The original Land Rover, which evolved into the Defender, is one of the most iconic and beloved British cars on and off the road. When Land Rover launched the original in 1948, it had no idea where the Land Rover would go and what it would become.
Much of that came down to simplicity: a versatility that could be applied to many different roles thanks to that body-on-frame construction. That versatility was also something that caught the attention of fans, with easy customisation and massive aftermarket options, whether you wanted to go off-road or stay firmly on it.
Pacing Jaguar Land Rover's stand at the IAA Frankfurt motor show, there was a familiar feel to things. In the new Defender, Land Rover isn't just offering a new utility vehicle, it's very much presenting the Defender as what it evolved into. Matte finishes, chequer plate on the bonnet flanks, massive sump guards - the sort of touches that Land Rover fans across the globe are adding to their classic Landy.
Modernised for comfort and practicality
The big change is that the body-on-frame design is gone, replaced with the D7x all-aluminium monocoque. Land Rover says this is stiffer than previous designs and more rugged than Land Rover's other big vehicles, but it owes a lot to the Discovery.
It's only once you've seen the new Defender that the new Discovery starts to make sense. Land Rover softened the Discovery a few years back, raised the quality and made space for the Defender as something more rugged - a space that Discovery once occupied. There appears to be commonality in the suspension, but importantly the new Defender retains aggressive entry and exit angles thanks to short overhangs and can wade through 900mm of water. It promises formidable off-road performance.
Land Rover also says that the Defender doesn't share any panels with existing vehicles and there's a distinctly modern feel to those panels. A large number appear to be plastic and there was no shortage of people walking around the show vehicles tapping the panels to see what was there.
The boxy looks are retained any while it doesn't quite carry that aesthetic from previous models, it's a design that's growing on us. There's some familiarity too as the front looks like the old Discovery 3 or 4, squared and serious. The square panel on the side is an oddity - a "floating pillar" - but we're not quite sure what it's doing there. On the 90 you can get rid of it which will improve visibility all round.
That the new Defender hangs on to "Alpine lights" (those windows on the curve of the roof) helps retain the sense of heritage, while the rest of the interior feels like something very new - and that's welcomed. It's still a sensible step up to get into the driver's seat, but cast your eyes over the interior and while it doesn't carry the luxury finish that you'll find in the Discovery or Range Rover, there's a lot on offer.
The sense of the rugged runs through the interior of the new Defender, with things like exposed bolt heads and materials and finishes that look a little more wipe-clean than other JLR models. The floors are designed to be easily cleaned out - while you'll get carpets (in the UK), you can pull them out if you know you're going to be filling it with muddy boots.
But there's still a sense of adventure across the interior, a central display a nods to contemporary connectivity, flanked by troughs into which you can dump whatever you need to keep to hand. We've spotted USB connections, as important for powering work devices as it is for providing consumer connectivity - yes, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are supported - and the new Pivi Pro digital infotainment platform will offer over the air updates, so it's thoroughly modern.
There's still the option for a jump/centre seat in the front, with the gear stick/drive selector sitting on the dash out of the way. The view out over the boxy bonnet will put a smile on your face if you've driven proper Land Rovers in the past, but you now have access to tech that will make life easier, like the ClearSight rearview or through-bonnet cameras, to retain visibility - as seen on the new Evoque. It's a rugged practicality.
So many options
There are options galore for the new Defender. It comes in 90 and 110 sizes for starters, like the previous Defender. The 90 is a three-door option, with access to a second row by folding the front seats forward, but thanks to that optional jump seat you can seat six in it. There's a rear door too, with rear mounted spare wheel, opening up to a functional boot space - of course, depending on whether you're using a second row of seats.
The Defender 110 is likely to be the more popular option for those buying it as a large SUV because of the five-door arrangement. You can have a 5+2 arrangement (like the Discovery), or throw in that additional seat to carry eight, but stick to five seats and you're looking at a boot with some serious capacity at 1075 litres. That those seats fold flat brings practical appeal and 2380 litres of stowage in the 110.
There are also going to be a range of trim levels through Defender, S, SE, HSE and Defender X and having cast eyes across the Defender X with wooden inserts in the interior, you can't help wondering what companies like Bespoke or Twisted might do with the new Defender - is Land Rover going to be offering all the comfort and customisation that people want?
There will also be a range of packs - explorer, adventure and country fit in nicely - but the option for the urban pack reveals a great deal about where this car will be headed. Outside of trim inside and out there are also a wide range of accessories from ladders to roof tents to a shower for your dog. And yes, like the Discovery, there are controls in the rear to lower the height to make access easier.
That the standard model starts with steel wheels is a nod to the past (and we can't help thinking it will be a popular option on the spec sheet), you'll be able to pick a range of sizes and alloy styles as you can other Land Rover models, again reinforcing the Defender's position beyond a work thing, as an attractive alternative to other big SUVs.
Engines, performance and stats
One of the key details that Land Rover has explained is that the move to the new D7x platform is partly to accommodate a range of powertrains in the future - including electric. That's not available on day one and neither is hybrid and we suspect that the diesels will still be the big sellers. Plug-in hybrid is scheduled for 2020.
There are two Ingenium diesels at launch, both 2-litre, but offering 200 or 240PS. Land Rover says that they will offer the same mileage (31.7mpg WLTP) and the same co2 emissions at 199g/km - but the D240 offers a 0-62 time of 8.1 seconds compared to the 0-62 time of 10.3 seconds for the D200.
There are also two petrols, the P300 (0-62mph in 8.1 seconds, 227g/km, 24.7mpg WLTP) or the P400 MHEV - a mild-hybrid option - that boosts the power, offering 0-62 in 6.4 seconds, 29.4mpg and emissions of 220g/km. That's spritely for a Defender, but we suspect that the D200, the cheapest diesel, will be the volume seller.
Everything is routed through a ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox and there will a twin-speed transmission to provide a low range. As you'd expect there's going to be a comprehensive terrain response system so that your Defender will go anywhere, in any conditions, just as it always has.
While the new Defender is starting with the Defender 110 - and from a £45,240 starting point - the shorter wheelbase will be available in 2020 and bring those prices down to a £40,290 starting point. There will follow a commercial Defender as low as £35k, but exactly what the conditions are attached to that, we don't know.
As huge fans of the original series Land Rover and more recent Defender, we greeted the new model with mixed feelings. But times move on and the Defender had to evolve. As we've considered it, it's grown on it. Yes, it's different - but at the same time, it's offering something that's visually more rugged than JLR's other models, while also removing many of the barriers to buying a last-gen Defender, from a consumer point of view at least.
Exciting? Most definitely. We can't wait to get behind the wheel, and get it muddy.