The new Land Rover Defender (code name: L663) has been spied being tested on public roads for the first time. The pictures show the new 4x4 in camouflage, on the roads near the Jaguar Land Rover factory at Gaydon, UK. While the new Defender has already been spied conducting off-road cold weather testing, the new spy shots are the first time it has been seen on public roads. The aim for the new machine is to offer the “biggest breadth of capability of any model to wear the badge.”
A Jaguar Land Rover spokesperson had initially declined to comment on these pictures but when asked about the new Defender's launch date said, "We can confirm customers around the world will be taking delivery of and enjoying Defender again from 2020." In one of the spy shots, the window is wound down and a driver can be seen. It appears to be Nick Rogers, Jaguar Land Rover's executive director of product engineering. Expectedly, though, the firm refused to comment on this, too.
When Felix Bräutigam, Jaguar Land Rover's marketing chief, was asked about the images at the Paris motor show, he admitted that the pictures where that of the first prototype to lead their facility in Gaydon, and said more would follow in coming months as the ramp-up to production begins.
“These are what we call Pilot build cars and testing will increase on public roads from now,” said Bräutigam. “The first four cars are ready, and now the line is running you can expect the number of test cars to grow exponentially.”
Bräutigam also said that the Defender will go through all the usual test routines, over time – from cold weather testing in Arjeplog in Sweden to extreme hot weather testing in Death Valley, USA. “We are talking about the rebirth of an icon and not just as a single car, but as a whole family,” he said. “Our brand is about passion, and it is icons that drive that passion. The truth is the world doesn’t need another premium brand doing what all the others do. These icons are what separate us; at Land Rover we are rooted in our heritage and that’s what makes us different.”
He said that he felt the time taken between the Defender going off sale in 2016 and its relaunch could be a positive for the new car, especially since there is a high likelihood of it being offered with electrified powertrains in addition to petrol and diesel units. “If we had wanted to recreate the existing car then we could have moved quicker, but it is our view that for an icon to remain an icon it cannot only look backwards, but must move forwards too.”
“The one thing I can promise you is that the new Defender will do all that our customers expect of it, without being a copycat of what has gone before. It is a car for the modern world, and that means that it must move the game on if it is to be relevant.”
According to the DVLA database, the vehicle registered with the number plate seen in the spy shots is powered by a 2.0-litre diesel engine. Talking to Autocar UK at the Paris show before the spy shots emerged, JLR boss Ralph Speth confirmed he has driven a prototype of the new Defender, describing its off-road credentials as “sensational”. Hinting that the machine could be revealed next year, Speth also said that he was excited to test the Defender, as it is clearly their icon and founding element and the brand has been working to bring it back. “I won’t talk about timings but it is coming,” he said. “The decision to stop making it was the saddest day but we had to make that decision to invest in the factories and to build for the future. Now we are ready to return.” The previous Defender went out of production in January 2016.
The reborn Defender is being developed in two forms: a short wheelbase 90-badged model, and a larger 110-badged variant. As revealed by Autocar UK before, the two wheelbase sizes will allow the firm to develop a whole family of vehicles, ranging from basic utilitarian machines up to luxurious high-end models.
The original Land Rover Series I, from which the Defender is derived, was launched in 1948 – 70 years ago.