Land Rover Delivers a Classic Defender with a Penchant For Off-Road Adventures

After 43 months of extensive engineering and testing, the new Defender was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show.

From the moment it made its debut at the Amsterdam Motor Show in 1948, the Land Rover Defender—then known simply as Land Rover—has epitomized off-road, all-terrain, adventurous driving. By 1966, the British automaker had built half-a-million examples and exported them all around the world. A decade later, those production numbers had doubled. In 1990, the iconic adventure vehicle was formally branded the Defender, and across subsequent decades, Land Rover’s flagship model has continued to evolve. That is, until global production came to a screeching halt in early 2016.

The New Land Rover Defender.

In September 2019, after 43 months of extensive engineering and testing, Land Rover’s new Defender was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show. The automaker’s contemporary interpretation retains the model’s characteristic short front and rear overhangs—design features that create optimal approach and departure angles—plus a side-hinged rear tailgate and externally mounted spare tire. Those elements, combined with the vehicle’s purposeful upright stance, have produced a modern Defender that pays homage to the original’s unmistakable silhouette.

“The new Defender is respectful of its past but is not harnessed by it,” says Gerry McGovern, Land Rover’s chief design officer. “This is our vision of a modern Defender. The clean body side contrasts dramatically against the sheer verticality of its front and particularly its rear to create a reassuringly purposeful stance.

Speaking of purposeful, Land Rover developed an all-aluminum platform for the new Defender, a monocoque construction that has produced the stiffest Land Rover body to date. Three times more rigid than a traditional body-on-frame design, the new Defender’s foundation now supports a fully independent suspension, twin-speed transfer box, and permanent four-wheel drive. It also means that every body panel on the Defender is exclusive to the model, fabricated on a dedicated assembly line.

The new Defender also offers plenty of customizable options. Buyers can choose from a dozen wheel designs—ranging from 18-inch, white-painted, pressed steel rims to 22-inch Luna alloys. They can also select one of seven exterior colors (including three new metallic shades), and they can further enhance their vehicles with one of four accessory packages. The explorer pack, for example, includes a lightweight expedition roof rack and an exterior side-mounted gear carrier; while the adventure pack features a trunk-mounted integrated air compressor and a portable rinse system equipped with a 1.7-gallon pressurized water reservoir. For those who prefer trekking the concrete jungle, Land Rover created an urban pack identified by a bright rear scuff plate, a front undershield, and a spare wheel cover, among other accoutrements.

Regardless of the terrain that they intend to traverse, consumers can accelerate with confidence, knowing that Land Rover put the model through all its paces. The vehicle’s on-road dynamics were dialed in at Germany’s Nürburgring facility, for example, while its off-road capabilities were tested along the rocky trails in Moab, Utah and across Dubai’s sand dunes. All told, the Defender performed in environments where the mercury spiked as high as 122 degrees Fahrenheit and plummeted to as low as negative 40 degrees. By the end of April, the model’s fleet of prototypes had logged almost 750,000 miles.

Buyers in the U.S. market have two powertrain options: They can select a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which produces 296 horsepower, or a six-cylinder Mild-Hybrid Electric Vehicle (MHEV) powertrain, which produces 395 horsepower. In either configuration, the new Defender is boosted by Land Rover’s proprietary Configurable Terrain Response, a system that allows drivers to fine-tune the vehicle’s setup to best conquer an area’s unique off-road conditions.

The new Defender 110 will go on sale this coming spring, starting at $49,900, with a shorter wheelbase variant scheduled for release later in the year.