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After a 68-year lifetime Land Rover's original design is no more. The MY2020 replacement is quite different.

Land Rover diehards may be bitterly disappointed with the design of the new Defender that is a more off-road capable Range Rover rather than a Defender. The only carry-over signature from the original Defender is aluminium bodywork.

If you climb underneath the new Defender it’s patently obvious that its powertrain, driveline and suspensions are almost identical to those fitted to the Discovery and Range Rovers. Exterior and interior styling apes the square-rigged Series Land Rovers, Countys and Defenders, but there’s nothing left of that original DNA. Nor will there be a ute derivative.

What does remain is off-road ability and the new vehicle is billed as being ‘expedition-ready’. It has a maximum payload of up to 900kg, roof load of 168kg, towing capacity of 3500kg and wading depth of up to 900mm.

The initial release is a 110 five-door model that is to be followed by a shorter wheelbase three-door 90 model.

The new Defender has styling echoes from its predecessor: minimal front and rear overhangs, Alpine light windows in the roof and a side-hinged rear tailgate with externally-mounted spare wheel.

Gerry McGovern, Land Rover’s chief designer said: “The new Defender is respectful of its past but is not harnessed by it.

“This is a new Defender for a new age.”

Inside, structural elements and fixings usually hidden from view have been exposed and the floor covering is rubberised fabric. There’s a dash-mounted gear shifter that allows fitment of an optional central front ‘jump’ seat, which provides three-abreast seating, like early Land Rovers did.

As a result, the Defender 110 offers five, six or 5+2 seating configurations, with a load space behind the second-row seats of up to 1075 litres, and as much as 2380 litres when the second row is folded.

The Defender 90 can accommodate six occupants in a vehicle the length of a compact family hatchback.

An optional full-length folding fabric roof provides an open-top feel and allows passengers in the second-row seats of the 110 to stand up when parked ‘to provide the full safari experience’, whatever that is. The biggest takers of this feature are likely to be Middle East sheiks, who love the sport of falconing.

The new bodywork is lightweight aluminium monocoque construction that results in the stiffest body structure Land Rover has ever produced and is said to be three times stiffer than traditional body-on-frame designs. Although an aluminium monocoque is a weight-saving design initiative the new Defender is no lightweight vehicle, with tare estimated around at least 2.2 tonnes.

The stiff structure provides the base for the fully independent air or coil sprung suspension and the Frankfurt Motor Show release Defenders had suspension units and diff housings that appeared to be very similar to those fitted to the Discovery and to current Range Rovers.

During development testing, prototype models have covered millions of kilometres across some of the harshest environments on earth, ranging from the 50-degree heat of the desert and sub 40-degree cold of the Arctic to altitudes of 3000 metres in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

The driveline has permanent all-wheel drive, ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox, two-speed transfer case with centre differential lock and optional active locking rear differential.

Configurable Terrain Response debuts on the new Defender. ClearSight Ground View technology shows the area usually hidden by the bonnet on a central touchscreen.

Ground clearance is up to 291mm.

A choice of petrol and diesel engines will be supplemented by a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) powertrain later in 2020.

At launch, the petrol engine is an in-line, three-litre, six-cylinder P400 (297kW), featuring efficient mild hybrid electric vehicle technology. The four-cylinder diesels are a D200 (147kW) and a D240 (177kW).

The Defender introduces Land Rover’s
Pivi Pro infotainment system and takes software-over-the-air (SOTA) technology to a new level, with 14 individual modules capable of receiving updates.

The model range comprises Defender, First Edition and top of the range Defender X models, as well as standard, S, SE, HSE specification packs, plus four accessory packs: Explorer, Adventure, Country and Urban.

In addition to the accessory packs, the Defender has the widest choice of individual accessories ever assembled for a new Land Rover, including a remote control electric winch, rooftop tent, inflatable waterproof awnings, tow bars and roof racks.

If you’re keen to put in your order, make sure you have financing organised: the base price for the five-door, coil-spring wagon is a heady $70,000, so top-shelf models are likely to be over the magic $100k mark. The release date in Australia is expected to be June 2020 and we’ll have more detail on the vehicle well before then.


Previous models

Land Rover Defender 110 WagonThe Land Rover Defender ceased production on Friday, January 29th, 2016: almost 68 years since its predecessor, the Series One Land Rover went into production.

The first Land Rover came on to the scene in April 1948 and was modelled on American WWII Jeeps.

However, there was surplus warplane aluminium sheet in Britain, so that was used for the bodywork, instead of the Jeep’s steel panels.

The original Land Rover design lasted through three series until 1983, at which time it was rebadged County and fitted with coil springs and full-time 4WD. The Defender was released in 1992.

In 2016 LandRover sold the two-millionth unit since production of the original began in 1948 and the remarkable $A820,000 auction price was donated to charity.

Defender 2,000,000 was built by Land Rover brand ambassadors and people from the company’s history, including the sons of the founders of Land Rover, Stephen and Nick Wilks, actress and conservationist Virginia McKenna, and adventurer Bear Grylls. The car was also given the tick of approval by the original project engineer for Land Rover, Arthur Goddard, now aged 94 and living in Australia.

The vehicle wore special ‘S90 HUE’ registration plates, paying tribute to the original ‘HUE 166’ registration of the first pre-production Land Rover.

Land Rover Defender 110 WagonThe last iterations of the Defender were in 2007 and 2012.

The 2007 Defender’s bonnet bulge accommodated an intercooled 2.4-litre turbo-diesel four from the Ford Transit range that put out 90kW at 3500rpm and 360Nm at 2000rpm, with 315Nm from 1500rpm.

That engine was replaced by a smaller capacity 2.2-litre in 2012, with identical outputs.

The 2007 Defender came standard with ABS brakes and traction control.  It also retained a bush-preferred transmission drum handbrake.

The Defender had full-time four wheel drive, via a lockable centre diff. Towing rating was for a 3500kg braked trailer.

The Defender rolled on aluminium wheels with tubeless tyres and buyers could opt for the 130 ute’s 7.50R16 tubeless rubber on steel wheels.

Land Rover Defender 110 WagonThere was a DNA change inside the new Defender, where the dashboard was unlike anything that had gone before it: a single-piece moulding incorporating a plastic-covered binnacle with large, legible instruments, including – be still my beating heart – a rev counter! 

But there was more: four, fan-fed air vents that piped standard, real, air-conditioned air (not the mildly cooled and dried puff of yesteryear), a CD/radio, switches for the front powered windows and a passenger-side bin with a solid grab handle.

The passenger’s right foot no longer needed to fight for space with the heater plenum. Fear not, Landophiles: the clock was still analogue, not digital. The Defender had remote central locking and front power windows, bucket front seats and a three-seat rear bench with tight legroom.

The Defender was available for the first time with a pair of third-row seats as a $2000 option, making it a seven-seater.

The 2012 2.2-litre diesel engine replaced the 2.4-litre diesel. Despite the smaller capacity, the new engine produced the same power, 90kW at 3500rpm and torque, 360Nm at 2000rpm, as the outgoing 2.4-litre engine.

Performance remained similar too, although the theoretical top speed was raised to 145km/h compared with 132km/h for the previous version.

The GFT MT 82 six-speed gearbox was retained for 2012, but with a lower-speed first gear.

Seat trims included durable all-vinyl and cloth specifications, and a half-leather option was also available as an option on all derivatives. Three-point safety belts were specified for all seating positions.


On and off-road

The 2012 Land Rover’s driver’s seat was still too far outboard and close to the door panel, but it was better than before. The new front seats remained a tad short in the cushion, but there was more shoulder support than previously and the second and optional third-row seats were reasonably comfortable for adults with shortish legs.

Land Rover Defender 110 Wagon It was possible to access the third row from the second-row doors or the cargo door.

The Defender’s gear stick poked out of a sound-deadened transmission tunnel and a new stubby lever operated the old transfer case and centre diff lock.

Reverse and first were side by side, which should have been handy for off-road ‘rocking’ manoeuvres, but in practice it didn’t work so well, because the detent spring on reverse was very stiff.

The new Defender had a funny clutch action – not funny so you’d laugh – that lacked friction-point ‘feel’. Previous Defenders had been unhappy at speeds above 95km/h, but the new one sat on the legal limit without fuss and with surprisingly little wind noise.

With a half-tonne test load on board the all-coil Defender had great balance through the ‘twisties’, because the Defender’s new suspension calibration  firmed up the ride somewhat and cornering action was flatter.

Its full-time 4WD system provided good cornering grip on most surfaces.

Off road, what the Land Rover lacked in torque it made up for in gearing and its powerful traction control system matched many vehicles’ across-axle, diff-lock traction. Land Rover Defender 110 Wagon

Unlike many traction-controlled wagons that substitute traction control for wheel travel the Defender retained its legendary long-travel suspension, so the traction control system didn’t get the same workout it does in road-oriented wagons. Low-range gearing in the new Defender was a class-leading 63:1 in low first.

With tyre pressures dropped for soft sand the Defender was virtually unstoppable.

A single fuel tank of only 75 litres’ capacity is not ideal for Defenders that go seriously bush, but economy wasn’t bad: in mixed-cycle on and off road use it should average around 11-14L/100km. Servicing intervals were at 10,000km.


The first Defenders

On paper, the most advanced workhorse 4WD, the Defender was let down by ancient styling, poor ergonomics and indifferent build quality that prevented it reaching its potential. By the time Land Rover lifted its production game in the late 1990s the damage to the Defender’s reputation had been done.

However, there are many Land Rover addicts who are prepared to forgive the marque almost any indiscretion, citing in its favour class-leading chassis strength, driveline design and superior ride and handling. They’re correct in stating that there’s no workhorse ute or wagon in the market that can match the Defender’s full-time 4WD driveline, rigid chassis and all-coil suspension.

When the Defender was released in March 1992, Land Rover had been out of the workhorse market since the demise of the County in 1988.

Australian-market Countys were powered by the thirsty 3.5-litre Rover petrol V8 or, locally, by the same Isuzu 4BD1, 3.9-litre, four-cylinder diesel that Rover Australia bolted into the Army Land Rovers. There was no factory diesel available, because Land Rover UK had bailed out of diesel engine production.

That changed in 1992, when the Discovery wagon and the Defender (a slightly reshaped County) were introduced, powered by a 2.5-litre Land Rover diesel.

The new engine was a technological breakthrough, featuring direct injection, turbocharging and intercooling at a time when nearly all Japanese diesels were naturally aspirated, pre-chamber types. Claimed maximum output for the 200Tdi was 80kW at 3800rpm, with peak torque of 255Nm at 1800rpm.

The Rover turbo-intercooled, direct-injection diesel quickly proved to be the most economical 4WD ute powerplant in the market.

The Defender chassis was formed from 2mm-thick box-sections and mounted four-coil suspension with live axles front and rear. The Defender came with a bush-capable 3.3:1 deep reduction gear ratio and full-time 4WD. The centre differential lock could be engaged and disengaged in both high and low range.

The Defender ute was rated at 1.3 tonnes payload, with a trailer towing capability of four tonnes, giving it a clear edge over its Japanese competitors.

Initially, only the cab/chassis Defender was available in Australia and sold for 30 grand without sales tax. It was soon joined by a four-door wagon and a two-door, long-wheelbase hard-top.

There was no doubt that the Defender had class-leading payload, ride quality and on and off road ute performance, but the ‘British Disease’ lingered: evident in poor build quality and an almost total disdain for cabin ergonomics. Many prospective buyers found they just couldn’t fit behind the wheel of a Defender.

The Australian Army ordered more Land Rovers in June 1994 and there was a strong rumour that the Army 6×6 machine’s wide-cab, with its ample interior space, would become commercially available, but that proved to be a furphy.

However, later that year, Rover Australia released the 130 Crew Cab Defender, on a longer wheelbase that allowed much more payload – 1.4 tonnes- than any other crew cab 4WD ute.

The 130 and the 1995 model-year 110 ute picked up the new Land Rover R380 transmission and the 300 Tdi engine. Pricing for the 130 Crew Cab was 40 grand for tax-exempt buyers.

The 300 Tdi was a significantly upgraded 2.5-litre diesel, with 83kW output at 4000rpm and peak torque of 265Nm at 1800rpm.

In November 1994, Rover Australia released a limited-edition, Tanami, version of the four-door wagon. The Tanami was promoted by bush-tucker man, Les Hiddins, and featured a full-length roof rack, a ‘roo bar with twin 100-watt driving lights, a snorkel, a shovel, axe and pick strapped to the bonnet, a radiator insect screen and ‘Tanami’ decals. The Tanami retailed for $42,995.

By 1999, when Land Rover launched the five-cylinder Td5 diesel, the two-door, long wheelbase hardtop and the 110 cab/chassis had faded away, so the lineup for the new century was down to the 110 wagon, the 130 cab/chassis and 130 Crew Cab.

However, the ‘Xtreme’ wagon option offered features not available in any other medium-priced wagon. The Defender Xtreme came with 7×16 aluminium wheels, 235/85 tyres, ABS braking and electronic traction control.

The four-cylinder Tdi continued in the short-cab ute and the new Td5 powered the Crew Cab and the wagons.
The Td5 was class-leading, having camshaft-driven, high-pressure unit injectors that reduced emissions and increased output over the previous four-cylinder diesels.

The new engine was rated at 90kW at 4200rpm and 300Nm at 1950rpm. Oil change intervals were extended from 10,000km to 20,000km, but the recommendation for off-road Defender Td5s was for an oil drop at 10,000km.

The R380 five-speed transmission was upgraded in 1999, with larger bushes, improved synchromesh (including reverse) and a quieter gear train, and the transfer case was fitted with a cable selector.

That’s how the lineup continued until late 2002, when the short-wheelbase Defender 90 was introduced, in Xtreme specification, powered by the Td5 engine. It proved to be a short-lived model, being dropped three years later, after disappointing sales.


What breaks

Some early models had gearbox problems, which can be expensive to repair, so beware of vehicles with dodgy shift actions or noise.

Shock absorber durability was an ongoing problem with Defenders and many used vehicles have after-market shocks. Tired shocker symptoms include wheel bounce and vibration at speed, or excessive steering wheel kick.

Land Rover TDi diesels need professional servicing, including valve clearance adjustments every 20,000 km and camshaft timing belt replacement every 80,000km. If in doubt about the belt’s age, allow around $500 for a replacement. Avoid buying a diesel that lacks a service history, because poorly maintained
Tdis will have reliability problems.

Later model Defenders seem to be very reliable and while there are still instances of oil leaks, failed wheel bearings and electrical dramas, there’s no consistent problem pattern.

Early Transit diesels had vacuum pump failures, but a new pump is said to have fixed that issue. Servicing costs should be no higher for a Defender than for any other 4WD.


Bush Modifications

The later pre-2016 Defender wagons had traction control, but older models have open front and rear differentials. A pair of after-market diff locks is the traction solution. Long-range fuel tanks are available, to extend touring range and the squared-off cargo area is ideal for fitting drawer units and a fridge.

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