Land Rover’s reveal of the new Defender at the Frankfurt Auto Show this week has already sparked massive debate — not just about whether the new 4×4 is a faithful reboot of the original from an off-roading perspective, but also whether it’s too modern or not utilitarian enough.
To find out what the company was thinking about some of these points, we sat down with Nick Rogers, executive director of product engineering, as well as Land Rover North America CEO Joe Eberhardt.
Gear Patrol: How did you modernize the Defender, yet still make it feel like the original?
Nick Rogers: We gave it the suspension travel and clearance so you can drive over everything, but also an incredible traction control system and stability control system. But the thing that’s really cool is the agility that you feel in the car. Yes, you’ve got incredible travel, but the agility of the car and the steering feel reflect the upgrade we made to the chassis design.
I said at the outset that it shouldn’t be a body-on-frame (vehicle), because as soon as you’ve got them separated, no matter how you try and join the body to the chassis you always get movement between the two, and the rubberized mounts are always a spring. With the technology that we use with our aluminum structures — a field in which we are the leaders — we were so much better off making an incredibly stiff and strong monocoque.
GP: Doesn’t the new interface technology make it feel much less like an authentic Defender?
NR: So much of the cars are all about authenticity, and simply the idea that if you don’t need it, you don’t have it. We pushed that structurally and in the interior design, but also in the infotainment system.
It’s connected, which is hugely important today and it allows us to update the car continuously, but we purposely went through every single aspect to make sure this is authentic and genuine. That extends throughout the whole vehicle.
With the Defender, we wanted to really understand what the vision was for the original, and we made sure we went back to that original vision. Our team ran workshops to find things that were on the original that didn’t have a function, and that was hard to do. Now, of course, it’s also got to be modern and not just functional.
GP: How did that need for modernization manifest itself in the final product?
NR: Today you really do have to pay attention to things like, as just an example, unrestrained occupants. Of course, everyone should wear their seatbelt, but some don’t and some parts of the world don’t require it. So we’ve made sure that there’s this padding around the right parts to make sure that any head that impacts those areas is protected. So you maintain the feel of the vehicle, the authenticity of the vehicle, but still actually take all those measures to make it what it needs to be for 2020.
GP: How is the current Defender a reflection of today’s challenges and opportunities?
NR: With the original Land Rover, they created something that was very, very disruptive. It was very different, and fitting of the time. Today’s version of that is we have, among other things, a 48-volt hybrid system that responds and moves in literally the blink of an eye. The system is constantly evaluating how to scoop up as much energy as possible and maximize that usage. It’s a modern hybrid system that also powers an electric supercharger, with the whole thing generating instant response.
GP: One of our favorite versions of the new Defender is the no-frills commercial edition due later next year. Do you think there will be an enthusiast market for that version, rather than just business users?
NR: Yes. I’m convinced that people are going to want to have one of these cars as the car that they use every day, even though they’ll be using it as part of their business.
GP: Will that version come the United States?
Joe Eberhardt: We’ve been considering the groups who’d be interested in this even without a business to use it in. Discussing the topic recently triggered a thought: Maybe we don’t call it the commercial version? Maybe it’s just another version of the Defender? If this seems like a good idea, let me know and we’ll work on it.