The New 2020 Defender Off-Road!

For what seems like an eternity now, we’ve been waiting for the release of the new Defender, and Land Rover has given us little teasers with a few concepts and even a large-scale sand sketch. The latest came a week ago with an Instagram post that said, “Do not unwrap until 2019,” which sort of announced we would see the vehicle next year. This generated a lot of excitement, but also a little hesitation, as it feels like this unveiling has been dragging on for centuries already. The last Defender we had imported to the USA was 20 years ago. That may be why the Land Rover gods were kind enough to provide some new photos and details to appease us, so let’s take a look at what we can glean from their short press release and gallery.

First let’s start with the hard facts. The press release begins with two big bold statements declaring that the full unveiling will occur in 2019, and that the truck will be available for sale in 2020. That’s good news, of course, but not exactly unexpected. So what else is it really saying? Well, for one thing, this vehicle will fall within the lines of Land Rover’s current luxury lineup, while attempting to stay true to the brand’s off-road heritage.

“With an all-new exterior and interior design, as well as a suite of the latest driver assistance and connectivity features available, the next-generation Defender will be a revolutionary product for Land Rover with even broader public appeal. When it debuts in 2019, the new model will represent 70 years of innovation and improvement in just one model year—honoring the model’s history for rugged durability, while thoroughly remaining a Defender for the 21st century.”

Now, I won’t lie to you. When I first saw the above statement my heart sank a little. It’s hard to read things like driver assistance, connectivity features, broader public appeal, and oh, we’ll honoring the model’s history too without feeling that they’re going to cater to a crowd that likes to throw around the word bespoke, and cares more about the type of leather on their seats than what those silly off-road buttons do. Yet if anyone was going to strike the proper balance of luxury and capability it is Land Rover, which made me decide to take a closer look at the photos.

The truck is obviously still wearing its full camouflage, which unfortunately gives it an appearance crossed between the original DC100 concept and a Discovery 4, but looking at the lines underneath I think there’s potential for it to be interesting. It’s clear that they’ve made it as boxy as possible given the EU’s regulations on vehicles for pedestrian impacts, with an appearance more square than the previous concepts, or any other vehicle in their current lineup for that matter. The windows are sporting some nice boxy lines as well, and the roof looks to at least imitate the original removable top. We are lucky enough to see the rear tire carrier and side opening hatch kept in place though, a big win for classic Land Rover design, off-road practicality, and upgrades to larger tires.

Speaking of off-roading, not all hope is lost on that front. The photos show an impressive approach and departure angle, as well as some respectable ground clearance which will help it tackle most terrain. The exhaust is tucked up and out of the way in the rear, the undercarriage looks relatively flat, and it even appears to have some sort of skid plate along the front end, though whether or not it’s truly functional remains to be seen. Taking a peek at the wheel wells, there should be plenty of room to squeeze in slightly larger tires, which is very good news given the fact that the truck in the photos is sporting 19 or 20-inch wheels. We’re praying that those can be dropped down to a smaller size, hopefully 18s or even 17s, but that all hinges on the brakes Land Rover chooses to use.

Sadly, we aren’t seeing any photos of the truck on cross-axle ditches, rocks, or real technical obstacles, so we have little idea of if it will articulate. We do have a clue as to what suspension will be available though. Since the ample off-road clearance only appears in a portion of the pictures taken, the new Defender will almost certainly come with an independent front and rear air suspension option similar to those used in the Discovery. If not, it will certainly be an option over the low-slung coil springs like those used on the base line Discovery.

Then there’s the wrap itself, which oddly enough also tells us something about the new Defender. That’s because it bears a series of passport or postage stamps from places like Moab, the Rockies, Death Valley, Pismo Beach, and even the Rubicon trail, making Land Rover’s intentions for this truck to go off-road unequivocally clear. Almost as clear as this rather bold statement from the press release:

“Engineers will subject the vehicle to rigorous test extremes to make sure the new Defender is the most off-road capable Land Rover vehicle ever, operating in temperatures from -40°F to +120°F while driving the test vehicles on- and off-road at altitudes of more than 13,000 feet above sea level.”

Calling it the most off-road capable Land Rover ever is a pretty big claim, but one they’re set to fulfill if the performance of the Discovery is any indication. Each iteration of that platform has become more capable than the last, and despite public opinion, it is currently one of the best stock 4WDs on the market, but therein lies the problem. It is a very capable stock four-wheel drive, but overlanders and off-road enthusiasts don’t want to leave their trucks stock, and Land Rover lacks the aftermarket support it once enjoyed. For a Defender that will need to fill some very big shoes upon release, that could be a big problem. After all, it’s clear that a bumper, rack, lift, and sliders could transform this vehicle entirely, shifting the views of Defender loyalists the world over. But if those options aren’t available or supported in factory design considerations, the new platform could lose early adoption and broad media support.

Our hope, of course, is that the aftermarket welcomes Land Rover’s long-awaited prodigal child with open arms, and that companies like ARB and others create an array of lifts, bumpers, and other accessories in order to expand the Defender’s popularity. Like Chevrolet’s work with the Colorado ZR2 and Bison, or Jeep’s much-loved Wrangler, there is certainly room for an upmarket and capable SUV like the 2020 Defender. If there was ever a vehicle we all wanted to believe in, it is most certainly this one.

Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Chris didn’t receive a real taste of the outdoors until moving to Prescott, Arizona, in 2009. While working on his business degree, he learned to fly and spent his weekends exploring the Arizona desert and high country. It was there that he fell in love with backcountry travel and four-wheel drive vehicles, eventually leading him to Overland Journal and Expedition Portal. After several years of honing his skills in writing, photography, and off-road driving, Chris now works for the company full time as Expedition Portal's Managing Editor.

12 Comments

  • Brian

    December 27th, 2018 at 6:16 pm

    I have tried to care about this vehicle; I really have. The legacy, the look of the classic 110s- truly spectacular! An off-roading icon that if it weren’t priced into the stratosphere these days would be in my driveway. I can appreciate the emotional attachment to the name and the desperate desire to see any sign that Land Rover hasn’t completely turned it’s back on the very heritage that wrote the Defender on our collective overlanding hearts. However, the idea of depending on a modern Land Rover’s electronic’s system to overland runs completely counter to any notion I have of safety and dependability. Range Rover’s barely even appear really capable anymore and certainly aren’t actually so, even when they are working properly. With the Wrangler Rubicon, TRD 4Runner and Tacoma, ZR2 Colorado Bison, the Raptor and Power Wagons in the world I can’t imagine a single reason to buy this thing if you actually get your tires dirty or care about reliability. I’m sure there will be plenty of them at the local coffee shop though.

    Reply
    • Anthony Bostock

      December 31st, 2018 at 4:15 am

      I agree Brian, this thing looks very much like the current soccer mums suv’s that landrover have been putting on their showroom floors for the past decade. I started my driving career in the army driving land rovers and this certainly does not look as if it’s going to be a replacement for the Defender 110. This is more like they have rehashed the old Discovery Mk2. I can honestly say from my own experience and owning both the discovery and a range rover that the current electronics and computerised systems are definitely more of a hindrance and definitely a safety hazard when you are in the outback and toughest regions of Australia and you have a problem with them not working properly. Give me a Defender 110 any day of the week it will take me anywhere and get me back home without any worries.

      Reply
  • Guy Cashmore

    December 28th, 2018 at 9:14 am

    To be a true Defender replacement, this vehicle will need to have different body type and wheelbase options, unfortunately these pictures don’t give much hope, looks like little more than a re-bodied Discovery on offer here.

    Also their is the matter of price, 5 years ago the base model D90 could be purchased new (in the UK) for £17k + tax, this looks like a £40k vehicle which is simply too much for the majority of traditional Defender buyers..

    Reply
  • Ed Rodrigues

    December 28th, 2018 at 1:40 pm

    If they can’t build something worthy, they should not use the name.
    Although a worthy effort Mr. Cordes, this “truck”, looks like a dressed
    up Jeep Patriot, and will be used like one. Not taking this one serious.

    Reply
  • Jack

    December 29th, 2018 at 8:30 am

    I’ve held out a lot of hope for this thing for at least a decade, but my hopes are growing dim here as this looks like another Suzy Soccer Mom vehicle.

    I wonder what the UK military is going to do for a light duty vehicle? Maybe I’ll just pick up one of those ex-mil vehicles when they age out of the import restrictions.

    Reply
  • Ralph jeffery

    December 29th, 2018 at 9:35 am

    I have always loved all most all 4×4 vehicles maybe it comes from that old John Wayne movie Hatari where they drove a 4xs capturing animals for zoos etc. Different world then,! I remember being very impressed wih the sales mans pitch about both diffs being on the same side how beefy the FRAME
    was abd how that kepth thwe weight way down low. I also remember an critism of early air bad suspension adjustments becoming really stiff when in the lifted condition. All of these items the defender may not have and may or may not experience plus getting away from a solid axel looks to me like this is a vehicle aimed a target audience that is polar opposite than true defender fans i dont see anyone strapping a seat on the front of one and going John Wayne more like the weathy country clyb type parking in the dirt lot to go to the country club but to be fair lets wait and see oh and thing better haveva low range imho

    Reply
  • Ben Olson

    December 31st, 2018 at 4:08 pm

    Sad, the wilkes brothers would cry to see this. It’s too short, no utility at all, low profile tires ( they truly do suck off road )I don’t think it could defend against anything . Owning a 1995 D110 and in a land rover club with LR3 and range rovers the amount of tire troubles those guys have just makes me wonder what was land rover thinking? Oh right they weren’t.

    Reply
  • Pablo Magallanes

    January 2nd, 2019 at 12:56 pm

    The Discovery V looks like a Freelander
    This new Defender looks like what a Discovery series V should have looked like.
    Land Rover has it’s priorities well set. Sales to non overlanders around the world. Makes a better business case, but feels like a final stab in the back for the brand that used to be related to long dirt roads and hours of fun and now aims for A/C comfort at 70 Miles/Hr at a highway.

    Reply
  • TeamSlyMPLS

    January 8th, 2019 at 12:18 pm

    I think Land Rover missed the boat. I really wish they would have taken a similar approach to what Mercedes did with the new G-Wagon, i.e. keep the shape and styling ques, bring the drive train to current (without air suspension and hopefully reliable), and add some tech and comfort. From what I can tell Land Rover brought a good Disco II replacement, not a Defender.

    Reply
  • Cameron Carlile

    January 23rd, 2019 at 9:23 am

    The right way to build the Defender would have been to look at military RFPs around the world and build something that works for them. Then, add AC and some pimp ammenities and call it good. People want an authentic product, not a product designed to look authentic.

    Reply

Leave a Reply to Ben Olson Cancel reply