We chat to JLR design boss, Gerry McGovern, about how he went recreating the off-road icon.
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Redesigning an automotive icon is no easy task, and there are not too many bigger icons than the Land Rover Defender. We take a journey through the design overview of the new 2020 Defender with the brand’s chief design officer, Gerry McGovern.

McGovern, who has an extensive design background having worked for brands as wide and varied as Ford, Peugeot and Chrysler, joined Land Rover in 2004 and is credited with creating the Evoque, one of the company’s most successful models to date. He oversees all Land Rover and Range Rover design and is also a member of the board.

Speaking to the media, McGovern was quick to point out that the design of the new Defender pays homage to the previous car, but it cannot be shackled by it.

“Its silhouette is unmistakable, but it’s a modern interpretation, but that silhouette is driven by the desire to have that extreme capability. The proportions are optimised, not only to achieve a well-balanced design but also with its short overhangs, supreme all train capability,” McGovern says of the new Defender.

“The line-work has a horizontal emphasis, the lower roofline, the waist line the colour, the shoulder line… that’s contrasted by the sheer verticality of the rear and the upright nature of the front end, why have we done that? To give it that planted and purposeful look. Which is further accentuated by the squared-off wheel arches and then the floating pillar graphic positioned over the rear wheel to anchor the car down more and give it a planted look.”

The Defender will go on sale in Australia mid-next year in two body styles and three engine options, but it will be available in tens of thousands of different variations depending on which style pack, colour, accessory and interior options are fitted.

Looking at the Defender front on, McGovern jokes that it has a very handsome face.

“It has a characterful face, it communicates strength and confidence and the same time its not overly aggressive, that is characterised by the very clean grill and bumpers and then the simple geometric forms of the front headlamps which although are simple are highly technical. For the first time ever, we have an inset bonnet, not a clamshell, what that has allowed us to do is create these beautiful fenders and clean body side.”

Unlike recent models from Range Rover that make use of flush handles, the Defender deliberately keeps its traditional door handles that better suit its character. The rear design is perhaps more of a change the front, thanks to its unique tail-lights.

“The rear, the sheerness of this verticality, to maintain minimal overhang but combined with this strong corner, it really emphasises these shoulders, like a boxer and it’s better for aero. The rear lamps continue the theme of geometric forms, harmonised with the front but also talk to the no-nonsense honest design, there is no funniness in this car, it’s very straightforward, very carefully considered.”

According to McGovern, the difference between the 90 and 110 (three and five-door) is all between the wheels and they are nearly identical in terms of their exterior design.

“That increase in length has been put in between the wheel to accommodate the extra doors while maintaining the minimal overhangs, now with that increase in length, the 110 still has a very well balanced proportion, in nearly all of the respects the three-door and five-door from an exterior design standpoint are the same.

Three different roof options are offered, with a metal solid roof, panoramic glass and a full-size retractable fabric roof.

The interior has taken a constructivist theme, allowing the car to expose its core to the occupants. Like the magnesium cross-car beam, the instrumentation has been clustered on the beam and it proudly sits on display.

It features the latest in Land Rover infotainment system capability but also brings about the option for a fridge, wireless charging and the optional centre seat in the front, that is very much in the Defender heritage. It’s also the first time that a Defender has arm rails.

In terms of material, there is a great deal of choice and options, including fabric and leather, but one of the options is recycled plastic which means that on a 110-size vehicle (five seats), around 34 plastic bottles are recycled, plus fabric and other elements are used in the process. Land Rover claims that 189kg of CO2 is saved In the car's lifetime by going down this interior path.

There are four design packs which McGovern says “demonstrate the ability of this vehicle to change its personality” and allow for a great deal of customisation in not just how the new Defender looks but to better suit its required purpose.

McGovern also hinted that there will be commercial versions of the car with steel wheels, which he said he prefers on a car like this.

“These vehicles are indestructible, kick the hell out of them and they will keep coming back for more.”

Three of the colours available at launch will essentially be wraps from the factory, fitted in the UK and designed to match the panel in the most precise way. They will be self-healing for light scratches and for the deeper ones, Land Rover says the cost of replacing the wrap is significantly better for the environment than repainting a panel.

After our exposure to the 2020 Land Rover Defender, we can say that photos and videos do not do the car justice, it’s a truly striking SUV in appearance and our first impressions of it when it comes to exterior and interior design are rather positive. We look forward to driving the vehicle next year.