Defender mules spotted

Heavily-camouflaged new model hits the streets

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The digital equivalent of a brown envelope filled with pictures being slid under the office door has caused a lot of chatter. A test ‘mule’ for the new Defender has broken cover.

There are ways of getting attention and having the hashtag #best4x4xfar in big letters down the side of a mule is a sure-fire way to get it noticed. It may as well have said #lookatme or #nothingtoseehere – both of which would have elicited a similar response.

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What can we see? Well, very little. Think back to the Discovery days and you had what essentially looked like a Range Rover Classic with a Truckman top on it – that gave a reasonable amount away. On the other hand, the Maestro Van-bodied Freelander mule didn't.

All we get from this is a tantalising glimpse of an independently-sprung vehicle, but will it look anything like this? Probably not – the mule looks more like a Discovery 3 than a ‘Defender’.

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Building instantly-recognisable, modern versions of classics seems to have worked for VW with the Beetle, BMW with the Mini, Fiat with the 500 and more. Get the average man in the street to point out cars in the street and I bet those would be the ones they would find easiest to accurately identify. And though they might miss-label a Series Land Rover as a Defender, they would at least recognise it as being a Land Rover.

The mule caught in the pics has a curved windscreen. Could the next generation Defender have a flat screen? Well, Jeep have managed it with the 2019 Wrangler, and Suzuki also have the new Jimny, so it is possible. And advances in technology means roll over protection systems have improved significantly since the 1940s when the Defender can trace its design roots back to – something should be possible.

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Gerry McGovern, Land Rover's head design bod, said something along the lines of: 'You'll be able to give the new Defender a kicking, and it'll get up for more.' And that's fine – it'll be a workhorse which is what people want a Defender to be. But there are also a lot of people wanting it to look like a Defender – so we’ll just have to keep an eye out for the mules as they slowly shed their disguises.