It’s been a long time coming, but the 2020 Land Rover Defender looks to be worth the wait. The new Defender combines a 21st-century take on iconic Land Rover design cues with a state-of-the-art body, powertrain, suspension, and electronic hardware. And it promises to deliver both benchmark off-road capability and unprecedented on-road refinement.

The new Defender, codenamed L663, is built on an aluminum-intensive monocoque platform dubbed D7x. It’s based on the D7u platform that underpins the Range Rover, Range Rover Sport, and Land Rover Discovery; but, according to Nick Rogers, head of engineering at JLR, it’s 95 percent new. Rogers says the Defender is 10 times stiffer than an average body-on-frame off-roader, and three times stiffer than the best, and it can tow up to 8,201 pounds. Another advantage is the smooth underbody, which is good for off-roading and contributes to a drag coefficient of 0.38.

D7x is built in two wheelbases—101.9 inches and 119.0 inches—the shorter underpinning the two-door Defender 90, and the longer the four-door Defender 110. Both models have exactly the same front and rear overhangs (33.3 inches front and 35.0 inches rear), so all of the 110’s extra wheelbase length goes to increased interior room. The 110 will be available in a three-row, seven-passenger configuration. Curb weights range from about 4,650 pounds for a base Defender 90 to 5,165 pounds for a loaded Defender 110 with 5+2 seating.

Suspension is independent multilink front and rear, with steel springs on base models and height-adjustable air springs on higher-spec versions. The suspension geometry is similar to that of the D7u Rovers, but all the hardware has been strengthened and toughened. Base ground clearance is 8.5 inches; Defenders with air suspension can pump that up to 11.5 inches.

The Defender is available with 19-, 20-, and 22-inch alloy wheels, respectively shod with 255/65, 275/55, and 285/45 tires. The coolest wheel is the old-school steel 18-incher fitted with high-sidewall 255/70 tires. Regardless of the rim choice, the tire selection ensures they all deliver an off-road-friendly 32.1-inch rolling diameter.

U.S. market Defenders will be available with the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-banger that already sees service in the Jaguar F-Pace 30t, or the new 3.0-liter straight-six that has an exhaust gas-driven turbocharger, electric supercharger, and a 48-volt mild hybrid system. The four-cylinder engine develops 296 hp at 5,500 rpm and 295 lb-ft of torque from 1,500 to 4,000 rpm. The six pumps out 395 hp at 5,500 rpm and 406 lb-ft of torque from 2,000 to 5,000 rpm. Land Rover claims a 7.7-second 0–60 acceleration time and a 119-mph top speed for a long-wheelbase Defender 110 powered by the 2.0-liter engine. The six-cylinder engine cuts the 0–60 time to 5.8 seconds and boosts top speed to 129 mph.

We’re not likely to see the diesel engines that will be offered in Europe and other markets. But a plug-in hybrid model with the same powertrain as the PHEV Range Rover—the 296-hp four-cylinder turbomotor plus a 114-hp electric motor, delivering a total system output of 395 hp—is expected six months to a year after launch.

All Defenders come standard with Terrain Response controlled permanent four-wheel drive, an eight-speed automatic transmission, and a two-speed transfer case. An upgraded Terrain Response system that allows the driver to precisely configure the vehicle settings is available as an option, as is an active locking rear differential and locking center differential.

“The whole goal? It had to be stunning off-road,” says Rogers. Therefore, the Defender boasts a 38-degree approach angle, 40-degree departure angle, and will climb a 45-degree slope. The independent suspension has 19.7 inches of wheel articulation, and the Defender will wade water 35.4 inches deep straight off the showroom floor. But Rogers says its on-road manners are equally impressive, thanks to the highly rigid unibody construction that eliminates the need for the squishy bushings used in body-on-frame vehicles to ensure on-road refinement: “The reason this car is so fun to drive is it doesn’t have the latency of the chassis and body binding up.”

The hardest part of the new Defender development program? Making sure it looked like a Defender. Whereas Jeep has regularly honed and refined the design of the Wrangler, Land Rover design chief Gerry McGovern is acutely aware the L663 marks the first redesign of the brand’s iconic off-roader in more than 30 years. “Heritage? We’re mindful of it, but we can’t be held back by it,” says McGovern.

The result is a design that riffs on obvious Defender cues like the simple two-box profile and rectilinear linework, the broad stance, the bodyside shoulders, the “collar” under the greenhouse and windshield, and the alpine lights in the roof. But the beautifully executed surfacing and carefully considered detailing—such as the modern front and rear light graphics, and the inset hood that eliminates unsightly cutlines in the front fender—means the new Defender looks stunningly contemporary yet endearingly timeless, an instant design classic.

Inside, the new Defender combines high tech with functional chic. The dash is a powder-coated magnesium crossbeam framed by padded rails, to which are attached a digital instrument panel for the driver and a centrally mounted infotainment interface, immediately under which is a small pod-like structure for the stubby PRNDL shifter, HVAC controls, and buttons to activate ride height, hill descent control, and low range. The pod means that in base trim there’s open space between the front seats. Options include a center console with lots of storage options, or a front seat that turns even the short-wheelbase Defender 90 into a genuine six-passenger vehicle.

The Defender will also mark the debut of JLR’s most advanced electronic architecture and infotainment interface yet, with always-on 4G and 5G, plus voice activation and over-the-air-software upgrade capability. Other high-tech features include the ClearSight rearview mirror, which uses a high-def camera to effectively eliminate D-pillar blind spots and enable the driver to see behind even if the luggage area is filled; and the ClearSight see-through hood, which uses a downward-looking camera to show terrain just in front of the front wheels to help with wheel placement over obstacles.

Prices will start at $49,900 for the base Defender 110 P300, and stretch to $80,900 for the loaded 110 P400 X. The volume-selling models are expected to be the $53,350 Defender 110 P300 S, and the entry six-cylinder model, the $62,250 110 P400 SE.

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