Spy Shots

Right on cue, here’s a Land Rover Defender mule

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This week at the LA Auto Show, Land Rover chief creative officer Gerry McGovern told an Australian publication that the new Defender, which is definitely coming, would be "polarizing" and that Defender die-hards might not get the visual link to the past they're hoping for. Which all makes good sense, because while a perfect clone of a Series I with a modern powertrain and contemporary safety features sounds awesome, it's probably not what people would spend their hard-earned dollars on.

And to be fair, the few that would like to do that can have several outfits restomod older Defenders.

These new spy shots of the upcoming Defender – and it's almost certainly that, and nothing else, given its wheelbase – don't add fuel to the fire either way. For one, the short-wheelbase mule looks like an awkwardly cut-down Discovery Sport, but it's likely not based on that transverse-engined crossover. It does feature independent rear suspension that appears unique, although it's hard to tell without peeking underneath ourselves. But it's the wheelbase that's the real key. There's no product with this track that would have a wheelbase like this other than the Defender.

Our spy photographer also caught a long-wheelbase version which appears to be wearing a modified Range Rover Sport look. Since that vehicle is a unibody, like the Disco Sport, it lends some credence to the notion that the Defender will also abandon its body-on-frame construction. After all, the big Range Rover makes it work.

It probably won't look like either of these. It also probably won't look much like the Defender Concept 100, according to the company itself. What these photos really prove is that Land Rover is serious enough about the whole thing to build short-wheelbase mules, and that's a promising sign that the Defender won't simply be a lightly restyled version of some existing platform. Which would be a crying shame.

The thing about the old Defender was, it wasn't just capable, it was supremely rugged. Land Rover wraps all its vehicles in a mantle of capability now, even the crossovers. Where the Defender will fall on the spectrum, and whether it'll be a serious piece of hardware, is an open question. One thing's sure: the purists probably won't like it.

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