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M, L, and XL: Land Rover plans to build a Defender to suit every off-roader

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Land Rover is preparing to introduce the next-generation Defender, its most anticipated new model of the decade. The long-awaited SUV will be considerably more modern than its predecessor while remaining exceptionally capable off-road, according to the brand’s chief executive. Leaked slides from an internal presentation have revealed a lot of the information Land Rover was hoping to keep secret until the Defender’s debut.

The slides were published on an enthusiast forum called Disco4. They reveal the lineup will include three different variants of the Defender named 90″, 110″, and 130″, respectively. These are historic names the company used on the last-generation model, but they no longer correspond to the wheelbase. The 90″ is a two-door model with five or six seats, the 110″ is a four-door with up to seven seats, and the 130″ is a long-wheelbase four-door variant with seating for up to eight passengers. The slides make no mention of a pickup, the body style the 130″ nameplate used to denote.

The original Defender was introduced in 1983 — not 1948 as many claim — and it changed little during its production run. By 2015, its last full calendar year in production, it had become endearingly obsolete. We had a blast driving oneof the last examples to be built through a French forest but concluded it felt, sounded, and drove like a vehicle from another era. The new one coming out in the fall of 2019 was developed to feel, sound, and drive like a true 21st-century luxury SUV.

“Technology is going to be mandatory in the new Defender. You simply can’t build this kind of vehicle without it anymore. You can’t achieve the emissions levels, and you cannot achieve the CO2 levels required of vehicles these days,” Land Rover CEO Ralf Speth said in a recent interview with Australian website CarAdvice.

Even entry-level models will come relatively well equipped with features like a 10-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system, a seven-inch digital instrument cluster, LED headlights, and a six-speaker sound system. Land Rover will reward buyers who move up in the trim hierarchy with 18-way power-adjustable front seats, leather upholstery, a 14-speaker sound system, and a long list of electronic driving aids, features the original truck could only dream of.

Photos of preproduction prototypes testing in the most inhospitable places the planet has to offer confirm pedestrian safety norms and the basic principles of aerodynamics prevented Land Rover from giving the next-generation Defender a boxy design. The company’s designers weren’t interested in going retro, either. Up front, the Defender seemingly ditches the boxy front end and upright grille worn by its predecessor and adopts a softer-looking design that borrows styling cues from other 4x4s in the Land Rover family. Out back, it keeps a door-mounted spare tire in a bid to appease purists.

The Defender portfolio will range from a relatively basic off-roader to a full-on luxury chariot positioned as an alternative to the timeless Mercedes-Benz G-Class. Credible rumors claim it will ride on a unibody platform instead of using a body-on-frame architecture, a move expected to boost fuel efficiency by saving a tremendous amount of weight, but Speth stressed the SUV will still be “exceptional.” It will certainly have the DNA to become one of the best off-roaders on the market. Buyers will have five powertrains — including a plug-in hybrid — ranging from 200 to 400 horsepower to choose from. All-wheel drive and an automatic transmission will come standard regardless of what’s under the hood.

“It requires a state-of-the-art design and technology in this kind of vehicle, so looking only forward, not backward,” Speth said.

We expect the 2020 Land Rover Defender 110″ will make its debut during the 2019 Frankfurt Auto Show, and go on sale globally shortly after. The 90″ will arrive in March 2020, while the 130″ will break cover in October 2020. All three variants will join the Range Rover and the Discovery in American showrooms. Pricing information hasn’t been announced yet, but the cheapest Defender will likely start in the vicinity of $50,000.

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