The new Land Rover Defender will arrive in 2018 and one of the JLR bosses who’s driven it has high hopes.
Though the Land Rover Defender went out of production last year, the iconic off-roader isn’t quite dead yet – Land Rover is planning an all-new version of its iconic, boxy 4×4, which will continue to use the legendary Defender name and we could see it for the first time at some point in 2018.
The new Defender project has been discussed openly by Land Rover bosses, but confirmation aside, the company is still fairly coy regarding its upcoming off-roader. Our most recent update came in September last year, when Jaguar Land Rover chief execituve Dr Ralf Speth told us that early development mules have already been driven by company bosses. The JLR boss promises that the new car will be “even more capable” than the old Defender when the going gets tough.
New versions of cult classic cars are never easy – Land Rover has to built a new 4×4 with off-road capability and versatility on par with the brand’s DNA, while ensuring it can still make money on a car likely to sell in small numbers.
Jaguar Land Rover boss Dr Ralf Speth has admitted that the basic design and engineering work is now settled enough for him to have tried the new Defender. “I have driven test mules already,” he told us last year, “and also tried the car against competitors, in on- and off-road environments. It’s sensational.”
Speth declined to put a timeframe on the Defender’s debut – it’s widely tipped to be 2018 at the earliest – but he said, “It is coming. We are working an authentic successor of the predecessor. I have to say it was one of my saddest moments in my career at Jaguar Land Rover, when we stopped the production line of this vehicle, because I just love it. But we will make a successor to this vehicle and you can be sure it will be even more capable. Nevertheless it will have the DNA of the current car.”
When asked if the Defender could be genuinely profitable – or if Land Rover is considering building it at a slight loss to ‘legitimise’ the brand values that sell thousands of Range Rovers, Evoques and Discovery Sports, Speth said, “The new vehicle, as with all our vehicles, has to make money. It will be a sensational vehicle and I think there will be a lot of demand for it.”
Speth indicated that the Defender will share components with other Land Rovers in a bid to cut costs – and that this will extend to being built alongside other cars. “We’re already doing this now,” he said. “We used the modular architecture and elements of our chassis for weight reduction to make the new Discovery a better-handling car. We will do so also in the future because we always learn.” When asked if the Defender would go down the production line with other models, he replied, “Yes, you can assume that.”
Large Land Rover Defender family planned
Beyond the launch of the basic model, Land Rover is planning to introduce an entire new family of Defenders, and design boss Gerry McGovern has hinted that a performance SVR version of the forthcoming 4×4 could also be on the cards.
Such a car would be developed by Jaguar Land Rover’s newly formed Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) division, and would allow the brand to tap into demand in Russia and China for powerful and luxurious rugged off-roaders, currently dominated by the Mercedes G 63 AMG.
It’s also likely that a hardcore off-road Defender SVX will join the range at some stage and we could even see a luxurious SVA version in line with the Range Rover SVAutobiography.
“The beauty of SVO is that it allows you to play. It lets you take vehicles and heighten their essence,” McGovern told Auto Express last year. “We can do that with all of them, whether it’s a Range Rover, Discovery or a Defender.”
The first new Defender isn’t expected to arrive until 2018, and it will spawn a family of at least three individual models. McGovern said: “The Defender is all about durability – that indestructible, durable vehicle which is what a family of Defenders would be.”
Whatever happens, the new Defender will continue Land Rover’s recent move upmarket. “In its core form it can be something that can be quite elemental up to something incredibly luxurious,” said McGovern.
Yet the car will remain a true off-roader. While exact details are still secret, the new Defender is likely to have an aluminium body built on an aluminium chassis. This would give go-anywhere strength with less weight than from a traditional 4×4 steel chassis.
“When you see the new Defender, people will know it’s worthy of carrying the badge,” explained McGovern. “It will be able to do everything it says on the tin.”