The rumour mill continues to stir around the next-gen Land Rover Defender, due in 2018, but this is the first time we have spotted a test mule of it. This strange-looking shortened Range Rover appears to be a test bed for the three-door '90' Defender.
We have seen plenty of unusual test mules over the years, and this looks to be one of the quirkiest. Viewed from the front and rear it looks entirely like a disguised Range Rover Sport, but side-on we can see that a huge chunk of the SUV's wheelbase has been lopped out.
Despite being designed to throw us off the scent, the test bed looks uncannily similar in length to the old '90 Series' three-door Defenders. However, reimagining cult classics is not an easy task, and in Land Rover’s case it has to build a brand new 4x4 that is competent off-road (in line with the brand identity), while also meeting modern standards in terms of comfort and making money on a car that’s likely to sell in small numbers.
A top boss did admit that the design and engineering work behind the new Defender has been all but settled, to the point where he had the opportunity to try the new vehicle. Teasing further, he said, “I have driven test mules already and also tried the car against competitors, in on- and off-road environments. It’s sensational.”
He would not put a timeframe on when the new Land Rover Defender would debut but he did say, “It is coming. We are working an authentic successor of the predecessor. I have to say it was one of my saddest moments in my career at Jaguar Land Rover, when we stopped the production line of this vehicle, because I just love it. But we will make a successor to this vehicle and you can be sure it will be even more capable. Nevertheless it will have the DNA of the current car.”
It is expected that the Defender will utilise parts from other Land Rover vehicles and be built alongside other cars from the range. “We’re already doing this now… We used the modular architecture and elements of our chassis for weight reduction to make the new Discovery a better-handling car. We will do so also in the future because we always learn.”
Beyond the launch of the basic model, Land Rover is planning to introduce an entire new family of Defenders, and design boss Gerry McGovern has hinted that a performance SVR version of the forthcoming 4x4 could also be on the cards.
Such a car would be developed by Jaguar Land Rover’s Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) division, and would allow the brand to tap into demand in Russia and China for powerful and luxurious rugged off-roaders, currently dominated by the Mercedes G range of AMGs. The first new Defender isn’t expected to arrive until 2018, and it will spawn a family of at least three individual models. Yet the car will remain a true off-roader. While exact details are still secret, the new Defender is likely to have an aluminium body built on an aluminium chassis. This would give go-anywhere strength with less weight than a traditional steel chassis.