A Defender for the digital age
The Land Rover Defender is back, but not as traditionalists will know it. It’ sa Defender for a modern age, one where many want an SUV to be connected to the world more so than to be able to wade through a river or climb a mountainside.
The Defender first made its appearance as the Series 1 way back in 1948 and impressively it continued until the company killed it off in 2016. Concepts such as the DC100 were met with mixed reaction, testament to the model’s loyal following.
We were fortunate to attend an exclusive preview of the new Defender at the company headquarters in Gaydon, UK, where we learned more about it from the team that created it.
“While we recognise its unique heritage, we cannot allow us to be hamstrung by it,” Gerry McGovern, chief design officer for Land Rover said. “It’s about capturing the essence of the original but not being held captive by it.”
While the design will undoubtedly be controversial, it’s still clearly a Defender in the overall execution. There are elements such as the chequer plate on the bonnet, exposed torque screws in the door trims, the narrow rear door with a mounted spare wheel and the utilitarian look to the padded magnesium dashboard, that continue the theme of the original. You can even hose out the interior.
However, you’ll have to be careful with the hose, because there are lots of electronics in the interior. There’s a 31cm digital instrument cluster providing a range of different information and views.
But the big debate will surround the new Pivi Pro touchscreen infotainment system. It’s
not so much that it is always connected and capable of receiving over-the-air updates, although that will be an issue in those places a Defender owner likes to go where cellphone coverage is distinctly lacking. It’s more about the fact that you won’t find manual levers to switch to low-range; instead it’s all in the touchscreen.
Modern SUV buyers might well relate to this, after all they’re used to it in other models, but those who expected to be able to fix their Defender at the bottom of a dune in Nambia, or outside a padstal in the Kalahari could well be put off.
McGovern fully expects this. He says this is so much not about appealing to those who loved the original, as attracting a new, younger crowd, those who spend their time in urban cafés but want their SUV to portray their spirit of adventure. That’s why there will be themed models, based on the initial longer wheelbase 110 that will arrive in SA in the first half of 2020 and the shorter 90 in the second.
As well as basic models including commercial vehicles for farming, aid workers and so forth, even available with steel wheels there will be a Country with a 6.5l water tank so you can hose down your mountain bike. The Urban will feature brightly coloured side panels, 22-inch wheels and other trendy accessories.
For those who want to make the most of the Defender’s more hardcore character, the Explorer has a ladder, snorkel and a roof rack to put your tent on. Then the Adventure has an integrated air compressor and pods on the side to put your gear in. And there will be more than 170 accessories even before the aftermarket guys get to work.
The question is, will it be as capable as the original or is it just about the gadgets? Accessing the Terrain Response system though the touchscreen will provide you with the chance to adjust the four-wheel drive settings. There’s a twin-transfer box, locking differentials and fully customisable settings to get your Defender to do what you need it to do.
In the numbers it certainly appears to live up to its offroadcapable heritage. Standard ground clearance is 291mm and there’s optional air suspension. There’s 500mm of wheel articulation and a massive 900mm wading depth. The short overhangs provide 38° approach and 40° departure angles and it can tackle 45° gradients.
Gone is the traditional bodyon-frame setup too, replaced by a new monocoque architecture codenamed D7x that Nick Rogers, executive director of engineering told us is ten times stiffer. It also provides for electrification, including a 48V mildhybrid and a plug-in hybrid, not currently planned for SA.
Initially, there will be a twinturbo diesel engine providing 177kW and 430Nm in the D240 and a straight-six petrol in the P400 producing 294kW and 550Nm. There’s no manual
The emperor’s new clothes the new design will undoubtedly create controversy but it’s still recognisable as a Defender sort of.
Above: In the numbers game it appears to live up to its offroadcapable heritage. Standard ground clearance is 291mm. Below: Accessing the offroading trickery is through a touchscreen but the new Defender claims to be as terrain-capable as before.