Tech Torque

FRASER STRONACH

4 x 4 Australia - - Contents -

THE DE­FENDER is the very essence of Land Rover. It’s where the com­pany started, though not by name. The De­fender name came into be­ing in 1990 to dis­tin­guish the ex­ist­ing com­mer­cial/util­i­tar­ian Land Rovers – the only Land Rovers you could buy since day one in 1948 – from the just-in­tro­duced Dis­cov­ery. The lat­ter was very much aimed at fam­ily and recre­ational buy­ers.

Be­fore that, Land Rovers were merely dis­tin­guished by their Se­ries name (Se­ries I, II, etc.) and later by wheel­base mea­sured in inches (90, 110, etc.). The pro­duc­tion of these es­sen­tially com­mer­cial Land Rovers that dated back to 1948 wound up on Jan­uary 29, 2016, when the last De­fender rolled off the pro­duc­tion line. It was ef­fec­tively killed off by high pro­duc­tion costs and up­com­ing pedes­trian safety stan­dards, which is ironic given a De­fender is any­thing but a ve­hi­cle de­signed for places where pedes­tri­ans abound.

If Land Rover’s cor­po­rate his­tory was as sta­ble as Toy­ota’s (see Rocky Road to Suc­cess) there would have been a new De­fender ready in 2016 to take over seam­lessly as the old one was phased out, but as it turns out, that’s not the case. Right now, if you want to buy a new ve­hi­cle that is the very heart and soul of Land Rover, you can’t.

Land Rover says it has been too busy bring­ing to mar­ket high-vol­ume mod­els like Dis­cov­ery Sport and Range Rover Evoque, as well as the new Dis­cov­ery and Range Rover Ve­lar. Given the cur­rent Range Rover and Range Rover Sport were also only in­tro­duced in 2013, Land Rover has in­deed been busy.

This flurry of new mod­els has come off the back of huge fi­nan­cial in­vest­ment by In­dia’s Tata Mo­tors, which has owned the Bri­tish icon since 2008. And while the De­fender may have seem­ingly fallen along the way­side amidst all this ac­tiv­ity, the good news is that a new De­fender is tak­ing shape some­where in Land Rover’s de­vel­op­ment fa­cil­i­ties and will ap­pear around 2020.

How­ever, what form a new De­fender will take is open to spec­u­la­tion. One op­tion would be to base it on the ex­ist­ing Dis­cov­ery 4 plat­form. This uses a sep­a­rate chas­sis and is es­sen­tially the same plat­form as the Dis­cov­ery 3, a de­sign that dates back to 2004.

Cer­tainly, a De­fender wagon could be based on a Dis­cov­ery 4. First, junk the big brakes so you can fit a 17- or a 16-inch wheel/tyre pack­age. Then, junk the costly and com­plex heigh­tad­justable air springs and re­place them with cheaper and more ro­bust coil springs that give good ground clear­ance – 240mm, or there­abouts – and are suf­fi­ciently firm to carry a de­cent load (even if all that comes at the ex­pense of on-road dy­nam­ics and the un­laden ride). This is a De­fender, af­ter all. In­side the cabin, junk the third-row seats, car­pets and all but the es­sen­tial in­te­rior in­clu­sions, which may re­quire a new and sim­pler dash. The body’s rear-side win­dows could also go to save on cost, weight and build com­plex­ity.

The D4’s V6 diesel would have to go, if for no other rea­son than up­com­ing emis­sion re­stric­tions – its place taken by one of the new, lighter and cleaner In­ge­nium four-cylin­der diesels that of­fer ei­ther 110kw/380nm or 132kw/430nm in sin­gle-turbo form. Ei­ther should be suf­fi­cient. These are vol­ume-pro­duc­tion en­gines for Land Rover, which should help with cost. Also, in the in­ter­est of cut­ting costs, the D4’s eight-speed ZF au­to­matic could be re­placed by the widely used ZF six-speed auto. A six-speed man­ual – per­haps the one avail­able in the early days of the Dis­cov­ery 3 – could also be of­fered.

The D4’s full-time 4x4 sys­tem would be re­tained, though the rear elec­tronic locker, an op­tion on the D4, would have to come stan­dard. Re­mem­ber, this is a De­fender, so you don’t wish to skimp on off-road abil­ity. The D4’s body-on-chas­sis con­struc­tion would also lend it­self to the pro­duc­tion of ute vari­ants; al­though, you’d prob­a­bly want a longer wheel­base for a dou­ble cab, which would re­quire a re­jig­ging of the D4’s some­what com­plex hy­dro­form chas­sis.

While this may make sense from a cost and ease-of-de­sign point of view, Land Rover seems to be in­di­cat­ing it won’t go this way and will base the new De­fender on a plat­form de­vel­oped from the new

Dis­cov­ery, ef­fec­tively a Dis­cov­ery 5. This is an alu­minium mono­coque plat­form, which in turn was de­vel­oped from the cur­rent Range Rover and RR Sport.

By do­ing many of the same things to this new Dis­cov­ery as men­tioned above in mod­i­fy­ing a D4 – smaller brake pack­age to ac­com­mo­date 16s or 17s, coil springs, ba­sic pow­er­train and stripped­out, no-frills in­te­rior – it would be easy enough to make a De­fender wagon.

How­ever, mak­ing ute de­riv­a­tives us­ing this mono­coque plat­form is far more dif­fi­cult and costly if you wish to pro­vide dif­fer­ent cab op­tions and the easy fit­ment of spe­cialised rear trays, which is an es­sen­tial part of the com­mer­cial ute mar­ket.

Per­haps Land Rover will only ad­dress the boom­ing recre­ational mar­ket by of­fer­ing a dual cab with an in-built tub, a range with dif­fer­ent en­gine op­tions, sin­gle- or dual-range 4x4, and vary­ing equip­ment lev­els.

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