suited to off-road activity and fun, versus daily commuting.

Is it something to tool around local streets in, and show off to your high-roller associates at the country club? Absolutely. As a matter of fact, a Land Rover owner/enthusiast who saw the OC90 during our road test said he would use it purely as a “mall-crawler” and nothing else. “I would just drive it to be seen in it.” His words, not ours.

The steadily increasing cost of fuel prices is another big concern, especially for this vehicle, which requires high-octane gas for keeping its 6.2-liter Corvette powerplant happy. We didn’t conduct scientific fuel-economy tests, but using EPA mileage statistics for a 2021 Corvette (19/city, 15/highway, 27/combined) as a baseline, we estimate 17/12/25 fuel range for Osprey’s heavier, non-aerodynamic SUV. And of course that’s dependent on how hard you lean into the LS3.

Raw Power

Getting straight to the heart of what makes Osprey Custom Cars’ 2021 Custom 4×4 OC90 Soft Top so special, this 435-horsepower/445-lb-ft 6.2-liter GM LS3 V-8 engine is it. A Griffin aluminum radiator and dual PermaCool electric cooling fans regulate this bullet’s temperature, headers and dual pipes remove exhaust gas, and vital fluids like oil and fuel pass through stainless-steel lines.

Comparison

If given a choice, and with engine performance being figuratively “equal” for this assessment, there are two ways to look at considering buying Osprey’s 2021 Custom 4×4 OC90 Soft Top: presentation (stance, sound), and exclusivity (features, price). In the first category, Jeep’s Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 392 is this rig’s comparative rival. If the status of being among those who are fortunate enough to own a specialty SUV is what you’re after, the alternative to buying this Land Rover is Mercedes-Benz’s AMG G63.

Specifications: 2021 Osprey Defender Custom 4×4 OC90 Soft Top

BASE PRICE $149,950
PRICE AS TESTED $159,950
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, 4WD, 6-pass, 2-door SUV
ENGINE 6.2L direct-injected OHV 16-valve 90-degree V-8
POWER (SAE NET) 435 hp @ 5,900 (est) rpm
TORQUE (SAE NET) 445 lb-ft @ 4,600 (est) rpm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,303 lb (53/47%)
WHEELBASE 92.0 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 144 x 72 x 82 in
0-60 MPH 7.4 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.3 sec @ 81.0 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 208 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.63 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 30.6 sec @ 0.50 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON NA
EPA RANGE, COMB NA
ON SALE Now

Long-Life Chassis

The throwback to the 1990s Land Rover Defender 90 sits on an all-new galvanized mild-steel chassis, featuring carbon-steel front, rear, and A-frame crossmembers.

Ready for the Rocks

This heavy-duty aluminum skidplate is mounted up front and just below the bumper, to protect the Defender’s underpinnings if or when it is used off-road. We didn’t fully evaluate this rig off-road, but our thought is that non-paved terrain is this rig’s element.

Press of a Button

The OC90’s LS3 powerplant is started with a key, or remotely by pressing a button on the Viper key fob. A 6L80E six-speed automatic transmission is connected to the powerplant, and it’s controlled by a slick Powertrain Control Systems GSM push-button setup that’s mounted in a leatherbound center console.

All-Wheels Locked

Land Rover’s legendary LT230 transfer case (with center differential lock) is another nod to how heavy-duty this rig’s four-wheel-drive setup is.

Leatherbound Cockpit

The Osprey 2021 Custom 4×4 OC90 Soft Top features a diamond-stitched-leather-treated cabin highlighted by heated seats, a new bulkhead with upgraded PUMA-style dash containing factory-style gauges, a custom center console, Sound Storm Labs and Rockford Fosgate infotainment system, and LED ambient interior lighting. There’s also new glass, weatherstripping, and gaskets throughout the interior.

Rear Seating and Storage

The OC90’s rear cargo/seating area is not known for being big. It’s best described as modest, and when the seats are folded down, we’ll call it unusable for comfortably accommodating four adults. Osprey sets the back seats up with the same leather, but this space is best suited to hauling gear.

Protection, Vanity, and Utility

The front end features a KBX-style premium grille with gloss-black light surrounds and a Warn EVO 8S 8,000-pound winch mounted to Terrafirma’s high-approach-angle tubular bumper.

Off-Road

Visually, with its Desert Sand Mica paint, stance, rollcage, rock sliders, LED lights, etc., the Osprey-built OC90 definitely looks at home in an off-road environment. Osprey outfitted its boutique SUV with heavy-duty front and rear axles (and CV joints in the front), double-cardan driveshafts, slightly-taller-than-stock Terrafirma Pro Sport springs and heavy-duty shocks, Terrafirma’s caster-corrected front and cranked rear radius arms, a track rod, drag link, and Terrafirma steering damper.

Watch! Ford Bronco vs. Jeep Wrangler: Which Is Best?

Like the Osprey but looking to see what else is out there? The two trucks we have here are in some ways a mismatch: A Ford Bronco Outer Banks, with street-oriented tires, and a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4Xe, with top-spec rubber and a hybrid powertrain. So, rather than competing off-road, MotorTrend’s Jonny Lieberman and Four Wheeler’s Sean Holman are comparing the 4X4s on everyday usability, from interior ergonomics to panel removal to dust intrusion. At the end? They declare a winner.