When the new Land Rover Defender design began leaking through a variety of sources (including a LEGO model), there were two distinct camps of response. While many were excited, a seemingly equal amount of naysayers stepped forward to spew forth their resentment.
Land Rover saw this coming. It knew that anything vaguely different from that long and uninterrupted original recipe would draw the ire of fans and enthusiasts. The bow has already been drawn, however. The Defender needed to be replaced, and it needed to get with the times.
BMW and Ford both wanted a ‘new Defender’ during their own tenures of ownership, and concepts were reportedly being discussed before the plans were abandoned. It’s a tough egg to crack. Perhaps the toughest.
Throw some airbags and a couple of forward-facing cameras on the existing model? Not a chance. It wouldn't come within a bull’s roar of acceptable crash safety standards, for those inside and outside of the vehicle. The spartan interior doesn’t lend itself to the modern buyer, either. This new model needs big global volume, and needs to be future-proofed.
But at the same time, this new Defender needs to carry the same muddied and beaten flag that the old model did: bucketloads of off-road capability and durability, much more than your average off-roader. Can you modernise an icon? Remember when the 911 went water-cooled?
With that in mind, let’s have a closer look at the nuts and bolts of the new 2020 Land Rover Defender.
The new Defender is built on a new platform for Land Rover called D7x. It’s related to the D7u aluminium monocoque that is underneath the likes of the Discovery and Range Rover, but it’s been reworked quite a bit to suit the application of the Defender. That X stands for ‘extreme’ by the way, and D7X is the stiffest body Land Rover has ever produced. In fact, it’s three times stiffer than your typical ladder-chassis arrangement.
Firstly, D7x has special steel subframes underneath, beefed up to offer a more durable mounting arrangement for the suspension and drivelines. It also mounts the body 20mm higher for additional clearance.
Suspension bushings are huge, especially the hydraulic bushings that allow Land Rover to tune particular ride and handling, while remaining strong against off-road impacts. Ball joints and driveshafts are made bigger as well, along with heftier cast-aluminium suspension arms.
One beauty of the Defender’s more basic interior and relatively lightweight platform is that engineers had room to splurge on making the chassis tough where it counts. Durability is the word that keeps coming up.
Despite having a modern aluminium monocoque platform, the new Defender weighs around 2300kg depending on specification. For example, a new Discovery weighs less. And despite having a steel ladder chassis and hefty live axles, an old Defender is also a few hundred kilograms lighter.
When it’s all said and done, the new Defender is able to withstand a seven-tonne vertical load through the wheels and into the chassis. Land Rover tests this by repeatedly driving into a 200mm kerb at 40km/h. The test kerb is normally 150mm high, but Land Rover decided to up the ante for the Defender.
The D7x platform also includes rated recovery points: one on the front and two at the rear. They have been rated to a 6.5-tonne dynamic snatch load – exactly what you need for off-road recoveries.
During the four-year development, Land Rover tells us that it put the new Defender platform through more than 62,000 different engineering tests and scenarios before achieving sign-off, along with racking up millions of kilometres around the world: Africa, America, the Middle East, England and Scandinavia.
There are no more live axles at either end for the new Defender. In a move that has likely most riled up the diehards, the new Defender now sports independent suspension front and rear. There’s a relatively familiar (although beefed up) double-wishbone arrangement up front, and something Land Rover calls an ‘integral link’ at the back.
This is a similar arrangement to other models on the D7u architecture (Discovery, Range Rover), but once again, Land Rover has made efforts to strengthen the Defender’s parts for more (you guessed it) durability. Rear end views of the Defender off-road are dominated by big aluminium castings that make up the main control arm – fulsome and long for both strength and articulation (Land Rover quotes 500mm of available travel from the rear).
The shock absorbers are continuously variable units, which take body and steering measurements 500 times per second, and constantly adjust the damping to suit conditions. They’re a big shock, as well, measuring in at 50mm worth of diameter.
Although the proprietary engines, gearboxes and differentials are shared between other models, many elements get reworked to suit the Defender. Cooling systems are moved higher for more protection and clearance. The chain-driven transfer case, propshafts and axles, and suspension bits are of heavier-duty specification to help durability in hard conditions.
The gearbox, a ZF eight-speed torque converter unit, is also a heavy-duty specification to suit the rigours that come with towing and off-roading.
It’s also worth pointing out that parts sharing has always been a big part of the Defender story. The Classic Range Rover debuted much of the driveline and suspension geometry that the Defender eventually inherited. The One Ten (pre-Defender name) got the petrol V8, four-speed gearbox and coil-sprung live axles that were mostly similar to the Range Rover.
Fast-forward through Tdi and Td5 iterations of the Defender, and there was a lot shared with the Discovery in terms of underpinnings. For those who might think the New Defender is simply a rebodied Discovery, I think it’s safe to put that theory to bed.
The New Defender Off-Road
Off-road, naturally, is very important for the Defender. So, let's ring off the juicy stats:
There's 291mm of ground clearance in models equipped with air suspension and in off-road mode. And when you’re stuck in sand or water, that air suspension system has the ability to raise up 145mm (nearly six inches) for additional clearance.
Along with the half-metre of articulation, there is also a 900mm wading depth. That’s a class-leading number, which doesn’t increase with the fitment of an optional raised air intake.
The approach angle is 38 degrees and rampover is 28 degrees. These numbers are all impressive, and up there with the very best in the business. Mind you, these are all numbers from air-suspension models in off-road mode.
Thanks to the 118-inch wheelbase (for a 110, I know), flat rear end and bugger-all rear overhang, the 40-degree departure angle is impressive. For reference, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, a master of off-road clearance, sports 37 degrees of departure angle.
While you might not think it, a Defender 110 is longer than a Discovery: 5018mm versus 4790mm.
You’ve got a choice of wheels for the Defender depending on your specification. Starting from off-road-friendly 18-inch steelies all the way up to mall-crawling 22-inch alloys. For those wanting to go off-road, it’s good to know Land Rover will offer a Goodyear Duratrac as a dealer-fitted option. Although it’s not a light-truck (LT) construction tyre, it’s still a solid option with an aggressive tread pattern.
Tyre diameter is 815mm, or 32 inches in the old money. A good size for standard rubber, and beneficial to that overall ground clearance number. With 18-inch steel wheels, or even 19-inch alloys for that matter, you have a usable amount of sidewall there to play with.
For reference’s sake, the old Defender had a 235/85R16 tyre from standard. While there is more sidewall to play with, the old Defender has less overall tyre diameter.
There isn’t much to hang up on underneath, either. Although it would be a pain in the arse to service and inspect, the Defender has a mostly flat underside. As well as being good for clearance, it tidies up the wind noise and drag coefficient of the Defender. Speaking of drag numbers, the old Defender was a buffeting 0.62 in the wind tunnel. Thanks to lots of subtle tricks, the new Defender is a much slipperier 0.38.
There’s over 1000L of storage space behind the second row of a five-seat 110 when measured all the way up to the roof, or 2380L with the second row folded down. The Defender can also be specced with a third row, which folds into the floor. Don’t forget that the spare wheel goes on the back, not underneath.
If that’s not enough space for your big adventure, the Defender has a dynamic roof load rating of 168kg, or 300kg of static capacity.
New Defender payload figures are impressive for a 4x4 wagon – up to 900kg in some specifications. The only thing I can think of are (funnily enough) old Defenders and LandCruiser Troop Carriers having something similarly high, aside from utes.
For what it’s worth, our two first-drive test vehicles (a Defender 110 D240 and a Defender 110 P400 S) have lower listed payloads: 767kg and 740kg, respectively. It’s unclear whether we’ll get a Defender in Australia with a 900kg payload.
This new Defender retains a 3.5-tonne towing capacity, and has a gross combined mass (6650kg) to suit full-weight towing. In other words, you can still tow 3.5 tonnes when you’re sitting at maximum capacity. This is a feature only matched by Toyota’s LandCruiser.
Unlike the strictly mechanical old Defender that only got a decent off-road traction-control system late in its life, the new Defender gets both barrels in terms of electronic driver and traction aids.
Permanent all-wheel drive, locking centre differential and low-range are familiar to the old model, but a locking rear differential is new for the breed. Terrain Response 2 is optional, bringing with it a configurable model for four personalised settings. In here, you can tailor things like stability control, wheel spin, steering feel and accelerator response. Or conversely, you can set the car to auto and let it do the thinking.
Through that new 10.0-inch Pivi infotainment display, the Defender sports a bunch of high-resolution cameras that cover all angles of the vehicle. Along with a typical bird's-eye view 360-degree display, you can also augment your view into front three-quarters, rear three-quarters and side on. It’s quite trippy to use off-road, and probably more gimmicky than actually useful.
In higher-specification models, or those fitted with the front-row jump seat, the rear-view mirror doubles as a high-resolution display that’s fed from a camera mounted on the rear antenna. It’s crispy, but the aspect does feel a little unnatural.
So, what’s the end result of all of this technology? Is this new Defender capable off-road? In a word, yes. Absolutely.
Obviously, the new Defender goes about its business off-road in a different manner to the old one. There’s nothing mechanically shared between the two, after all.
When you look at the cold, hard facts, the new Defender has more ground clearance, more tyre diameter and more traction aids, both mechanical and electronic. And when the air suspension is raised up, overall clearance is mostly better.
Say what you want about independent suspension in off-roaders, but not having two big beam axles getting whacked on rocks off-road is nice, and stops you from sweating over line choice so much.
Cross-linked airbag suspension does a good job of mimicking live axles, especially in the rear end. Long suspension arms allow a little tucking (not as much as an old Defender), but from watching one articulate its way over some rocks, I’d say droop is comparable.
Front-end articulation isn’t as impressive as a live axle; control arms don’t have the same wide-ranging geometry to support it. It’s decent, if subtle, but it’s worth saying that the overall feeling of stability when driving or watching the Defender off-road is impressive.
It doesn’t have that flip-flopping nature of a typical IFS, live rear 4x4. While wheels certainly do lift off, you don’t get big or sudden weight transfers to deal with.
Using the Terrain Response 2 system makes the Defender much more capable and easy. While the centre and rear differentials aren’t true locking units, they seem just as good, especially when combined with the (frankly) superb off-road traction-control system.
Although I haven’t done a straight back-to-back comparison to really know, I’d wager Terrain Response 2 is the best of its kind. And so it should be: Land Rover pioneered the whole idea of selectable off-road modes.
Having Goodyear Duratracs (a dealer-fitted option) on our Defenders helped them off-road no end, as did the increased tyre diameter. There were a few punctures to contend with on our three days, but it’s worth noting tyre pressures were high (30psi front, 35psi rear), and we were travelling pretty quickly over some rough terrain. If the tyre were an LT (light truck) construction, and if one guy didn’t plough into a massive rock, I think we would have likely had zero issues in the convoy.
The combination of durability and capability that Land Rover has built into this new Defender, along with decent tyre options, good payloads and great off-road clearance, means this heir to the legacy can walk the walk as well as talk the talk.
Those who love the idiosyncrasies (putting it lightly) of the old Defender might be put off by how refined, comfortable and capable this new model is. But you can’t deny the fact that this new Defender definitely cuts the mustard in hard conditions.
Whether those faithful will be truly won over is probably a question only answerable by the passage of time. As these Defenders head out into the bush in the hands of their owners, they will soon find out if the new Defender is something they will love like the old model.
True durability will be seen in years to come, as well. While we certainly gave the Defenders a hard time off-road in the scrub, three days doesn’t equate to three years (or longer), and how these Defenders will fare after long periods of hard use. The old Defender wasn’t always perfect in this regard, but the proof will be in the pud’ for this new little duck.
What I can say is this: although the recipe has changed, the end product bears many of the hallmarks of its forebears. Yes, it’s radically changed. No, it’s not like a Wrangler or a LandCruiser any more. But in my opinion, you need more than just ‘it’s not an old Defender’ as a reason to dislike it.
For what it’s worth, I really like it. I’m not going to sell my old Defender at this stage, but can definitely see a spot next to it in the driveway.