If you ever ask what is the definite off roader to 100 people across the globe, at least 80 of them will pick the Land Rover Defender. Such is the charm of the rustic, bare bones but ultra-capable offering from Land Rover. But the production of this legend is nearing its end – the company is ceasing the production by December 2015 – January 2016 period. According to the latest news by Autonews, the successor of the legend will make the debut in 2018 and could be offered in 5 body styles with 5 different engine choices and 2 transmissions.
A brief history
Introduced to the British motoring world in 1983, the Defender has proved its mettle in some of the world's toughest arenas and has been the choice of vehicle for almost all of the expeditions into wilderness. It is the first production vehicle to travel 18,000 miles from England to Singapore, and has been the choice of artic expeditions. Apparently, the 2.25 L engine that came in Land Rover does not really need a snorkel – it is so rugged that it runs even in full of water. The production of the Defender started as Land Rover One Ten and was followed by Land Rover Ninety in 1984. In 1989, the name Defender was formally introduced and from 1991, the Ninety and the One Ten models were renamed as the "Defender 90" and "Defender 110".
The design of the Land Rover Defender was largely unchanged from the original boxy shape of mechanically bullet proof Land Rover series and has the reputation of being one of the most capable off roader in the world, much like the G-Class from Mercedes Benz. It was one of the most versatile off roaders we have seen so far. There were Land Rover tanks, Land Rover trains, and even conveyor belts made by Land Rover, which the Indian Army brought in thousands and were also used by everyone, right from the medical corps to the SAS.
Often described as the ultimate off roader, the Defender had a loyal fan base, ranging from the blue collar factory worker to the British Royal Family. The list of famous owners includes famous personalities like Kevin Costner, Sylvester Stallone, Bill Murray, Brayan Adams, Ralph Lauren, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Cruise, Jane Fonda and Paul McArtney to name a few. The Defender has starred in numerous movies (remember the tough-as-nails Defender in Lara Croft – Tomb Raider or the epic stunt by Richard Hammond where he scales a dam with the Defender, recreating an advert from the 1980s) including the recent James Bond flick – Spectre. The Demise
Though unparalleled in many ways, the company had to stop the production of the Defender since the EU authorities have marked the legendary SUV for failing to meet the emission, pedestrian safety and crash standards. To pay its respect to the legend, Land Rover drew a giant outline of the SUV of about 1KM in the sand at Red Wharf Bay in Anglesey (Wales), where Maurice & Spencer Wilks first drew the sketch of the model in 1947. Six Defenders drew the outline with 12-foot farming tills attached to them. Six legendary models comprising of Land Rover – Series I, II and III, Land rover Ninety, a Defender 90 Hard Top and a Defender 110 Station Wagon came together at the beach to complete this homage.
While the curtain is slowly closing down (the company is planning to end the production in Dec 2015 – Jan 2016 Period), all is not lost. The company has plans to introduce a successor but with a time gap of about 2 to 3 years.
While the original Defender was targeted at the farmers, Authorities, Militaries and though it gained a wide access to the discerning gentleman garage due to its rugged charm, the company has to reposition the new model to make sure that the model is a commercial success. The new model will have to target consumers at two ends of a spectrum – the hard core off roaders as well as the fashion conscious urban dwellers who fancy themselves as off road enthusiasts, so it is not an easy task to redesign the legend. The design has to be a fine balance between hardy and approachable, so that it don't lose the acceptance with the hard core off road enthusiast, but at the same time, gain acceptance to the garage of the city warrior who fancies a trip or two to the grasslands.
According to few unconfirmed reports, the new Defender will ride on a new platform called "D7u", which is a derivative of Land Rover's PLA unibody structure – so, while it is a departure from the traditional ladder on frame structure of current Defender, it will offer more comfort, safety and modularity in comparison to the original one. This is the same structure that is used by larger Range Rover SUVs, and will still have crucial features like low range transfer case with two differential locks, live axle setup, etc. for superior off road performance. Rumor is also that the new model will have as many as five different body styles – ranging from a tough and no frills short wheel base model to a long wheel base luxury off roader, and will have an open top and a pick up in the lineup. If the inside talks are any indication to go by, the recently launched limited edition Heritage, Adventure and Autobiography editions of the Defender can be seen as a baby step towards this differentiation.
These models will be powered by engines from the Jaguar Land Rover's new engine series called Ingenium. The family contains a total of five models – two 2-liter diesel engines with four-cylinders churning out the maximum power of 150bhp and 180bhp, two 2-liter petrol engines with four-cylinders producing a maximum power of 180bhp and 240bhp and a 3.0-liter V6 engine topping a power of 300bhp. The transmissions on offer will be a six-speed manual and a nine-speed automatic gearbox.
While Defender's off-road ability will be surely appreciated by the puritans, the new users will be interested by the huge improvements in comfort, ergonomics, safety, efficiency and ride and handling. One of the major challenges the designers and the bean counters will face is to make the production run profitable and to help this, the Defender will not have costly additions like air suspension or an active body control, but however, a dedicated Terrain Response System and an up-to-date infotainment system will most probably make its way to the features list. The assisting features like hill ascend control, hill descended control, navigation with emphasis on off-the-road performance will also be a part of the list of equipment available, though we have to wait and see what all make it as a part of the standard equipment list. The predicted sale is about 30,000 units per year globally, and while this is not a huge number, this sure is a huge step forward and the production can be scaled up to meet the demand, if the demand is more than the predicted supply. It is sure that the new Defender will surpass the current model by a huge margin when it comes to mass appeal, ability, safety and price, but will face stiff competition from the new Mercedes Benz G Class and Jeep Wrangler – another two iconic off roaders.
The new design will have to be equally good for the guy in his Harris Tweed jacket as well as for the British Royal Family and the whole world is waiting with bated breath to see how Land Rover delivers it.