Slip behind the wheel, and you'll notice no similarities to the original Defender beyond a general feeling of simplicity and durability
Steve Cropley Autocar
29 January 2016

On its last day in production, we remember the time (back in 2011) when we drove Land Rover's Defender concept, a car that could preview what's to come when the moniker returns to production.

What is it?

Now they're getting serious. At this week's Los Angeles motor show, Land Rover is showing a third iteration of the Defender concept (dubbed Land Rover Defender DC100 Sport) it first revealed a couple of months ago in Frankfurt - and has backed this up by allowing Autocar an exclusive beach drive of the DC100 V8 Sport, second of its design proposals and the one most obviously aimed at a life in the Californian sun.

More than three years before production, Land Rover people understandably keep insisting that these concepts are "merely a toe in the water" and a "place to start as we work towards replacing the icon for 2015". But the more the world sees of its honest, all-modern face, the more clear it becomes that certain fundamentals of the machine earmarked to replace Land Rover's 54-year old rag-topped icon have been laid down already. Sure, there's an enormous amount still to do, but hasn't Land Rover just finished teaching us - via the hugely successful Evoque project - that these days it doesn't build concepts just to throw them away?

What’s it like?

Drive the Sport, and you soon get the message. Stand beside the impressively compact, low-screen, speedster-style Sport and you're instantly aware of a few things that won't make production: the Metalflake yellow paint job and the 22-inch wheels with hand-cut tread, for instance. But if the central plan is to match the current Defender's extreme off-road capability and better its performance of softer, more conventional duties, then this DC100 Sport is the perfect demonstrator. Very similar in length and wheelbase to a current Defender 90, with a very short front overhang and an almost non-existent rear, the Sport has all the ground clearance of an extreme off-roader needs, yet it's lower, it has bigger doors and much easier access, and its twin bucket seats are much more inviting.

Slip behind the wheel, and you'll notice no similarities to the original beyond a general feeling of simplicity and durability in the controls/instrument layout. The designers have preserved almost nothing, but the many negatives are gone. You sit high in the vehicle, but in it, not on it. There is room for your elbow inside the driver's door. It is possible to move away from the wheel. The fascia is a panorama, not a cliff-face. The metal trim parts, especially the elegant twin pedals, make it clear the car is tough. But elegant tough, not industrial tough. Even the hose-out floor covering has colour and an interesting texture.


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Someone has already told me that this V8 Sport concept has a slightly modified Range Rover Sport chassis, the admired Solihull-built T5 assembly thst has reliably combined low tech (a separate, twin-rail design) and high tech (a high-articulation, all independent air suspension) in the RR Sport and Discovery for years. Another LR person has told me it is "one of the solutions" for the next Defender, though others are being considered.

Land Rover bosses insist they are still making up their mind about this - some even claim monocoque construction is possible - but everything points to the likelihood that the new Defender will have a simpler, lighter, tougher T5 that can deliver the many configurations a Defender needs. So there's a T5 underneath. It's relevant so I'm happy.

Luckily, I've recently been driving a Range Rover Sport, and notice again its roomy footwell, with plenty of room for two meaty "designer" pedals. There is, however, no tall dividing console - the Defender's auto transmission selector sprouts from a PRND quadrant pegged to the dashboard. The seats are close to the floor, so your legs reach out rather than down. Press the starter button and there's an instant V8 throb, more prominent than any production Land Rover because it curls up over the elegant rear deck, with its integral roll-over protection and fairings behind the occupant's heads. Blip the throttle and you're rewarded with a kind of rom-pah rumble. Think hot Range Rover, with a tiny dash of NASCAR V8 on top.

We take a drive and under my tentative right foot the V8 rumbles rather than roars - I've already watched another 4x4 bog itself in the sand through too sudden an application of torque, and we have even more of it beneath our shapely yellow bonnet. Once we're rolling it's possible to feed the power, which soon shows that although this show car - bound in a couple of days for the Los Angeles show stand - has some parts actually made from clay, it is light and compact among its peers. Visibility is good in all directions, and you sight down the elegant bonnet. The wraparound screen works brilliantly - just tall enough to deflect wind while looking racy. Shame there are no wipers and no plan for a folding roof.

The suspension feels supple on sand that varies between bone-jarring ruts and scary softness. On both the steering is light and quite responsive for a concept, in which such things are never optimised. The combination of low seating in a wide-tracked vehicle that is higher than most, but has tiny overhangs makes a vehicle that mixes sportiness and luxury in a new way, a roadster for 2015 and beyond. Hard to think that it can be so closely related to a snorkel-equipped expedition vehicle with slogging four-cylinder diesel, a manual gearbox, a snorkel, roof lights and roof-rack for fuel drums and spare wheels. Or a farm pick-up with a fabric canopy and a couple of sheepdogs in the back. Yet this is what the Defender will continue to be.

Should I buy one?

One phrase in Land Rover's promotional blurb stands out: the DC100 concepts aims to match the original Land Rover Defender's "spirit of freedom". If that means offering equal configurability and improving breadth of capability of the 54-year old original, while building a character as much loved and as globally recognisable, then it looks an enormous task. But on the evidence of looking, talking and some driving on a Californian beach, I'd say Ralf Speth, Gerry McGovern and their henchmen are off to a very decent start.

Join the debate


14 November 2011

judge dredd here we come....

14 November 2011

[quote Autocar] Hard to think that it can be so closely related to a snorkel-equipped expedition vehicle with slogging four-cylinder diesel, a manual gearbox, a snorkel, roof lights and roof-rack for fuel drums and spare wheels. Or a farm pick-up with a fabric canopy and a couple of sheepdogs in the back. Yet this is what the Defender will continue to be.[/quote]

If this holds true through to production, then maybe, just maybe, it will be a worthy successor.

14 November 2011

This looks like a perfectly plausible product. But it is no way whatsoever a Defender. Can you imagine anyone at all who drives a current Defender driving this?

14 November 2011

What a hideous Tonka-toy-derived piece of plastic that will no doubt be very capable but in no way will be considered a "Defender" by current owners / drivers / admirers. Let the old Defender die in peace and call this one something else.

14 November 2011

I have never owned, or are likely to own, a defender, but I think they are fantastic beasts. Totally iconic, but sadly in desperate need of replacement. However, I can see there being a number of different variants for this (as there should be).

The standard Land Rover version for the masses, more expensive than the Freelander, but cheaper than the disco. This may even look a little softer than the other versions.

The commercial version that is closer to the original roots of usability, off road ability more important than road, more mechanical than electrical mechanics Etc.

And what ever version the army requires

14 November 2011

Fantastic, this is what Land Rovers are all about - The new Defender will be an instant hit and ensure Land Rover survives in the future.

14 November 2011

and they say the chinese copy!!

Could not look more like a Renault/Dacia Duster around the nose if it tried.

14 November 2011

So in all probability the future Defender will be built on a modified T5 platform. While this is definitely a progress from the present Defender, I see two major drawbacks:

  • Weight: The Discovery and the RR Sport presently based on the T5 are very heavy UVs. This must be addressed if the future Defender is to be built on the same platform. Additional weight means the next Defender will need a larger thus more expensive engines, especially if it needs to retain the same off roading powers. Also as a utility vehicle running costs are very important, it must be light enough to be powered by an efficient 4 cyl diesel.
  • Cost: The T5 architecture is expensive. I doubt it will help resolve the Defenders pricing problems. To gnaw back lost market share from the Japanese, Defenders must be a VFM alternative.

14 November 2011

[quote shortbread]Weight: [/quote]

Ah, yes, but some of that weight is to combat NVH issues (have you ever looked under the rear of one at the suspended lumps of pig iron hanging out the back?) which would not be as much of a requirement on a Defender replacement; and the design of the chassis is evolving to reduce weight. The new Defender T5 chassis would be considerably lighter then the Disco/RRS one.

[quote shortbread]Cost:[/quote]

Indeed, it's expensive, but the R&D has paid for itself by now, (notwithstanding the tweaks above) and they already have the tooling. How much do you think Seat paid for the Exeo chassis? Probably 1/10th of the cost of developing one from the ground up.

Admittedly it wouldn't be my first choice to keep the T5, but it makes an economical and engineering winner for what is likely to be a low-volume niche product.

14 November 2011

A fine lifestyle product but quite simply not a Defender.


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