At first glance, the test mules, caught by a spy photographer near the company’s engineering centre in Gaydon, Warwickshire, appear to be testing a new bull bar and front winch combination for hardcore off-road enthusiasts. However, a check of the numberplate on a private website (as opposed to the DVLA site) details it as being powered by a petrol-electric drivetrain.
It’s the first time that we’ve seen a prototype for the new Defender without diesel power. Autocar understands that it will be offered with both mild-hybrid and plug-in hybrid engines in 2020, although with no visible charging port seen through the disguise, it’s likely that we have the former here.
There is no indication of the engine size, power and efficiency offered by the new powerplant. However, it could make use of Jaguar Land Rover’s 2.0-litre turbcharged Ingenium petrol unit, one of the firm's biggest sellers since the diesel market has suffered huge losses.
Land Rover is keen to silence sceptics, particularly when it comes to the issue of electrified propulsion being used in a supposedly back-to-basics 4x4. However, the company insists that an electric motor allows maximum torque from step-off, and the torque delivery is more controllable, meaning a hybrid would perform better off road.
At the same time, a similarly petrol-electric test mule for the Range Rover Velar has been spotted. It’s predicted that Land Rover will launch the luxury SUV with the same ‘P400e’ powertrain - mating a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine with an electric motor for nearly 400bhp - as found in the Sport and full-size Range Rover.