Land Rover’s upcoming high-tech Defender will leave last-gen model in the dust

Land Rover Defender official spy shot

Land Rover has dropped more details about the next-generation Defender, which is unquestionably the British company’s most anticipated new model of the decade. The long-awaited off-roader will be considerably more modern than the last-generation car while remaining exceptionally capable off-road, according to the brand’s chief executive. Fear not: it’s not going soft.

“Technology is going to be mandatory in the new Defender. You simply can’t build this kind of vehicle without it anymore. You can’t achieve the emissions levels and you cannot achieve the CO2 levels required of vehicles these days,” Land Rover CEO Ralf Speth said in an interview with Australian website CarAdvice.

The original Defender was introduced in 1983 — not 1948 as many claim; that was the Series I — and it changed little during its production run. By 2015, its last full calendar year in production, it had become endearingly obsolete. We had a blast driving one of the last examples to be built through a French forest but concluded it felt, sounded, and drove like a vehicle from another era. The new one coming out in 2019 was developed to feel, sound, and drive like a true 21st-century luxury SUV.

It will be available with features like adaptive cruise control and hill descent control, and you can safely bet your next paycheck on the fact that the Defender will have a massive touchscreen in the center console. Bluetooth connectivity and voice commands? Check and check. Well-equipped models will even boast creature comforts like leather-upholstered heated seats and, possibly, a digital instrument cluster, features the original truck could only dream of.

Upping the Defender’s tech quotient will significantly broaden its customer base. Land Rover sold about 20,000 examples of the old Defender annually. It made the new model’s business case around a ceiling of approximately 100,000 cars per year, a figure it will achieve by offering different variants and body styles. The lineup will include two- and four-door models plus a pickup, though the latter body style might not arrive until later in the production run. And, this time around, the Defender will be sold in the United States.

Spy shots showing pre-production prototypes confirm that pedestrian safety norms and the basic principles of aerodynamics prevented Land Rover from giving the next-generation Defender a boxy design. Land Rover sent Digital Trends a low-resolution image of a fully-camouflaged Defender prototype backing out of a trailer. It doesn’t reveal much, but it at least confirms the model carries on with a rear-mounted spare tire. The company will release additional details on December 27 ahead of a full reveal in 2019. We can’t wait to see it.

The portfolio will range from a relatively basic off-roader to a full-on luxury chariot positioned as an alternative to the Mercedes-Benz G-Class. Credible rumors claim it will ride on a unibody platform instead of using a body-on-frame architecture, but Speth stressed it will still be “exceptional.” It will certainly have the DNA to become one of the best off-roaders on the market.

“It requires a state-of-the-art design and technology in this kind of vehicle, so looking only forward, not backward,” Speth said.

Updated December 18, 2018: Added the latest information and photos about the 2020 Land Rover Defender.

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