2020 Land Rover Defender spy shots

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Land Rover’s Defender is the stuff of legend. With a design that’s barely budged from the boxy shape of the utilitarian-and-mechanically-bulletproof “Land Rover” unveiled in 1948, the Defender, just like its Germanic rival, the G-Glass, has a reputation for being one of the most capable vehicles off the road.

Unfortunately, the off-roading icon was phased out at the start of 2016 due to safety and emissions regulations. The good news is that a successor is coming at the end of 2018 to coincide with Land Rover's 70th anniversary celebrations, and a test mule has been spotted.

A test mule is what engineers use at the early stage of real-world testing. It allows them to test new mechanicals in the body of an existing model, albeit normally modified. Here we see them testing the new Defender's mechanicals within the makeshift body of a Range Rover Sport.

Last Land Rover Defender is built at famous Solihull plant in the United Kingdom - January 29, 2016

Last Land Rover Defender is built at famous Solihull plant in the United Kingdom - January 29, 2016

The test mule reveals that the new Defender will be considerably shorter in length than the Range Rover Sport. This test mule is for a short-wheelbase Defender but a long-wheelbase model is also planned. Various body styles are also planned including 3- and 5-door versions as well as a pickup.

The new Defender was originally due around 2015 but frequent design changes led to delays. We'll likely see the vehicle arrive in showrooms in mid-to-late 2019, as a 2020 model.

The DC100 line of concept vehicles from 2011 was meant to hint at a new, inexpensive Defender designed to target Toyota’s Hilux workhorse. Those plans apparently didn’t sit well with Defender devotees and so it was back to the drawing board for the design team.

Land Rover's DC100 concept

Land Rover's DC100 concept

The revised plan was to position the new Defender as a premium offering not unlike the G-Class, itself due for a redesign this year. This meant a switch to a lightweight aluminum platform related to Land Rover’s PLA unibody structure underpinning the larger Range Rover SUVs, as well as the Discovery. The Defender should still feature a live rear axle and low-range transfer case with two differential locks for superior performance when going off-road, though.

As for the styling, expect a boxy shape and flat roof to remain. However, Land Rover definitely won't be doing a retro design.

Powertrains meanwhile should include a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4, a 3.0-liter supercharged V-6, and possibly some plug-in hybrid configuration. An electric Defender should also be launched at some point.

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