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Land Rover reveals surprise second, 'cooler', version of its Defender concept

Land Rover has revealed a second, ‘cool’ version of its DC100 Defender replacement concept at the Frankfurt motor show.

This second concept is aimed at demonstrating the image and design flexibility that it intends to build into the new model, which is due in 2015.

Dubbed DC100 Sport, the yellow-painted supporting concept is a sporty, open-topped speedster-style vehicle with cut-down screens and a twin-humped fastback tonneau to shroud its rear seats and payload area. Like its fixed-head twin, it rolls on 22in alloy wheels and ultra-low-profile tyres.

The Sport has the same three-plus- three seating plan as the first DC100, a reference to the front seat layout of original Land Rovers. The Sport is at this week’s Frankfurt show, standing alongside the more mainstream ‘tool’ version of the DC100.

“We want to acknowledge the strong design of the original Land Rover without being harnessed to it,” says design boss Gerry McGovern. “Deciding how far you go in recognising the current car is one of the biggest challenges. Today’s Defender is a fantastic machine but it has many faults: it is hard to build, not very space efficient, the driving position is cramped, it’s not very comfortable for passengers, and so on. We have to replace it. Our task is to realise what makes it great and to come up with a modern design with the same attributes – the advantage of modern design and none of the drawbacks.”

However, the project is not being contemplated merely to recreate an icon. Land Rover sees this as an opportunity to sell the kind of ‘premium durability’ SUV that no one else is making – in the same way as it opened a brand-new niche for the Range Rover Evoque – in a world market for 2.3 million functional 4x4s.

The company’s target is to make the new Defender as versatile and easy to configure as current models. It has an eye on sales to industrial users, farmers and international bodies like the UN as well as ordinary customers. However, producing specialist army versions – once an important source of sales for Land Rover – may be attractive in future, says brand chief John Edwards, but it won’t be the early priority.

The plan is to launch the car in 2015, at volumes industry watchers estimate at about 50,000 units a year.

At Frankfurt, the DC100 provides an impressive showcase for Land Rover’s accumulating store of new technology. Power is by 2.0-litre petrol or diesel engines with both hybrid and plug-in capabilities, driving through an eight-speed gearbox. Intelligent stop-start is standard, along with latest-generation Terrain Response (probably with a new ‘auto’ function to reduce driver workload). The powertrain has a traditional transfer box to provide permanent four-wheel drive, but it incorporates a ‘driveline disconnect’ system that decouples the rear axle to save fuel when all-wheel drive isn’t needed.

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Among more speculative technology, the DC100 has solar panels on its roof, continuous internet connectivity, a new kind of key fob recognition called RFID (for Radio Frequency Identification) and a soft metallic silver finish for much of its interior to reflect the sun’s rays and keep the interior cooler. Much use is made of lightweight and recycled materials, to emphasise sustainability – a Land Rover watchword.

Interiors are trimmed with Ultrafabric and Superfabric, two new premium-feel materials of enormous durability, and the cabins contain built-in induction charging stations for battery-powered gadgets such as power tools.

Although Land Rover chiefs insist that reaction to the DC100 concepts will guide them in deciding the detail specification of their new model, much work has clearly already been done. The Sport concept – whose surfaces and dimensions are identical below the waistline to the original – is the best evidence yet that Land Rover bosses actually decided some months ago to replace their 63-year-old icon with an all-new model with similar abilities and key dimensions to the current model, but without the shortcomings.

Both DC100 concepts use “a lightweight, mixed alloy platform”, according to Land Rover’s official statement. More candidly, insiders say there are at two competing chassis options: a shortened and lightened version of the existing T5 (which has a main drawback of weight but also has a sophisticated all-independent suspension) or an all-new platform that would eventually be used in several wheelbases for a wide range of Defender models. Given the planned Defender model flexibility and required strength of the new model, there seems little doubt that any new chassis will be a separate ladder-frame design.

No conclusion has yet been reached about where the new Defender might be made, but Edwards believes that as much as 90 per cent of production could find buyers outside the UK (Land Rover sells in 167 export markets), which suggests that the model may well be manufactured abroad, perhaps in India, where parent company Tata Motors is based, or in China, where Land Rover sales are booming and are expected to grow larger still.

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

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