Land Rover announces the return of the Defender to North America

Land Rover is preparing to begin on- and off-road testing of camouflaged prototypes in North America.

Land Rover revealed on December 27, 2018, that a new Defender is coming to America in 2020. (Hendrik Sulaiman/Dreamstime/TNS)
Land Rover revealed on December 27, 2018, that a new Defender is coming to America in 2020. –Hendrik Sulaiman/Dreamstime/TNS

In what’s best described as a belated Christmas present, Land Rover revealed that a new Defender is coming to America in 2020. Land Rover will begin on- and off-road testing of camouflaged prototypes in North America in January. Testing in the new world helps engineers fine tune the new Defender’s performance in temperatures from -40 F to 120 F at altitudes of more than 13,000 feet above sea level.

Perhaps to beat spy photographers to the punch, Land Rover released images of the camouflaged prototypes, which show a boxy SUV going through its paces, as well beauty shots in an urban environment.

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“This announcement is a holiday gift to our Defender fans in North America and a hint of what’s to come in the New Year,” said Kim McCullough, vice president of marketing for Jaguar Land Rover North America in a statement.

The company didn’t say much about the new Defender, other than that the 2020 model features an all-new exterior and interior design and is equipped with the latest driver assistance and connectivity technology. However, Road & Track magazine has reported that the new Defender could contain a central tire inflation system that varies tire inflation based on driving conditions, according to a patent application filed by Jaguar Land Rover. The same report suggests that the Defender’s current 90 and 110 model names will be retained. A plug-in hybrid will be among the new models offered, according to Motor Authority, based on social media posts made by Land Rover’s corporate parent, Tata. Most likely, the Defender will use Land Rover’s aluminum architecture and will be powered by the company’s Ingenium four-cylinder engines.

The Defender got its name in 1983, but it’s actually an unlikely survivor of what was once the British auto industry.

First shown by the Rover Company at the 1948 Amsterdam Motor Show as the Land Rover, this British take on the Willys-Overland Jeep was marketed for commercial and farm use as the Series 1. Production began that same year. Rendered in aluminum on an 80-inch wheelbase, the Series I had a 50-horsepower 1.6-liter gas engine that also powered the Rover P3 pickup. By 1949, the British Army had placed its first order. The following year, the Land Rover got a fresh face with exposed headlights, a look it would keep until 1969 as change was clearly not this vehicle’s forte. A long wheelbase model arrived in 1954, followed by the revised Series II in 1958 with refreshed styling, larger engines and longer wheelbases. The Series III debuted in 1971 wearing a plastic grille, flatter door hinges and featuring a full-width dashboard with optional heater. By 1976, the one millionth Land Rover was built, its look little changed over the decades.

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Aging but still in demand, Rover offered a 3.5-liter V-8 model with permanent four-wheel drive in 1979, and replaced the Land Rover’s leaf springs with coils in 1983 while lengthening its wheelbases. By 1990, it was known as the Defender, continually updated, but remaining largely unchanged. Production ended in 2016.

By ignoring the whims of fashion, the Defender transcended it, although this was no grand plan. Its parent company lacked the funding to significantly update it. As a result, the Defender transcended its time, becoming timeless much like its corporate sibling, the Mini, and the Defender’s competitor, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class.

Nevertheless, this next Defender is the first of what promises to be a line of vehicles within Land Rover, much like Range Rover or Discovery, including what could be a new spartan, affordable old-style Defender, according to AutoWeek magazine.

“There are a handful of automobiles that are beloved around the world and stand for a brand, a country and a distinct way of life. The Land Rover Defender is such a singular vehicle,” McCullough said.