Land Rover insists the new Defender is influenced by its past but is not defined by it. CarBuzz spoke to the team who created it.
The new Land Rover Defender has been revealed, which means we can finally talk about an exclusive preview we attended a couple of months ago where we got to chat to the team involved in giving a new lease of life to one of the most famous names in automotive history. In the design center of the impressive new headquarters of Jaguar Land Rover in Gaydon, England, chief design officer for Land Rover, Gerry McGovern, explained how the company looked beyond the heritage of the Defender.
"While we recognize its unique heritage, we cannot allow us to be hamstrung by it," he told us. "It's about capturing the essence of the original but not being held captive by it." The design is going to be controversial, but McGovern is no stranger to that, after all, he created the oddly placed rear number plate design on the latest Discovery. He says the Defender is about leadership in design, engineering integrity and durability. All these are things that Defender owners aren't typically used to, of course.
But McGovern says it's not just about those who have owned a Defender before. "We want to appeal to traditionalists, but we're looking at a new, younger crowd," he says. This means responding to urbanization trends but also maintaining the essence of the brand. He also told us it's about mutual respect between design and engineering, saying that the executive director of engineering, Nick Rogers "doesn't want a design that looks crap." A very Gerry comment to make and one that is true for most automakers, although sadly not all.
However, McGovern says that design took the lead when it came to the Defender. That meant creating some of the most technical surfaces Land Rover has ever done but at the same time including some classic elements such as the strap-like interior door handles which he says "are more appropriate." That interior is all about being functional and durable or as McGovern puts it, "constructivist and modular." Exactly what that means we're not quite sure, but as he says, it won't be confused with a Range Rover.
Interior designer Lee Perry told us there are many utilitarian elements. This includes the wide dashboard made of magnesium for durability and minimalism, although for safety legislation, it still had to be padded. He pointed out the bare torque screws in the doors, the lack of trim covering and the interior chequer plating that mirrors that on the hood. He also told us that the optional center console rails are referred to internally as "the hockey sticks."
Then there's all the technology, something that will seem alien to current Defender owners. It's not for tech's sake though says Rogers: "If you don't need it, don't have it." Some might say you don't need a touchscreen to select low-range, but maybe we're just being one of those traditionalists McGovern talks about.
What you do need in a Defender is capability, lots of it and that's very much Rogers' job. Telling us that "we are defying the laws of physics" with the Defender might be pushing it but if it can do everything that Rogers and his team promise then it could well feel like it. That's not to say anything's necessarily over-engineered, but as much as Govern thinks the design was the lead factor, it's engineering that will define whether the character of the Defender truly lives on in the new one.
"One of the obsessions of an engineer is to make people's lives better," says Rogers, adding that this has been the spirit of Land Rover since the Series I first appeared in 1948. Some will argue about whether a Defender has made their life better, particularly those who have spent lots of time in a workshop, but as McGovern says, it's all about products that "customers have an emotional connection to," whatever that emotion might be. The final word must also go to McGovern, who says of the ability of the Defender: "It can go anywhere it bloody well wants." We certainly look forward to putting this to the test.