All-new 2018 Land Rover Defender: first spy shots snapped

Bizarre new spy shots show shortened Range Rover-based test mule for new three-door ’90’ Land Rover Defender.

The rumour mill continues to stir for the next Land Rover Defender, due in 2018, but this is the first time we’ve spotted a test mule related to it.This strange-looking shortened Range Rover appears to be a test bed for the three-door ’90’ Defender.

We’ve seen plenty of unusual test mules over the years, and this looks to be one of the most odd. Viewed from the front and rear it looks entirely like a disguised Range Rover Sport, but side-on we can see that a huge chunk of the SUV’s wheelbase has been lopped out.

Despite being designed to throw us off the scent, the test bed looks uncannily similar in length to the old ’90 Series’ three-door Defenders. The mule here has half of its rear doors, though it’s very unlikely they will make production for this wheelbase length.

Even though an all-new Defender has been discussed openly by Land Rover bosses, the company has been keeping its cards close to its chest. Most recently, JLR executive Dr Ralf Speth informed us that early development mules had started to be tested by bosses. Rather excitingly, the JLR boss assured us that the new car will be “even more capable” than the outgoing Defender when the terrain gets challenging.

However, reimagining cult classics is not an easy task, and in Land Rover’s case it has to build a brand new 4×4 that is incredibly competent off-road (in line with brand identity), while also meeting modern standards in terms of comfort and making money on a car likely to sell in small numbers.

Dr Speth did admit that the design and engineering work behind the new Defender has been all but settled, to the point where he had the opportunity to try the new vehicle. Teasing further, he said, “I have driven test mules already… and also tried the car against competitors, in on- and off-road environments. It’s sensational.”

He would not put a timeframe on when the new Land Rover Defender would debut but he did say, “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.”

After being asked whether the new Defender has the potential to be genuinely profitable – or even, if JLR is considering selling vehicles 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.”

To help this, it is expected that the Defender will utilise parts from other Land Rover vehicles and be built alongside other cars from the range. Speth continued, saying: “We’re already doing this now… 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.”

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