The Land Rover Defender has been reborn as a mainstream model for the global market, taking heavy design and capability cues from the iconic original, which was withdrawn from sale in 2016, and the 2009-2016 Land Rover Discovery 4.
In balancing the demands of hardcore enthusiasts and the need to give the car more widespread appeal, Land Rover has sought to build a viable business case for future generations of the Defender. By the time the previous model went off sale, fewer than 5000 Defenders a year were delivered to retail buyers, with bulk business purchases taking that to around 15,000 cars. In order to be sustainable, the new model must sell close to five times that figure, according to insiders, joining the Discovery in taking the firm’s newest plant in Nitra, Slovakia up to its 150,000 annual production capacity.
Crucially, to that end, the new Defender has been engineered to meet global car regulations, including the world’s two largest markets, China and the US, where it previously had negligible impact because of regulatory restrictions by the time production was halted. In total, it will now be sold in 128 territories.
The new Defender will also be available with a greater breadth of capabilities than any other Land Rover before. The line-up will range from humanitarian and military models through to lifestyle-orientated versions that can be supplemented with more than 170 individual accessories, likely taking the price into at least Range Rover territory and potentially well beyond £100,000 for top-end versions.
Initially, the five-door Defender 110 will be priced from £45,240 and sold with four distinctive packs – called Explorer, Adventure, Country and Urban – according to its likely use. The first customers will receive their cars in early 2020.
However, more compact three-door Defender 90 models will go on sale shortly afterwards from around £40,000, as well as two Commercial models costing from around £35,000 plus VAT. Petrol, mild-hybrid and diesel options will be available at launch, with a plug-in hybrid expected to be launched in around 12 months’ time.
By far the potentially most divisive aspect of the new Defender is its styling, most notably the exterior, which has evolved from its utilitarian roots with the goal of delivering more sophisticated but still rugged appeal.
Nods to earlier Defenders include the short front and rear overhangs, the squared-off wheel arches, its notably upright stance and the continuous waist and collar lines, plus the rising roofline and the so-called Alpine light windows set into the roof. The square panel that sits in the rear glass is a design flourish that buyers can spec on or off. Optional extra packs, from a folding fabric roof that allows second-row passengers in the 110 to stand up, to a roof-mounted tent, a side ladder and side window carriers, add further versatility.
“This is a car that needs to look like it can do the business,” said Land Rover design director Gerry McGovern. “It has a silhouette even a child could draw, but there’s nothing simple about it – especially on the surfaces, which on first glance look quite raw and elemental but which are in fact incredibly sophisticated. Flat panels can look very cheap and this is a premium vehicle, so we needed to be smarter than that.”
To emphasise the car’s off-road capabilities, and guided by a mission to make it look “tough but approachable”, McGovern and his team sought to leave many of the fixtures and fittings – from the door handles to door bolts on the interior – visible. They also opted for details such as an inset bonnet over a clamshell arrangement, a side-hinged boot and the option of a spare wheel on the back. The vast flat-top dashboard, cast from magnesium alloy, is a structural part of the car and is set low to boost visibility. It is also notable for its structural grab handles that give occupants a constant visual reminder of the car’s go-anywhere ability.
The 10.0in digital screen is deliberately not integrated into the dash, though. “It’s honest. We didn’t want to pretend this is a high-tech vehicle at its heart,” said McGovern. “There an element of ‘there it is, use it’ about it.” The screen also displays Land Rover’s next-generation infotainment system, called Pivi Pro. It is said to be more user-friendly and intuitive – both criticisms of Jaguar Land Rover’s previous tech – and requires up to 50% fewer inputs to perform frequent tasks than before. Systems updates can also be made to the car over the air.
Notably, the dash-mounted gearshifter (the Defender is not available with a manual ’box) leaves room for an optional central ‘jump’ seat as found on the earliest Land-Rovers. That means the Defender 110 can be specced as a five-, six- or 5+2-seater. “Much as we love the old one, if you drive it for two weeks, you get a bad back. That won’t be the case with this one,” said McGovern, in reference to the quality of the seating in the new Defender.
Boot space behind the second row is 1075 litres, rising to 2390 litres if the second row of seats is folded, figures that eclipse those of the seven-seat Discovery. The Defender 90 will hold up to six people. Non-leather choices are available as trim options.
The Defender will also be offered with an option of 18in white-painted steel wheels. “It was a shock to me that I liked them, but they work,” said McGovern, who has previously been blamed by critics for a perceived gentrification of Land Rovers.
The Defender sits on Land Rover’s D7x platform, with ‘x’ standing for extreme. The company says it is the stiffest body structure it has produced. Although it is a reworked version of the firm’s existing modular architecture, it is described as being 95% new. The aluminium structure has been designed to accept electrified – but not fully electric – powertrains.
Land Rover also says the test regime the Defender has been subjected to far exceeds that of any other model it has produced, including covering 1.2 million miles across terrain such as the desert, at high altitude and in the Arctic. In total, the car had to be signed off on 62,000 test criteria prior to launch. This testing is said to have challenged Land Rover’s robotised machinery as much as the car itself, with the seat durability tester breaking due to the Defender comfortably withstanding even the increased loads it was subjected to.
Headline figures include 291mm of ground clearance, a 38deg approach angle and 40deg departure angle, a 900mm maximum wading depth, 900kg maximum payload, 300kg roof load and up to 3500kg towing capability.
Its proficiency is boosted mechanically by permanent four-wheel drive, the choice of independent air or coil spring suspension, a twin-speed transmission, locking centre differential and active rear locking differential.
Aiding off-road driving, the Defender has so-called Configurable Terrain Response, which employs electronic aids at varying intensities according to a range of conditions or which can be left on an automatic setting. There are also three levels of throttle and gearbox sensitivity aimed at boosting driver control.
Other tech to aid off-roading includes Land Rover’s ClearSight Ground View, which displays the area under the bonnet and ahead of the front wheels on a central touchscreen, Hill Launch Assist and Enhanced Hill Hold.
Land Rover is also at pains to emphasise the work done to ensure the new Defender is good to drive on road, and especially on long motorway and country journeys.
Nick Rogers, executive director of product engineering for Land Rover, said: “It is not only the most capable Land Rover ever, but also a truly comfortable, modern vehicle that people will love to drive.”
The Defender is being launched with a choice of four- and six-cylinder diesel and petrol engines initially, but the firm has committed to sell a plug-in hybrid variant from 2020. Rumours suggest this will be designated the P400e.
The petrols are the four-cylinder P300 and six-cylinder P400. The 296bhp P300 hits 62mph from a standstill in 8.1sec and is rated at 227g/km for CO2 emissions. The 396bhp P400 uses mild-hybrid technology to deliver 406lb ft of torque, a 0-62mph time of 6.4sec, economy of 29.4mpg and CO2 of 220g/km.
The diesels are both four-cylinder units and designated D200 and D240. Both deliver 317lb ft of torque and average 37.2mpg, with CO2 emissions of 199g/km on NEDC equivalent ratings. The 197bhp D200 covers 0-62mph in 10.3sec and the 237bhp D240 in 9.1sec.
Equipment and options
Buyers will be able to opt from Defender, S, SE, HSE, First Edition and X models from launch and have the choice of supplementing them with four accessory packs called Explorer, Adventure, Country and Urban.
The packs are designed to give the car different characters, with Urban, for instance, featuring 22in wheels, a front undershield, side tubes and a scrub plate on the rear; Adventure side-mounted gear carriers on the rear and undershield guards; Country wheel arch protectors and other guards for light outdoor work; and Explorer a roof ladder, roof rack and anti-glare bonnet.
Buyers can also opt for split colour paintwork or a satin-finish protective film, which is used to wrap the car over a choice of metallic silver, grey and green paint.
Other unconventional options include an electronic winch, pet packs for transporting a variety of animals, a portable shower, a roof-top tent and inflatable waterproof awnings.
Leaked details suggest that Land Rover’s plans to keep updating the Defender family are already well advanced, with a larger 130 model said to be being prepped for a launch in 2022. An internal document published online has described the car as a “Premium explorer” for “families, active lifestyle and travel”. It’ll be 5.1m long and come with eight seats, despite having the same wheelbase as the 110, suggesting a more substantial rear overhang.
Meanwhile, an additional, more powerful diesel engine is said to be under development for 2021. The six-cylinder D300 will deliver a 0-62mph time rumoured to be below 8sec and is being considered for launch in the US, as well as Europe.
Rumours also abound of multiple variants being worked on by Land Rover’s boundary-pushing Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) department, including more luxurious and high-speed models. In contrast, an ultra-capable off-roader is said to be only at the consideration stage, as the base car is believed to have more capability than almost any buyer could require. The Mercedes G-Wagen has already established a high-end, high-margin business case, with AMG versions selling for prices from £140,000 prior to any options or customisation.
How Autocar greeted the original Land Rover Series I
“Although these pages are normally devoted to the many aspects of the purely private car and its usage, there is now something to describe which can either be regarded as a private car able to perform many valuable duties other than sheer transport, or as a general purpose countryside worker which is also capable of providing comfortable and efficient transport.”
So read the introduction to Autocar’s story on the Land-Rover – to become the Land Rover Defender – on 30 April 1948, the day it was unveiled at the Amsterdam motor show. Thanks to some early access under embargo, our in-house artist, John Ferguson, was able to produce a cutaway technical drawing to lead the article.
Looking for other references to details that put today’s car in perspective, the assessment included the verdict that “there is nothing of the luxury vehicle about its looks. Nevertheless, it is not ugly and has an attractive appearance all of its own” and “the operative word about the whole car is ‘substantial’”. Oh, and the base price was £450 and the production target 200 cars a week. In those regards, times really have changed.
It was also a good job Autocar’s scribes had early access to the car in order to give it the coverage we now know it warranted. The following week’s issue had the almost single-page Amsterdam show report, in which the car merited a one-sentence mention and was noted only for “evoking much interest”. A mobile, paraffin-powered picnic stove, meanwhile, filled the non-motor show coverage on the page, earning two paragraphs and a photo.