HOW DO YOU replace an icon? That's the question which Land Rover is grappling with as it designs a new 4x4 to replace the much-loved Defender.
The company is showing two concepts at the 2011 Los Angeles Auto Show which give broad hints at the direction it is going. First revealed at the Frankfurt show in September, the designs have been refined since and a handful of lucky journalists, including Chas Hallett from our sister title What Car?, have had the chance to get behind the wheel.
Land Rover describes the DC100 as a reinvention "of the essential Defender design cues for the 21st century". Its short overhangs and upright, chunky styling give the DC100 a no-nonsense toughness.
The DC100 Sport harks back to the early canvas-roofed Defenders. To my eyes there's more than a hint of Californian beach-buggy about it, too.
'Heart of the brand'
John Edwards, Land Rover's global brand director, said: "The Defender has always been at the heart of the Land Rover brand and single-handedly defines our go-anywhere, can-do spirit. Our ambition is to create an all new Defender for a global market that remains absolutely faithfully to its original DNA: tough, versatile, durable and capable. At the same time, it will be developed for the 21st century and adaptable for the needs of future generations."
The new Defender won't arrive in showrooms until 2015 at the earliest. When it does, Land Rover says the car will have an updated version of the Terrain Response system, which varies a car's systems depending on the conditions it encounters. Land Rover is even working on what it calls 'Wade Aid' – a sonar system to assess water depth.
It's impossible to draw firm conclusions with the production car so far away but What Car?'s Chas Hallett enjoyed his drive in the DC100 Sport:
"This concept is built on a Range Rover Sport chassis and powered by the company's V8 engine. Whether or not this is what the final production car will use is purely guesswork, but it is one of the options being considered.
"Either way, the growly, torquey V8, going through an auto 'box, seems to suit the DC100 Sport's character perfectly. Just tickling the throttle sends it lurching forward, traversing the deep rutted sand impressively – considering it's a car designed for a motor show stand.
"It rides well too, taking into account it's sitting on 22-inch wheels and on a beach. The steering is precise, feeling every bit as taut and agile as a Range Rover Evoque and eons away from a classic Landie."
You can Chas's thoughts in more detail here.