The first sighting of Land Rover’s reborn icon with more production ready bodywork came from official ‘spyshots’ of the five-door ‘110’ variant, and soon after our snapper caught the short-wheelbase three-door ’90’ model testing in disguise. An even longer-wheelbase ‘130’ version is rumoured, too.
This time, a prototype has hit the roads with a rear-mounted spare wheel for the first time. It’s not clear yet if that’s a feature that will make production, but it’s likely given the car’s off-road focus and the styling link to the old model.
The previous pictures showed the new Defender in camo livery on the roads near the Jaguar Land Rover factory. Asked about the official images at the Paris motor show, Felix Bräutigam, Jaguar Land Rover’s marketing chief, admitted they were of the first prototypes to leave Gaydon, and said more would follow in coming months as the ramp-up to production begins.
“These are what we call Pilot build cars and testing will increase on public roads from now,” said Bräutigam. “The first four cars are ready, and now the line is running you can expect the number of test cars to grow exponentially.
“In time, as you’d expect, the Defender will go through all the usual test routines, from cold weather testing in Arjeplog in Sweden to extreme hot weather testing in Death Valley in the USA. It’s exciting for us to be able to now be one step closer to bringing the car to market, of course. We are talking about the rebirth of an icon and not just as a single car, but as a whole family.
“Our brand is about passion, and it is icons that drive that passion. The truth is the world doesn’t need another premium brand doing what all the others do. These icons are what separate us; at Land Rover we are rooted in our heritage and that’s what makes us different.”
Bräutigam added that he felt the time taken between the Defender going off sale in 2016 and relaunching could be a positive for the new car, including the liklihood that it will be offered with electrified powertrains as well as petrol and diesel units.
“If we had wanted to recreate the existing car then we could have moved quicker, but it is our view that for an icon to remain an icon it cannot only look backwards, but must move forwards too. The new Defender will move the game on again, and having the benefit for some perspective in order to achieve that should be to our advantage.
“The one thing I can promise you is that the new Defender will do all that our customers expect of it, without being a copycat of what has gone before. It is a car for the modern world, and that means that it must move the game on if it is to be relevant.”
A Jaguar Land Rover spokesperson had initially declined to comment on the pictures but, asked when the new Defender might be launched, said: “We can confirm customers around the world will be taking delivery of and enjoying Defender again from 2020.”
According to the DVLA database, the vehicle registered with the numberplate seen in our spy shots is powered by a 2.0-litre diesel engine.
Talking to Autocar at the Paris show before the spy shots emerged, Jaguar Land Rover boss Ralph Speth confirmed he has driven a prototype of the new Defender, describing its off-road credentials as “sensational”.
Hinting that the machine could be revealed next year, Speth added: “It is quite clear the Defender is our icon and we have been working to bring it back. It is a founding element of our brand and I was excited to try the test car.
“I won’t talk about timings but it is coming. The decision to stop making it was the saddest day but we had to make that decision to invest in the factories and to build for the future. Now we are ready to return.”
In one of the spy shots captured by our photographer, the window is wound down and a driver can be seen. It appears to be Nick Rogers, Jaguar Land Rover’s executive director of product engineering, although the firm refused to comment.
The reborn Defender is being developed in two forms: a short wheelbase 90-badged model, and a larger 110 version. Autocar has previously revealed that the two wheelbase sizes will allow the firm to develop a whole family of vehicles, ranging from basic utilitarian machines up to luxurious high-end models.
While the new Defender, which has the development codename L663, has previously been spied conducting off-road cold weather testing, the new spy shots are the first time it has been seen on public roads. Although the firm remained tight-lipped, sources have suggested it is likely to be launched in autumn next year, with first deliveries then following in early 2020.
With on-road running having started, the testing schedule is likely to ramp up from now on, and test mules of the new Defender are likely to be a regular sight on public roads as Land Rover hones the vehicle. The aim for the new machine is to offer the “biggest breadth of capability of any model to wear the badge”, with prices tipped to range from over £45,000 to £70,000.
The previous Defender went out of production in January 2016, and the firm has been working since then to develop a successor.
The original Land Rover Series I, from which the Defender is derived, launched 70 years ago in 1948.
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