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Expect Land Rover's new Defender later this year

Konstantin Sheiko
January 24, 2018

Land Rover is expected to launch a brand new Defender later this year. Expect it to receive significant improvements in ride, handling, interior quality, and safety compared to its predecessor. The idea to make brand new, fully upgraded Defender model fit for the competitive challenges of the new millennium emerged only a few years back, in 2014, when the old Defender was still rolling off its production lines, and the company recognized the sheer need for something revolutionary and groundbreaking.

But until then, the automaker is re-engineering 150 examples of the current Defender with a more powerful 5.0-liter V-8 engine and selling them as limited-edition models, celebrating Land Rover’s 70th anniversary. Billed as the most powerful and fastest Defender ever created by Land Rover, the Land Rover Defender Works V8 pays homage to the engines in the Series III Stage 1 V-8 from 1979 and subsequent models including the 50th Anniversary Edition. 

The first V8 Defender since 1998, the re-engineered Defender Works V8 combined naturally aspirated V-8 gas engine with an 8-speed ZF automatic gearbox, making 399 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque ahead of the old Defender’s 120 hp and 266 lb-ft. The gearbox will feature ‘a sport mode’ option.

Top speed is 106 mph (171 kmh), and Land Rover says the model should be able to accelerate to 60 mph (97 rmh) from a standstill in 5.6 seconds. The new Defender’s top speed might seem a little modest to some overconfident critics, but is it really such a good idea to be going any faster in a vehicle like this one?

To help cope with the power, the 70th edition has uprated brakes with four-piston calipers and an upgraded handling kit with better springs, dampers and anti-roll bars. The familiar body sits on 18-inch diamond-turned Sawtooth alloy wheels wrapped in all-terrain rubber. In addition, the model boasts 265/65 R18 all-terrain tires. Performance upgrades like the uprated brakes and suspension derived from the Defender Works V8 can be purchased for the standard Defender as well.

Eight standard paint colors are available with two satin finishes, plus the models receive the Santorini black roof, grille, and wheel arches, as well as aluminum door, handles, and fuel filler cap. Bi-LED headlamps are another upgrade, and you will also find special bonnet Defender badges that commemorate the limited-edition model. 

Inside, the interior is trimmed in Windsor leather and is dominated by large Recaro bucket sport seats. Other modern accoutrements of the 70th edition include a pistol shifter for the gearbox and an infotainment system from Land Rover Classic.

The model is available for direct purchase from Land Rover Classic, which will also sell parts inspired by the Defender Works V8 in the near future. Land Rover Classic will offer 150 examples, and such exclusivity comes at a price. The 90-inch and 110-inch wheelbase models are available at a starting price of £150,000 (US$208,000).

The new model proudly continues the Rover legacy that began in 1947. According to the tale that has become a legend, it all started with a sketch in the sand. Rover engineering director Maurice Wilks scratched a simple, utilitarian vehicle in the sands of Wales' Red Wharf Bay in 1947, and the idea of the Land Rover was born. With the backing of Wilks' brother Spencer, Rover's managing director at the time, Rover quickly put the idea in motion as a hard-nosed, go-anywhere agricultural 4x4 inspired by the Willys Jeep.

The Land Rover Series I debuted at the 1948 Amsterdam Motor Show and began rolling off the lines a few months later. The new utility vehicle cost £450 (about US$650 by today's exchange rates) and relied on a 50-hp 1.6-liter engine.

Yet it took the passing of more than 40 years for the original Land Rover to get a proper model name beyond a series number and chassis length. The now iconic name “Defender” emerged in 1990 to add a bit more identity to the plain “Ninety and One Ten” naming structure that Land Rover implemented after the Series III. The Defender was tasked with carrying the rugged DNA of the Series I, II and III forward into the future. And it had fulfilled its task magnificently.

The end of Land Rover Defender production came in early 2016, and twenty-six years after the Defender name was born, the very last of the Defender/Series models, number 2,016,933, rolled out of Solihull, putting an end to 68 years of production. Land Rover announced the Heritage Restoration program, which will operate on the site of the Solihull production line and task a team of twelve experts with restoring and selling Series and Defender models. The program will also offer parts and services.

According to Nick Rogers, Jaguar Land Rover group engineering director, “…the world has changed dramatically in the last 68 years, but this vehicle has remained a constant - something no other vehicle can claim. The last of the current Defender models embraces the vehicle's simplicity, honesty and charm…it represents its Series Land Rover heritage. Creating the Defender of tomorrow, a dream for any engineer or designer, is the next exciting chapter and we are looking forward to taking on that challenge”.  

And while the old Defender as we remember it does not exist any longer, the car lovers and Rover fans eagerly look forward to what Land Rover has in the wings. The details on the new Defender are expected later this year.