The new Land Rover Defender has finally been revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show and it’s heading South Africa in 2020. Here's what you need to know...

The recent announcement that a remake of Top Gun is on the cards is exciting but there are those who will wonder whether it will ever be as good as the original. That same debate is going to rage in forums the world over for this, the brand new Defender.

It’s packed with unique design features, the latest technology and engineered to be the most capable Land Rover ever. It’s designed to be as at home outside the local Vida as it is traversing the Kalahari, but is it still a Defender?

Chief design officer at Land Rover, Gerry McGovern, certainly thinks so. “It’s about capturing the essence of the original but not being held captive by it,” he told us. That essence is clear in some of the design features, such as the high bonnet, vertical rear with its mounted spare wheel, short front and rear overhangs and elements such as the Alpine windows and chequer plate on the bonnet. It’s the Defender re-interpreted for a new generation.

Inside things are different too, but there is a semblance of familiarity. There’s a wide one-piece dashboard hewn from magnesium that provides a very minimalist look. It’s designed to appear rugged and utilitarian, as are elements like the torque screws visible in the doors and the strap-like door handles. There’s even a central front jump seat available to make it feel in some way like an original, albeit one with air suspension. And tech … lots of tech.

There’s a 12,3-inch digital instrument cluster, a head-up display, ClearSight Ground View and even wireless smartphone charging. But the big discussion point will be the new Pivi Pro infotainment system, not for its ability to stream your favourite music, utilise Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, or even to receive live over-the-air updates, but because you use it to control the off-road engineering.

Apart from the gear lever mounted on the dash for the eight-speed automatic transmission, there are no other levers. There’s no lever to select high or low range, no lever to lock differentials. It’s all done through the touchscreen. It will provide control of the Configurable Terrain Response allowing you to set things up the way you want depending on the conditions, or leave it in Auto to decide for you. This is a very modern Defender.

When it arrives in South Africa in the first half of 2020, it will initially be available only as a long wheelbase 110, with space for up to seven people courtesy of an optional third row of seats. It will be followed later in the year by the short wheelbase 90. There will also be commercial vehicle versions although these are not yet confirmed for SA.

There will be various trim levels as well as a “First Edition” model, available naturally only in the first year of production. Then there will be packages, including the Urban, Country, Adventure and Explorer, the latter featuring a roof rack that can accommodate a 300 kg static load such as the optional roof tent, a ladder and a snorkel. Most won’t need the snorkel though because the Defender has a wading depth of 900 mm and a special Wade programme.

Other numbers to note include approach, breakover and departure angles of 38, 28 and 40 degrees respectively on the 110. It can tow up to 3 700 kg and handle a 16-tonne recovery load. There’s 135 mm of front suspension lift and 145 mm at the rear, 500 mm of wheel articulation and 291 mm of ground clearance.

The new Defender has been engineered for electrification but don’t expect the mild or plug-in hybrid versions in South Africa anytime soon. At first, we will get the D240 2,0-litre turbodiesel delivering 177 kW and 430 N.m, and the P400 3,0-litre straight-six petrol with 294 kW and 550 N.m.

Land Rover South Africa is able to provide only indicative pricing at this stage, with the 90 starting at R830 300 and the 110 at R910 400.

The company insists the new model will still appeal to Defender traditionalists and is probably hoping to lure people back from their Toyota Land Cruisers. Even more though, they’re looking for a new, younger crowd; one that is used to arranging their lives using a touchscreen.

That’s all well and good but it’s still a Defender, so will it be able to drive from Cape Town to Cairo? We can’t answer that, yet, but according to McGovern, the new Defender “can go anywhere it bloody wants”. Now that’s what we really want to know.

Author: Mark Smyth