A De­fender for the dig­i­tal age

Business Day - Motor News - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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