What is Land Rover’s DNA? For many, it’s an automotive helix spun around the farmer’s truck; a four-wheel-drive that was more comfortable in the paddocks than posing down High Street - even though later in life it would look good doing that too.
But the new Defender, due next year, which comes after 67-years of the previous-generation truck, won’t be anything like the old one. At least it won’t if you’re used to that charming country character.
Speaking with Wheels this week, Mark Cameron, Managing Director for Jaguar Land Rover Australia, says that while the new four-wheel-drive will remain capable, its focus is to be a much easier steer in the suburbs, catering for a broader audience than before.
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“If you look at the previous generation, and the generations before that, it started off as a farmer’s vehicle. [The new Defender’s] positioning is going to be slightly different,” he tells us.
“That first generation had so many different body styles; you could put a flat bed, a cherry picker on it if you wanted too. The amount of conversions that people did with the previous generation was huge.”
It’s no surprise then that the new Defender, which will adopt a unique version of the D7U aluminium monocoque chassis found in the Discover, will be oriented towards urban buyers. By contrast, the old Defender was a niche player in the Toorak tractor scene, a manual transmission and bare bones equipment limiting appeal. And lacklustre engine emissions prevented JLR from selling it in important markets.
“Here’s the crucial thing, it also has to be modern. If you look at the old car in a rational perspective, it fell short of what many people expect these days, whether that be in safety or emissions, ride comfort, technology and connectivity, all those things.
“The real challenge for our designers and engineers has been to find that sweet spot where you don’t lose the DNA of what people loved about the old defender, but you correct the era states, and things that people now expect and legislation demands,” he said.
“You have to remember that with the old Defender we couldn’t sell it in half the world. North America we couldn’t sell it, Europe we couldn’t sell it because of emissions, so we had to do something, and what I have seen of the car, I think it will talk to those people that want something that is Defender-eque but is also modern and comes with good on road manners.
But just because Land Rover are targeting a wider net of customers doesn’t mean it won’t be competent off-road, which has to be some of the Defender USP. In fact, Cameron tells us that the new model will be just as capable in the backwoods using new monocoque technology as it was on the old body-on-frame chassis. .
“Where this car will absolutely meet the DNA of the previous Defender is in the durability and capability. But it won’t be the traditional farmer’s vehicle that it once was.”