In 1948, the original Land Rover Series rolled into the world. Designed for farm and light industrial use, it had a steel box chassis, aluminium body and 1.2 tons of no-nonsense, hardy charm. And charm it did — production ran for a sturdy 67 years, during which time the Defender marque made it to the furthest corners of the world.
The car was used by the SAS for desert patrol and special operations. It stormed from London to Singapore on the 1955 First Overland Expedition. It crossed beaches, jungles, deserts — surging from sand to snow, mountains to mud. And, today, the Defender conquers has proved itself in another tricky terrain; the luxury sector.
Announced at the ongoing Frankfurt Motor Show, this is the first Land Rover Defender to be unveiled by the British brand since the original Defender ceased production in 2016. Balancing improved off-road ability with a new luxury streak, this is a new breed of SUV — and promises to be as versatile a vehicle as its iconic predecessor.
From the chassis to the on-board tech, this is the Defender re-engineered
So what’s changed under that redesigned bonnet? The car is built on an aluminium-intensive platform that Land Rover claim is 95% brand new — and boasts a construction three times stiffer than any of the brand’s other body structures. It’s available as a long-wheelbase, five-door model with a choice of five, six or seven seats. The three-door will be available by the end of the year.
Every variant will, of course, be four-wheel drive — and all long-wheelbase variants will come with air suspension as standard. There’s the option of two petrol engines, a handful of diesel options and even an exciting mild-hybrid. You’ll be treated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox, with a twin-speed transfer box that lends itself admirably to all that towing and extreme off-roading you’ll be doing.
And that’s before we even get to the nitty-gritty of this rough-and-ready off-roader. Land Rover have thrown in a new configurable Terrain Response 2 system, which will allow drivers to fine-tune their cars for specific road and weather conditions. A fresh wade programme raises the car and shuts off air vents to make it nigh-on waterproof, and the thing can now even drive downhill at an incredible gradient of 40 degrees. It’s an impressive fact sheet — and one which promises to tempt even the most timid drivers to adventure.
There are luxury touches in the design, but it remains pleasingly practical
Re-designing an icon was always going to be difficult. It was an unenviable job that Gerry McGovern, Land Rover’s Chief Design Officer, gave himself. But, even though the new Defender may not reach the same levels of enduring recognisability, it’s a well-proportioned new look. There are, admittedly, more luxury touches — but the overall style remains pleasingly practical.
“The new Defender is respectful of its past but is not harnessed by it,” explains McGovern. “This is a new Defender for a New Age. Its unique personality is accentuated by its distinctive silhouette and optimum proportions, which make it both highly desirable and seriously capable – a visually compelling 4×4 that wears its design and engineering integrity with uncompromised commitment.”
We’re certainly more drawn to the functional features than the hints of high-end motoring. That rear-mounted spare wheel and the roof-rack are screaming out for an off-roadtrip. Even inside, despite the 10-inch screen and 12.3-inch instrument panel, there’s still a utilitarian feel to the cabin — something we’re glad Land Rover didn’t jettison in order to appeal to an audience with deeper pockets.
The new Defender has big tyre tracks to fill — and Land Rover know it
So what’s the vision here? Do Land Rover expect this Defender to be as enduring and all-encompassing as the original?
“From the start,” says Nick Rogers, Executive Director of Product Engineering, “we had an absolute obsession with functionality beneath the skin, from choosing the right materials through to state of the art connectivity. The result is not only the most capable Land Rover ever made, but also a truly comfortable, modern vehicle that people will love to drive.”
It would appear that the new Defender is here to stay. Indeed, with considerable efforts being made to prove its off-road credentials and a plug-in electric version promised in the coming years, the car looks set to drive Land Rover confidently into the future.
Thankfully, with wheels like these, it should be a smooth ride — no matter how bumpy the road gets.
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