The mask has finally been removed from arguably the most keenly anticipated vehicle of the past decade. Land Rover used the Frankfurt motor show to whip the covers off its all-new Defender, which – although retaining some of the core design DNA of its venerable predecessor – ditches the utilitarian format of the oldie that dates back to 1948.
Defender traditionalists may be outraged as the primitive body-on-frame platform has been binned, and its place is a sophisticated new aluminium monocoque architecture – dubbed ‘D7x’ – that, according to Land Rover, endows the reinvented Defender with “world-class” off-road ability. There’s also a range of new powertrains with mild hybrid tech, with plug-in hybrids being added to the mix next year.
And forget olde-worlde ergonomics and last-century safety/infotainment/driver-assist tech because the new Defender was conceived from the outset to be a future-focused offering, even though its inspiration comes from the past.
This wheels scribe had a sneak preview of the Defender two months ago at Land Rover’s design HQ in Coventry, where Land Rover chief design officer Gerry McGovern thus summed up the rationale behind the debutant: “While we want to acknowledge what came before, this is about moving forward. This vehicle has to appeal to a whole new audience, many of who may not understand what the Defender means.”
The new Defender retains many of its ancestor’s core design elements, including the short front and rear overhangs, high sills, vertical front and rear end and very linear profile for what McGovern refers to as a “strong, planted feel”. The squared wheelarches and sculpted fenders further beef up the Landy’s stance, while the sheer cut-off at the front and rear is a clear link to its forefather.
“The new Defender has the most sophisticated surfaces of any of our vehicles, even though it looks very simple. It’s not overtly aggressive, as that wouldn’t be right for a Defender,” McGovern says. “There’s no more clamshell bonnet as that’s not necessary anymore. An inset bonnet allows for beautiful surfaces.”
As per the original Defender, the reborn vehicle features Alpine light windows where the curtain airbags and roof structure would normally be, and this created extra challenges for the engineering team. The spare wheel mounted on the side-hinged tailgate is also a nod to the original, although this, too, made for extra engineering work to satisfy rear crash-safety constraints and taillight visibility requirements.
The square aluminium panel over the rear side window is optional, and Land Rover has already developed over 100 accessories for the Defender, including an external gear carrier, ladder, roof rack, compressor, portable rinse system and side steps. Also available is a matte-finish ‘Satin Aero’ wrap (in a range of colours) that can be removed if you grow tired of it.
Although 815mm diameter tyres are standard across the range, you can opt for an ‘Urban Warrior’ look via the 22-inch Luna wheels that will be offered on the Defender.
Under the Defender’s skin resides Land Rover’s new aluminium monocoque D7x (for extreme) architecture that’s claimed to be 95 per cent new and touted as being the foundation for the stiffest body structure Land Rover has ever produced. The company claims it’s three times stiffer than traditional body-on-frame designs, as well as being compatible with the latest electrified powertrains.
As you’d expect, the Defender comes armed with permanent 4WD, a twin-speed transfer case, optional locking rear differential and a protective undershield that shields the engine and transmission. Fully independent coil-spring suspension is standard, while air is optional. The flat underfloor contributes to a drag coefficient of 0.38, which is certainly respectable for a boxy all-terrainer. The initial powertrain line-up will comprise two petrol engines with 48-volt mild hybrid tech and two diesels, with plug-in hybrid versions following in due course.
The initial petrol range will be spearheaded by the P400, which features a new 3.0-litre straight-six turbo motor (simpler and lighter than a V6) that’s basically an extension of the four-cylinder Ingenium engines launched in 2015. This powerplant pairs a conventional twin-scroll turbocharger with an additional electric compressor for peak outputs of 395bhp and 550Nm. Meanwhile, the P300 entry model employs JLR’s familiar 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo motor, which pushes out 296bhp and 400Nm.
Fuel efficiency in both models is boosted by a 48-volt mild hybrid system that harvests energy under braking, stores it in a battery, and can redeploy it, for instance when moving away after the stop-start system has killed the engine at the lights.
The initial diesel line-up comprises 2.0-litre four-cylinder motors cranking out 236bhp and 197bhp respectively, but further down the track they will be joined by a 3.0-litre six-pot that makes 296bhp.
Land Rover says the new Defender has been through more than 62,000 tests for engineering sign-off, while the chassis and body architecture have been engineered to withstand the company’s ‘Extreme Event’ test procedure – repeated and sustained impacts, above and beyond what Land Rover claims is the normal standard for SUV and passenger cars.
During development testing, prototype models are said to have covered more than 1.2 million kilometres across some of the harshest environments on earth, ranging from the 50-degree heat of the desert and sub 40-degree cold of the Arctic to altitudes of 3,000m in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.
“We’ve been obsessed with off-road ability with the new Defender,” says Land Rover’s executive director for product engineering, Nick Rogers. “It can conquer a 45-degree incline and offers 500mm of wheel articulation.”
The new Defender will initially be launched in 110 (five-door) format, which (at Off Road height) offers ground clearance of 291mm and approach, breakover and departure angles of 38, 28 and 40 degrees respectively. While the 110 has a longer wheelbase (3,022mm, versus 2,587mm) than the three-door 90 that follows a few months later, the front and rear overhangs are identical at 845mm and 891mm respectively.
Land Rover quotes a maximum payload of up to 900kg, static roof load of 300kg, dynamic roof load of 168kg and towing capacity of up to 3,720kg for the Defender. In addition, its maximum wading depth of 900mm is supported by a new Wade programme in the Terrain Response 2 system, which should take the sweaty palms out of fording deep water.
The Terrain Response system is configurable in the new Defender, which means experienced off-roaders can fine-tune individual vehicle settings to suit the conditions, while inexperienced drivers can let the system detect the most appropriate vehicle settings for the terrain, using the intelligent Auto function.
On dry land, Land Rover’s advanced ClearSight Ground View technology helps drivers take full advantage of Defender’s all-terrain capability by showing the area usually hidden by the bonnet, directly ahead of the front wheels, on the central touchscreen.
The stripped-back personality of the original Defender has been embraced inside, where structural elements and fixings usually hidden from view have been exposed, with the emphasis on simplicity and practicality.
“The magnesium dash structure is part of the integral structure of the car, so we exposed it,” says Land Rover chief designer Andy Wheel. “However, we coated it, so you don’t burn your hand on it on hot days (magnesium is an excellent heat conductor).”
Other innovative features inside include a dash-mounted gear shifter to accommodate an optional central front ‘jump’ seat, which provides three-abreast seating across the front, as per early Land Rovers.
As a result, the Defender 110 offers five, six or 5+2 seating configurations, with cargo space behind the second-row seats of up to 1,075 litres, and as much as 2,380-litres when the second row is folded. Land Rover claims even the three-door Defender 90 will be able to accommodate six occupants in a vehicle that’s no longer than a typical compact family hatchback.
There’s durable rubberised flooring inside that, according to Land Rover, “shrugs off the spills of daily adventures and once-in-a-lifetime expeditions, providing a brush or wipe clean interior”. In addition, there’s the option of a full-length folding fabric roof in the Defender 110 that allows passengers in the second-row seats to stand up when parked to provide a “full safari experience”.
The techno mod-con quota also promises to be top-notch, as the Defender introduces Land Rover’s new Pivi Pro infotainment system, which is claimed to be intuitive and user-friendly, requiring few inputs to perform frequently used tasks.
In addition, the Defender is said to take Software-Over-The-Air (SOTA) technology to a new level, with 14 individual modules capable of receiving remote updates. By downloading data while customers are asleep at home or in far-flung locations, Land Rover says the new Defender will get better with age as electronic updates cascade down to the vehicle immediately, without delay and with no need to visit a Land Rover retailer.
In terms of who the new Defender will be targeted at, Land Rover product marketing director Finbar McFall says, “We will ground the car as a utility vehicle, but also target ‘liberated pioneers’ who would utilise the full extent of its off-road capabilities. We’ll also be aiming at ‘constrained explorers’, who like the lifestyle and functional attributes of the Defender but are limited in their movements by jobs, family and so forth.”
The initial model line-up will comprise the entry-level Defender, plus the First Edition (offered throughout the first year of production) and top of the range Defender X variants, as well as standard, S, SE, HSE specification packs. In addition, the company says customers will be able to personalise their vehicle in more ways than any previous Land Rover with four Accessory Packs – ‘Explorer’, ‘Adventure’, ‘Country’ and ‘Urban’.