There hasn’t been a new Land Rover Defender for sale in the U.S. since 1997, when the iconic 4×4′s safety features fell short of American standards and it was no longer allowed to be sold, leaving fans little recourse but to lust at European Landies, run them illegally, or register in other countries and drive here. Mostly they, we, just lusted. But now, after almost 20 years of deprivation, the Defender is coming back to North America — in 2015.
What will it look like? That’s yet to be known. The current Defender, beloved for its que as mas macho lines, is long overdue for an upgrade. It dates to the 1980s, so long ago that competition in the off-road realm included the AMC Eagle and the Ford Bronco. The best hints come from the DC100 and DC100 Sport concept cars (in red, below), unveiled a year ago, but those are just hints. Vehicles shown at next year’s car shows should shed a little more light.
Here’s what we do know or can surmise:
The next Range Rover is coming early next year and it has an all-aluminum body that helps it drop more 800 pounds versus the 2012 model. It’s obvious Land Rover is teasing a smaller Defender, based on the concept DC100, but even if it does both two-box and three-box designs (shorter and longer wheelbases, like it sells today) you can pretty much bet that as much weight-shaving aluminum will be used as possible.
The concept showed a gas-saving stop/start transmission, common today on hybrids. It also featured an eight-speed transmission. Both are completely viable right now and it’s easy to imagine a very low range for the first two gears rather than a transfer case (at the very least the volume model would come without a low-range box). Weight and mechanical complexity savings would be huge, and fuel efficiency gains are paramount if Land Rover’s going to sell the Defender in a world where gas costs $5 a gallon here — and $12 a gallon in some parts of the EU.
Hybrid options, as well as diesel. Hmmm. Right now the 2013 Defender gets a 2.2-liter diesel that tells you everything you need to know about how very different American and European buyers think. Top speed: 90mph. 0-60mph: 14.7 seconds. Would that fly in the U.S., where, no matter what you might claim, the bulk of even the most hard-core off-road buyer driving is done on blacktop? At least the present diesel model puts out a decent 265 pound-feet of torque nearly straight from idle, so rock crawling performance isn’t compromised. As for the hybrid equation, that’s a maybe. Land Rover has to be thinking this direction because electric motors provide massive torque and it would enable a much smaller gas motor, but if the last Defender didn’t sell in part because of a steep cost of entry you’re looking at a big additional cost for going hybrid.
Terrain-i scanning device to warn of obstacles when off-road; Wade Aid sonar technology to assess water depth and advise optimum speed; driver-activated spiked tire system deployed at the touch of a button; permanent four-wheel drive…did you read the part about this being a concept? Wade Aid sonar would be rad, but we’re not even putting our $2 Power Ball ticket on that one; ditto, driver-actived spiked tire system. Just imagine the liability lawsuits.
Eyeballing Defender Special Editions below, available in 90 Hard Top, 90 Station Wagon, 110 Station Wagon, and 110 Utility Wagon (again, none for you, America/Canada) and with a six-speed manual gearbox and the aforementioned diesel motor it’s clear the new brand managers understand their image.
Carrying that through on a lighter, smaller, but still rugged off-roader that costs $40,000, not $60,000, will be Land Rover’s biggest challenge, because unlike a Jeep or even an Audi, it doesn’t have the volume for spreading costs. But getting close would be a huge win for Land Rover and for its rabid fans.
Overlandia is the art, science, and romance of driving in the dirt.