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Land Rover Defender to spawn a Sport, an EV and more

Published: 30 October 2018

► Full details of new 2020 Defender
► The off-roading icon reborn
► Expect whole family of Defenders

We've been busy gathering more details on the new Land Rover Defender, codenamed L851 and due on sale in showrooms in 2020 - bringing the world-famous-but-dormant nameplate back from the dead. It is now certain that Land Rover will launch a Defender Sport model, as well as myriad bodystyles - and a battery electric version is in the works too, slated for launch in 2024.

Earlier this month we published photos capturing the first prototypes of the new Defender on test near the Jaguar Land Rover test facility in Gaydon, Warwickshire. Before this only heavily disguised, cut 'n' shut test hacks had been seen on the public road and now more pieces of the puzzle are falling into place.

Land Rover is busy readying its most important new launch for years. For many, the Defender is the backbone of the brand, but there has been no out-and-out mud-plugger in the range since the original went off sale in 2016. Now that's all set to change with a major investment to relaunch the nameplate.

2020 Land Rover Defender

So the new Land Rover Defender will form an entire family, in much the same way that the Discovery range has branched into the Sport sub-brand. The plan is to offer different models to laser-focused user groups - as evidenced by the plan to launch with an array of accessories such as roof-top tents and other outdoors-focused options.

New Defender: a whole family of 4x4s 

Study the pics closely: they prove the new car will get independent rear suspension (a hint of its dual-purpose, on-road ability) and it looks like the side-hinged tailgate will return, too. The new Defender will dip into the JLR group's confection of aluminum platform know-how - the body-on-ladder-frame construction is out, and a new monocoque architecture is in, according to our sources.

The result is a lighter, stiffer and dimensionally more flexible vehicle which will in future cover the full spectrum from mountain bruiser to boulevard cruiser, from Heritage to Autobiography, from workhorse to boulevardier. Although all derivatives share the fixed points of the same basic architecture, LR will offer a choice of axles, tyres, transmissions and suspension calibrations to meet a wide range of customer requirements.

Land Rover copped some flak for its 2011 concept car, badged DC100 (above), but the spirit of its modernist approach - and variety of flavours - is said to live on. Further down the line, we hear word of Project L860, the Defender Sport due in 2026.

Land Rover Defender Sport: what we know

The Defender Sport is still a long way out. But L860 has our full attention because, similar to Defender, it has the premium entry-level outdoors niche all to itself. While the box-shaped classic is visually and technically off-road-biased, the Sport edition has more of an on-road and lifestyle flavour with plenty of convenience features in addition to the full set of mountain climbing gear.

Think of it as a modern Suzuki Jimny/Jeep Wrangler for the well-to-do in-crowd. To be built in low labour-cost Nitra, the Defender Sport will be available as a full battery electric vehicle.

See the Land Rover DC100 concept cars in full

Engines, specs

Electrification is coming to the Defender family, but most buyers will initially buy internal combustion engines, while battery tech and infrastructure play catch up. Engineering sources have confirmed to CAR quite a few details about the engines and specs of this quintessential reduce-to-the-max British SUV. Buyers will be able to select the number of doors as well as the bodystyle, trim level, character of the car and, of course, the flavour of north-south engine.

2020 Land Rover Defender front end

Expect the familiar JLR-group 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines to provide the entry level, but you're also going to see a selection of new inline six-cylinder engines join the Ingenium family as the old V6s are phased out. Expect 3.0-litre petrol and diesel motors available. All engines are artificially aspirated; some even feature an additional electric charger for an extra helping of take off-grunt and acceleration boost.

The first three Land Rover Defender models to hit the showrooms are tipped to be a LWB four-door metal-top, the SWB two-door metal-top and its soft-top sister model. 

The boss on the new Land Rover Defender

These pictures of the new Defender emerged as the 2018 Paris motor show was in full swing on 2 October 2018. We took the opportunity to ask Jaguar Land Rover CEO Ralph Speth about how the new Defender project is going. 'The Defender is an icon and we are working on it now,' he told CAR magazine. 'It's a true Land Rover, a key part of the brand.' He refused to be drawn on further details, but hinted it would be ready by early next decade. 

A spokesman added: 'Jaguar Land Rover runs a wide range of engineering and technology development programmes. We are unable to comment on the specific nature of these programmes. However we can confirm that the Defender programme is progressing well and has reached an exciting stage of its development.

2020 Land Rover Defender rear

'We can confirm that customers around the world will be taking delivery of and enjoying Defender again from 2020.'

New Land Rover Defender: on sale in 2020

This is the first official guidance on the Defender launch - and it points to a motor show debut at some point later in 2019, in roughly a year's time. Let's say the Frankfurt motor show.

What's key for the new Defender? What has to stay the same and what needs to change? Have your say in the comments below...

By Georg Kacher

European editor, secrets uncoverer, futurist, first man behind any wheel