2020 Defender: A masterclass of homage design

Land Rover has had the ginormous task of modernising a car that has grown its own cultural identity. We investigate how they went about it…

Ever since car brands figured out that petrol heads are very nostalgic, we’ve seen a slew of new cars and concepts made in homage to the iconic vehicles of the past. This doesn’t always work, however, as it is difficult to make a modern car with all the tight regulations and modern tech work in a design that was pencilled in an era without those constraints. With the rebirth of the Defender, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) have proven that they can make the perfect modern homage that stays true to its humble ancestors.

Side profile



We start with the side profile of the new Defender because its silhouette is the single most important design element to have been brought over from the Defender of old. Those that aren’t aware of this new incarnation will have no trouble identifying it as a Defender – thanks in large part to that shared silhouette (that is if the big bold block capital letters emblazoned on the bonnet didn’t give it away).


The rounded shoulder-line is present along the full length of the car, albeit, with a larger corner radius. It accentuates the length of the car as well as making it look that bit more tough and rugged. I expect this design element to age just as well as it did for 70 years since its debut on the Series 2 Land Rover of the ’50s.


Make no mistake, this new Defender isn’t just a Defender by name. It carries with it the go-anywhere-do-anything attitude of its predecessor. Its utilitarian credentials are bolstered by the positioning of the wheels at the furthest corners of the body as well as the large square wheel arches for the maximum approach/departure angles and wheel travel respectively.


You would have to have a keen eye to distinguish between the different iterations of the older Defender models, but this new generation strikes the balance between acknowledging its heritage while establishing itself as a new car. This is made apparent by the new front fascia which is where the most visible changes to the design can be seen. The circular headlight and DRL is a modern take on the iconic round headlamps that have flanked the grille of the Defender for decades. Aerodynamics was put aside in favour of off-roading ability, as with older Defenders, given that the front remains mostly flat to maintain a good approach angle.



Those Alpine light windows have made a welcome return – making sure the cabin is well lit in the rear compartment. The subtly sloped roof is here too but not sure what pragmatic value that brings aside from aiding in aerodynamics.


Keeping in line with the iconic silhouette, the rear of the new Defender is flat with the addition of the spare wheel which is mounted on the tailgate instead of underneath the car to, of course, maximise departure angle. The tailgate remains hinged to the right side to make it easier to access the boot. It is now flanked by more modern “squircle” tail lights which seem to be one of the larger design departures from the previous Defender.


The new Defender is truly a fitting rebirth of the original, not only because of the design cues that they share, but the high priority placed on designing the ultimate utility vehicle. JLR could have easily gone Mercedes’ route with the G-wagon and carried the Defender name onto a retro-looking status symbol for the rich. Instead, they made sure that the Defender was updated for the modern era while remaining as the working man’s/woman’s SUV for the masses. If you remain unconvinced, just look at those steelies!

 Let us know your thoughts on the new 2020 Land Rover Defender

By Jamil Jafri

Editor at The Mechanists