Not your dad's Defender

IN FOCUS

CAMERON KIRBY

EVOLUTION not revolution. It’s a refrain so often uttered when iconic models are due for an update. Think BMW 3 Series, or possibly the biggest culprit, the Porsche 911. Engineers and product planners want to tweak and refine, without risking customer alienation with a radically new recipe.

Well, no-one told Land Rover, which has just revealed its all-new Defender to the world at the Frankfurt motor show, 71 years after the original Series 1 Land Rover launched, and 36 years since the last generational update. And we really do mean all new, with not a single part on the L663 shared with its forebear.

The early meetings that shaped what would underpin the L663 were held around chief engineer Nick Rogers’ kitchen table, his personal Series 1 parked in the garden as discussions took place over a curry and a few pints.

At launch there are a pair of body types, the three-door 90 and five-door 110. A key difference between the two is the wheelbase, with the 110 gaining 435mm between the wheelarches to accommodate an extra row of seats.

Solid axles have also been consigned to history, with Land Rover utilising independent suspension front and rear for the new Defender. Engineers wanted to ensure the new aluminium components ts ts ts ts ts ts t were tough enough to withstand a traditional Defender pounding, so they drove the car repeatedly at a 20cm sheer r kerb at 40km/h.

Coil suspension is standard on the 90, while every 110 gets air suspension from the factory (optional on three-door models), allowing it to add an extra 135mm of ride height at the front and 145mm at the rear. The core numbers for off-road enthusiasts are impressive, with every L663 Defender having an approach angle of 38 degrees and a departure angle of 40 degrees.

Being a ‘modern’ Defender, there is a fully digitised instrument cluster and infotainment system. There are even door armrests – a first for the nameplate. All up, there are 85 different computers hidden beneath the skin, with all electronics capable of submersion for one hour in a metre of fresh water without intrusion or damage. Handy, since the Defender is able to wade in waters of up to 900mm.

Each bodystyle will offer four engines – two petrol and two diesel – and five specification levels. However, to prevent an excessively oversized local line-up, JLR Australia will prune the local offering down to just the P400 mild-hybrid turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six petrol engine producing 294kW/550Nm, along with the 147kW D200 and 177kW D240 four-cylinder diesel units. Available variants are yet to be determined, but will be reduced to limit line-up bloat.

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No longer framed

The most fundamental changes for the Defender are in the chassis and suspension. Gone is the ladderframe body-on-chassis design, with the new Defender utilising a modified version of Land Rover’s existing D7 monocoque architecture. Dubbed D7x – with the x standing for extreme, apparently – the aluminiumintensive structure is 45kg heavier than that which underpins the Discovery thanks to additional highstrength steel used selectively to add rigidity..

Whichever engine is chosen, power is delivered via a ZF eight-speed automatic, and all variants have dual-range four-wheel drive, with a low crawl ratio of 51.5:1 for diesel versions and 57.2:1 for the six-cylinder petrol.

The 110 will arrive in Australia next year and will start around $70,000. The 90 is not due until 2021.

Defender traditionalists may turn their nose up at the new vehicle, but the blunt assessment from the men who designed and engineered it is that it was never meant for those people. Revolution, indeed.

CAMERON KIRBY