Exclusive first drive of Land Rover’s DC100 concept

I received a call from the nice folks at Land Rover last week. They mentioned that they would have the new DC100 concept in LA for the Auto Show this week.

If you haven’t already heard, the DC100 is a design concept to look at possible replacement options for the Defender.

Since they were going to be arriving in LA a couple of days before the vehicle had to be on the stand, they asked if I’d like to come out and give it a go.

I of course said YES! I didn’t even ask if I’d have to raffle off a first-born or a couple of limbs.

Upon arrival I was handed the keys to the Sport version.

The concept is based on a 100-inch wheel-base, the same as the current RR sport (or the old-style Discovery and the SWB RRC). Yet when parked next to a D90 it actually looks a lot smaller. That illusion goes away when you get inside. The driver’s seating area is wide and roomy, without the elbow-knocking usual to a Defender.

The wheels are also very close to the corner and with the adjustable suspension, the vehicle feels very sure-footed, although we didn’t get a chance to really put it through its paces – just a bit of time in a large car-park to get the feel of it on the road and some additional time in a large section of soft sand on the beach.

Now before everyone asks why I didn’t immediately run it through our usual vigorous testing I must point out that this is a mock-up model. It is a full-scale, drive-able mock-up of a design concept, but it’s still a model, not a production car.

As such, I promised the nice man from England (who hand-built the model) that I wouldn’t break it.

Also on hand was Richard Wooley, the designer of the DC100. Without doubt he has one of the toughest jobs in the automotive world. He needs to design a modern vehicle to complete the same tasks that the Defender did so well, and yet the primitive nature of the Defender is one of the things so many love about it. So in a way he sees this concept as a “feedback tool” for both consumers and press.

The same challenges were echoed by Mike from the technical team. His task is to develop a vehicle that is reliable, capable, and yet doesn’t feel like a truck built in the 1950s. The approach they are taking is called “duality”, meaning the vehicle should be at home in a number of roles. It should be capable of hauling your firewood off the mountainside, supplies for the military, the phone company repair crew, etc., and still allow someone to drive long distances without suffering from excessive NVH (Noise, Vibration, and Harshness). Mike believes that technology doesn’t equal less reliability. He also recognizes that some customers will request less technology in their fleet-trucks and this a-la-carte approach is something Land Rover will likely offer to large customers.

One interesting comment from Richard caught my attention. He referred to this concept as “a step beyond the next step”. If you want to do something new push the envelope a little. You can always pull it back. So some of the radical design ideas we are seeing here (cameras in the mirrors, sonar systems, etc.) may not make it to the next version of the Defender, but by pushing the limits in a concept they are making a statement that they intend to remain the innovation leader in the 4×4 space.

Now let’s talk about the wheels. Yes, we all saw the 22-inch rims on the concept. Not very practical on the dirt. Land Rover will likely offer the final vehicle with an 18 or 19 inch rim as standard. Big enough to cover the big brakes, but small enough to fit an off-road or all-terrain tire. We didn’t have the ice-spike tires on the truck in Santa Monica, as they are still just a concept, but Mike did say that they are not as futuristic as one might think.

Later this week we will be bringing you photos and details of the utility models and the station-wagon. They will of course be more applicable to this audience.

Having completed a 6000 mile trip in my 200tdi Defender this summer with my ears ringing each evening when I arrived at the campsite, I for one welcome the idea of a Defender that is capable of hauling a large load, going down the most technical tracks, isn’t going to stop working when subjected to endless corrugations and deep water crossings, and yet still allows me to carry on a conversation in comfort at highway speeds. An impossible combination? Maybe, but the guys I met today are definitely up for the challenge.

Ray Hyland is a long-time Defender owner. He has the only 110 on Mattracks in North America. In the summertime it runs on either 35” or 38” tires. Ray has driven Defenders on multiple continents and built one to complete the Malaysian Rainforest Challenge. He recognizes the roles the replacement Defender will need to play.