An icon reborn: the all-new 2020 Land Rover Defender

10th September 2019
Bob Murray

So do you like it? That’s the question car enthusiasts all around the world are asking themselves of the new Land Rover Defender, revealed for the first time today (10th September 2019) at the Frankfurt Motor Show.


It’s been a long time coming – reinventing an icon ain’t easy or quick – but we have had plenty of clues as to what it will be, and more important what it won’t be, like. Today’s the day we see what Land Rover has made of reinventing the last remaining automotive icon from the 20th century, often cited as the car world’s biggest challenge.

It’s a Defender. The 90 and 110 badges say so, as does the permanent all-wheel-drive, short overhangs, transfer box, locking centre diff, “Alpine” windows and vertical tail with side-hinged tailgate and external spare. You can even have it with steel wheels, a fabric roof and three-abreast front seats. There’s to be a commercial version too. Plainly a Defender. Prices start at around £40,000.


And yet clearly not a Defender. There’s no flat glass and vertical sides here, no castellated bonnet or exposed rivets. The windscreen is raked back and the wheelarches bulge out. There’s an entry-level four-pot diesel but no manual gearbox. The structure is a lightweight aluminium monocoque rather than the body-on-frame chassis it has been since 1948.

The shock of the new goes on: fully independent suspension – by coils or air springs – and a line-up that includes a 48-volt electrified six-cylinder engine with 400PS (395bhp) for 0-62mph in 6.4 seconds. Yes there are chunky rubber mats and plenty of bare metal in the cabin, but there’s also 3D surround cameras, a touch screen and a system that uses 5G networks so the car can automatically update, or fix, itself wherever in the world it may be via data transfer. Not like any Defender we have ever known then. Prices finish at almost £80,000.


The message from Land Rover with the new machine has always been: think modern and hi-tech, not retro, something elucidated at the unveiling by L-R design chief Gerry McGovern: “The new Defender is respectful of its past but is not harnessed by it, a visually compelling 4x4 that wears its design and engineering integrity with uncompromised commitment.”

For product chief Nick Rogers the new Defender is about “pushing the boundaries and doing the unthinkable, without ever losing the character and authenticity of the original. From the start we had an absolute obsession with functionality.”

Balancing authenticity with modernity was surely the only  approach because the new one has both to deny its past (by the end the old Defender was terrible to drive on-road) while simultaneously building on it. Without a heritage after all what would this car be? Just as competent for sure but also hugely diminished.

None of which means you have to like the result of course, but actually – quick first impressions here ­– we do. It’s clearly a Land Rover, if not instantly a new Defender. And it’s clearly trying to do its own thing with a character that we see getting stronger with the years. We also like it because in evokes the old Discovery 3 in ways the more SUV-like latest Disco doesn’t.


In revealing it at Frankfurt Land Rover has, a little surprisingly, given us the works: masses of pictures, videos and all the specifications and prices across what is going to be a large and diverse range. It’s a lot to digest in one go. We have summarised some of the key number at end of this story.

What we have in essence though are two Defenders, the 90 three-door and 110 five-door, named after the historic wheelbase (in inches) of its predecessor. Actually the new wheelbases are nothing like 90 and 110; try 102 and 119 inches instead. So it’s quite big, the external spare taking the 110 just past the 5m mark in length.

Both share the same basic design, with slightly curious, if undoubtedly functional, body-colour C-pillar panel. Many of the pictures of the pale green three-door show it to be in its new satin body wrap, newly developed to help protect it against scratches.


You can have your Defender with five, six or seven (what L-R calls 5+2) seats. An occasional jump seat between the two front chairs folds down to reprise the old Landie’s three-abreast layout. It’s not quite hose-out inside but the emphasis is on the rugged and simple, as well as on family-friendly design and features including the latest infotainment system. There’s also a big emphasis on personalisation, with masses of colour and trim choices and accessories (dog shower anyone?).

Two things any Defender has to excel at are towing (it will pull 3.5 tonnes) and off-roading. Land Rover doesn’t say much about the four-wheel-drive system – other than the drive to all four wheels is “permanent” – but it’s sure to be based on the latest smart tech from the other models.

There’s a locking centre differential (operated from the touchscreen) and an optional active rear locking diff. The transmission in all versions is a ZF eight-speed automatic hooked up to a transfer case offering a set of low-range gears.


And of course there is Terrain Response which offers all the usual traction options along with a new Wade function. As well as raising the ride height (in the air suspended version), locking the diffs and setting ventilation to recirc, it displays the depth of the water on the dashboard screen. Land Rover says he result of all this, plus the super-strong new monocoque shell and independent suspension, is a new world standard of off-road ability.

But the real revelation promises to be in ride and refinement on-road. As L-R’s driver-in-chief Mike Cross says: “The old Defender was fun to drive, but flawed. New Defender is fun, but without the flaws.”

Coil or electronically controlled air springs with variable ride height are available across the range and, as you would expect, there’s a full suite of electronic driver aids and safety systems.


Under the bonnet? There are two 2.0-litre, 429Nm (317lb ft) diesels, with either 200 or 240PS. The 200 gets from 0-62 in 10.3 seconds but gets 37mpg. And there are two petrols, a turbo 2.0-litre four with 300PS (0-62 in 8.1 seconds) and, surprise, a mild hybrid in the form of the P400 version.

The Defender mild hybrid marries a six-cylinder Ingenium motor with a 48-volt electrical system to drive a supercharger and  belt-integrated starter motor, so it can harvest energy and store it in its lithium-ion batteries. This drivetrain  makes 400PS with 550Nm (406 lb ft) of torque and takes the top Defender from 0-62 in 6.4 seconds. It claims 29.4mpg (under the old test regime at least) with 220 g/km of CO2.

The P400 can’t drive under electrical power alone; that is the promise coming next year in the form of a plug-in hybrid Defender that will be able to offer a limited range of electric-only driving.

The Defender to please everyone? That’s quite an ask, but clearly here is a Defender that’s been thoroughly future-proofed to be  as functional and capable as ever. All we have to do now is fall in love with it.


New Defender by numbers

£78,800 price for the 400PS six-cylinder in top of the range X spec

£40,290 starting price (tbc) of short wheelbase 90, rising to £45,240 for the first-available 110

1,075 litre boot capacity in the 110, rising to 2,380 litres with the 40-20-40 split rear seats folded down

900kg payload, plus 300kg roof load and 3,500kg towing capacity

900mm wading depth, ground clearance of 291mm and off-roading angles for the 110 of 38, 28 and 40 degrees for approach, breakover and departure respectively

170 accessories, including a rooftop tent, deployable roof ladder and remote-control winch

128 markets worldwide, with sales of the 110 beginning now, 90 next year

90 and 110 model names of old, but wheelbases are actually 3,022mm (119 inches) and 2,587mm (102 inches).

12 wheel designs, ranging from 18-inch steel to 22-inch alloys

6 trim levels: Defender, S, SE, HSE, First Edition and top of the range Defender X

5 seats, or six or seven, and three or five-door bodies

4 accessory packs: Country, Explorer, Urban and Adventure

3x: the monocoque’s torsional rigidity is said to be three times greater than the old body-on-frame design

  • Land Rover

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  • Frankfurt Motor Show

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  • 2019

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