It has been years since we’ve seen a Defender, but Land Rover is introducing this all-new version at the Frankfurt auto show.
There will be two wheelbases as in the past, using the familiar “90” and “110” nomenclature; the four-door 110 comes to U.S. buyers first, with the two-door 90 joining in late 2020.
U.S. prices range from just over $50,000 to a high of more than $80,000 for the 110 model, and first deliveries can be expected in the spring.
It’s hard to imagine a world without a Jeep Wrangler or one of the ultra-tough versions of the Toyota Land Cruiser that are still sold in the more rugged parts of the globe. But we’ve had a world without a Defender for a few years now: Land Rover allowed its brand-defining origin model to retire in 2016 without a replacement, an error that is only now being corrected with the arrival of an all-new model.
Of course, U.S. buyers have been denied the Defender for far longer; we lost our ability to buy the last version as long ago as 1997. The SUV was killed for the U.S. market by its lack of airbags or, indeed, any modern safety gear. The good news is that the new Defender will be coming to America from launch, and that it will also be a far more advanced offering than its charmingly crude predecessor.
The Defender won’t be U.K. built; Land Rover is switching production to its plant in the Slovak Republic, which already makes the Discovery. But the new car’s boxy styling and tall form are strongly reminiscent of the original, a vehicle that, as Land Rover’s design director Gerry McGovern put it, “had a shape that even a child can draw.” But while the basic shape has endured apart from a much shallower windshield angle, the look has become much more sleek and modern. “We need to recognize the past, but we also need to move on,” McGovern said.
That means a visual sleekness to the exterior styling, with details including rear LED lights that are fully integrated into the bodywork and—to judge from the pre-production cars that Car and Driver was shown ahead of the launch—panel gaps measuring in fractions of an inch what the old Defender scored in inches. A rear-door-mounted spare-wheel carrier is a traditional touch, as is the decision to continue to offer two wheelbases distinguished by “90” and “110” branding. In the old Land Rover those numbers corresponded to the two models’ wheelbases in inches, but the translation has been lost with this one: using Land Rover’s numbers, the 90’s wheelbase is now 101.9 inches, and the 110’s is 119.0 inches.
One curious design detail is what LR insiders refer to as “the square,” which can be seen in these official images as an extra-thick C-pillar. The additional material isn’t structural, and it will be possible to order the Defender without it, increasing the vision of rear-seat passengers.
The interior feels much more minimalist and utilitarian than the snazzier finishes seen on Range Rover models, with a compact center console for the gear-changing and climate-control settings, lots of naked metal finishes, and what we are promised is a newer and smarter version of Jaguar Land Rover’s InControl Touch infotainment system.
The 110 will offer three-row seating in a five-plus-two arrangement, and both it and the 90 will be available with a fold-down occasional center seat in the front to boost accommodation. (Cupholders are incorporated on the seatback for use when it is folded down.) Luggage space is similarly generous, with 38 cubic feet of trunk space in the five-seat 110 and 32 cubic feet in three-row models with the rearmost row folded.
A New, Stronger Defender Underneath
Underneath, this Defender is entirely new, sitting on the same aluminum-intensive D7 architecture that underpins the full-size Range Rover, meaning it has a longitudinally mounted engine. The separate frame of the old Defender is gone. Land Rover’s chief engineer, Nick Rogers, says the new monocoque is three times stronger than the very best body-on-frame models. And while the last Defender reached the end of its life with solid axles front and rear, this one switches to Range Rover–derived struts at the front and a fully independent rear end. Air springs will be an option.
Powerplants will all come from JLR’s Ingenium family, with the headline engine being the mild-hybrid P400 six-cylinder. It incorporates an electric supercharger and a motor/generator, both running on a separate 48-volt architecture. With 395 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque, it has more than twice the output of any previous factory-fitted Defender engine. Land Rover claims it will be capable of dispatching the zero-to-60-mph benchmark in what we can only think of as a searing 5.8 seconds; when we said goodbye to the old Defender in 2015, the quickest model in the lineup posted a 12.7-second zero-to-62-mph time.
An eight-speed ZF automatic transmission will be standard on all models—no, the old Landie’s manual gearbox won’t be replicated—as will permanent all-wheel drive with an electronically controlled coupling on the front axle to divert torque forward, but which is also fully lockable. A two-speed transfer box will be standard to help with both off-roading and towing. The Defender will have the capability to haul up to 8201 pounds in U.S. spec. Land Rover is also planning to offer the option of a locking rear differential, but as with other models from the clan, a Terrain Response system will tailor various adaptive settings for different surfaces.
Off-Road Prowess Should Be Considerable
As for off-road capability, Land Rover claims a 38-degree approach angle, 40-degree departure angle, and 31-degree breakover angle for the Defender 90 (28 degrees for the 110). Ground clearance is claimed to be an impressive 11.5 inches, with a wading depth of 35 to 43 inches. Nick Rogers also confirmed to C/D that the external air intake has been designed so an accessory snorkel will fit straight onto it.
During its development, the Defender was trialed extensively in Moab, Utah—more normally a playground for Jeep products—and Land Rover boasts that prototypes have successfully tackled the Hell’s Revenge, Poison Spider, and Steel Bender trails there.
U.S. Defender shoppers will have a choice of Standard (base), SE, HSE, a fully laden First Edition, plus a top X model. The Standard and S models come with the P300 2.0-liter four-cylinder, while the four upper trim levels have the P400 3.0-liter six-cylinder. In addition, U.S. buyers can select several accessory packs to enhance the rugged utility of their vehicle; we were shown an Adventure 90 with side panniers and an air compressor, a 110 Explorer with a high-capacity roof rack and a ladder (with the possibility of fitting an accessory tent), and a bling-laden 90 Urban with 22-inch wheels and a stainless bumper.
The Defender 110 will be going on sale in the U.S. toward the end of 2019, with the first customer deliveries likely to happen in early 2020. The Defender 110 will start at $50,925 for the P300 Standard model. To get the P400 3.0-liter engine, the SE starts at $63,275, and the X starts at $81,925. Land Rover says American buyers can expect to see the short-wheelbase Defender 90 by the end of 2020.