Land Rover is ending production of its covetable, eminently capable, rugged-but-beautiful Defender next summer now that EU authorities have black-flagged the legendary SUV for failing to meet pending emissions, crash, and pedestrian-safety standards. A replacement Defender, code-named L663, will come in 2018, just in time for the SUV’s 70th anniversary. And even better, it’s coming back to the U.S.
The first completely new Defender since 1948 will be more than just a fantastic off-roader. Because the classic market for the Defender — farmers, the army, authorities — is limited, Land Rover needs to broaden the hardcore off-roader’s appeal to urban guerrillas and the fashion-conscious in-crowd who couldn’t care less about departure angles and fording depth. The Land Rover Defender model range will span from a tough, no-frills SUV to a butch-looking, go-anywhere luxury liner. (To get an idea of what’s to come, check out the differentiation between the recently announced limited-edition Defender models badged Heritage, Adventure, and Autobiography, pictured below.)
Insiders are predicting at least five body styles: a two-door short-wheelbase with a metal top, a two-door short-wheelbase with a soft top, a four-door long-wheelbase with a metal top, a two-door short-wheelbase pickup, and a four-door long-wheelbase pickup. There should also be five engine choices from Jaguar Land Rover’s new Ingenium engine series: two 2.0-liter diesel four-cylinders (150 and 180 hp), two 2.0-liter gas four-cylinders (180 and 240 hp), and, at the top, a 300-hp, 3.0-liter V-6, which will replace the ancient V-8. All engines will be bolted to either a six-speed manual or a nine-speed automatic, and both transmissions can be coupled to an extra-cost, low-range transfer case and two differential locks.
Mudhounds will appreciate the Defender’s continued off-road capability, but those worried about dirtying their Ferragamos will be more enticed by tangible improvements to comfort, safety, ergonomics, quality, efficiency, infotainment, and ride and handling. Though a live axle setup will survive, it will no longer be located in a ladder frame made of tank-grade iron. Instead, engineering has opted to mate two subframes to a light, rigid unibody. The architecture, dubbed D7u, is loosely related to all future Jaguars and could influence projects throughout the rest of the Land Rover and Range Rover lineups.
At the end of the day, D7u’s modularity should help make the Defender’s small production run profitable. To save weight and cost, the Defender’s platform will be de-contented wherever necessary. Air suspension and active body control are, for instance, off limits, but a bespoke Terrain Response system and up-to-date infotainment options are indispensable. A similar strategy applies to the assistance systems. Among the nice-to-haves will be surround-view cameras, navigation with dedicated off-road properties, adaptive extended range headlights, and hill-descent and hill-climb control.
From farmers to fashionistas, about 30,000 people are expected to pick up a new Land Rover Defender each year. Not huge, but a big jump for the brand, and production can be substantially increased if demand justifies it. Given what’s to come, the 2019 Land Rover Defender is bound to eclipse its blackballed predecessor in price, ability, and mass appeal.
Illustrations by A. Avarvarii.