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Land Rover is torturing the next-generation Defender ahead of its launch

Land Rover has dropped more details about the next-generation Defender, which is unquestionably the British company’s most anticipated new model of the decade. The long-awaited off-roader will be considerably more modern than the last-generation car while remaining exceptionally capable off-road, according to the brand’s chief executive. Fear not: it’s not going soft.

“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.

The original Defender was introduced in 1983 — not 1948 as many claim; that was the Series I — 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 one of 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.

It will be available with features like adaptive cruise control and hill descent control, and you can safely bet your next paycheck on the fact that the Defender will have a massive touchscreen in the center console. Bluetooth connectivity and voice commands? Check and check. Well-equipped models will even boast creature comforts like leather-upholstered heated seats and, possibly, a digital instrument cluster, features the original truck could only dream of.

Upping the Defender’s tech quotient will significantly broaden its customer base. Land Rover sold about 20,000 examples of the old Defender annually. It made the new model’s business case around a ceiling of approximately 100,000 cars per year, a figure it will achieve by offering different variants and body styles. The lineup will include two- and four-door models plus a pickup, though the latter version might not arrive until later in the production run. And, this time around, the Defender will be sold in the United States, the automaker has confirmed.

Photos of pre-production 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 round 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.

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

Updated April 30, 2018: Added the latest information about the 2020 Land Rover Defender.

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