The all-new Land Rover Defender will be revealed within the next 12 months, likely to be towards the end of 2019, and new official images have given us our best look yet at the iconic SUV in development.
The latest image shows a prototype of the all-new Defender under going off-road testing in North America as part of its grueling test cycle. The vehicle will be subjected to temperatures as low as -40 Celsius and as high as 48 Celsius and at attitudes as high as 13,000ft.
We’ve spotted both a short wheelbase Defender ‘90’ and a long-wheelbase Defender ‘110’ in the testing phase, and on the road the latter of the two looks vast – similar in stature to the current Land Rover Discovery.
While it’s clear that design cues from the modern Land Rover and Range Rover models will make their way onto the off-roader, there are other details that will clearly mark the car out as a true Land Rover Defender. The headlights, for example, seem to feature a clear round headlamp with small indicator bulbs to the side – albeit fared into the main unit unlike the classic Defender.
Likewise around the back, the taillights appear to be designed in a similar way to those of the car that the new Defender will replace. The sides taper towards the roof while a side-hinged tailgate gives access to the luggage bay.
The four-door test car has a large, completely flat bonnet covered by heavy cladding, with a slim grille below. The familiar Land Rover vents are visible behind the front wheel-arches and the windows are set back from the boxy shoulder line, which suggests more substantial cladding on the doors.
However, while it will display similarities with the old car, it is clear Land Rover doesn’t want to create a replica of the original. Speaking from the 2018 Paris Motor Show, Jaguar Land Rover’s chief marketing officer Felix Bräutigam said: “The new Defender will not simply be a copy-cat, something retro. It will be something that moves the game on for Land Rover.”
While the new Defender’s exact launch date is unclear, Land Rover has said that first customers will take delivery in 2020. Bräutigam added: “Our first, really excited customers should have their cars by 2020. We will stage it properly; the train has left the station but we are not rushing to a specific date. It’s exciting to now start getting one step closer to officially announcing the rebirth of an icon.”
Mules have been powered by a 2.0-litre diesel engine according to the registration information held by the DVLA, while other prototypes have been running a petrol enigne. With Land Rover having already confirmed that all its models post 2020 will be electrified in some way, we expect that each powertrain will feature at least a 48-volt mild-hybrid system. Jaguar Land Rover insists the Defender will need a “balanced engine portfolio” in order to succeed in all global markets, however. A look under the rear of the car also appears to reveal an independent suspension set-up.
Prices are yet to be confirmed for the new Defender, but the shorter Defender 90 could start from somewhere in the region of £40,000.
What we know about the new Defender
Even though Land Rover bosses have discussed an all-new Defender openly, the company has been keeping its cards close to its chest. JLR executive Dr Ralf Speth informed us that early development mules were undergoing testing by bosses back in 2017. Rather excitingly, the JLR boss assured us that the new car will be “even more capable” than the outgoing Defender when the terrain gets challenging.
Dr Speth admitted that, at that stage, the design and engineering work behind the new Defender was all but settled, to the point where he had the opportunity to try the new vehicle. Teasing further, he said: “I have driven test mules already… and also tried the car against competitors, in on and off-road environments. It’s sensational.” He would not put a timeframe on when the new Land Rover Defender would debut but he did say: “It is coming. We are working an authentic successor of the predecessor.”
The new Land Rover Defender will have an aluminium body built on an aluminium chassis and will utilise parts from other Land Rover vehicles, whilst being built alongside other cars from the range. Speth continued, saying: “We’re already doing this now… We used the modular architecture and elements of our chassis for weight reduction to make the new Discovery a better-handling car. We will do so also in the future because we always learn.”
It’s not yet clear where the new Land Rover Defender will be built, but JLR UK managing director Rawdon Glover did say the prototype vehicles were being assembled at the company’s ageing Brown’s Lane facility.
“We were still using Brown’s Lane to build our prototypes, which not many people knew. But now we have a new facility,” said Glover. “The verification build phase will come off a pilot production line, but the next phase goes into the manufacturing plant.” Further details on the new Defender’s assembly process are yet to be announced.
Large Land Rover Defender family planned
Beyond the launch of the basic model, Land Rover is planning to introduce a series of Defender models, spanning a variety of shapes and bodystyles. Land Rover’s chief marketing officer Felix Bräutigam told Auto Express: “One of the exciting things for us is that we are not launching a car, we are launching a family of cars.”
Furthermore, design boss Gerry McGovern has hinted that a performance SVR version of the forthcoming 4×4 could also be on the cards. Such a car would be developed by Jaguar Land Rover’s newly formed Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) division, and would allow the brand to tap into demand in Russia and China for powerful and luxurious rugged off-roaders, currently dominated by the Mercedes-AMG G 63.
It’s also likely that a hardcore Defender SVX will join the range at some stage and we could even see a luxurious SVA version in line with the Range Rover SVAutobiography.
Whatever happens, the new Defender will continue Land Rover’s recent move upmarket. “In its core form it can be something that can be quite elemental up to something incredibly luxurious,” said McGovern.
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