If there was one vehicle you could connect the UAE with, it would have to be the Land Rover Defender, and so it was a sad day in 2016 when the 2,016,933rd and final car rolled down the assembly line after 68 years of continuous production.
But the smiles were back yesterday at the Dubai International Motor Show when the legend returned after a three-year hiatus and the covers were whipped off the brand new 2020 Defender, showing off its first and only body change since 1948.
The legendary off-roader made its regional debut in two variants, comprising the three-door and five-door versions with a design that has to balance the demands of hardcore enthusiasts with the need to give it more widespread appeal.
“There are few cars as ingrained in the history of the UAE as the Land Rover Defender and we are elated to be able to welcome it back to the region,” said Bruce Robertson, the Managing Director of Jaguar Land Rover Middle East and North Africa.
The Trucial States, the land we now call the UAE, was a barren environment in the 1960s: with no roads to connect the surrounding emirates, 4x4s were the only way to get around.
Travelling between emirates was rough, with commuters having to negotiate the wide sabkha flats of Abu Dhabi at low tide, the soft, hilly sand dunes, the hard-packed wet sand of the beaches and the large gravel plains just to get to the major cities. Routes we take for granted today given the multi-lane highways.
Land Rovers and the Toyota Land Cruiser were for many years the only way to commute on four wheels, and as a result the Defender quickly gained a reputation as the vehicle that helped build the UAE
"The new Defender is respectful of its past but is not harnessed by it," said Gerry McGovern chief design officer.
"Its unique personality is accentuated by its distinctive silhouette and optimum proportions, which make it both highly desirable and seriously capable – a visually compelling 4×4 that wears its design and engineering integrity with uncompromised commitment."
The details: ranges and features
In order to live up to its reputation, the new Defender underwent more than 1.2 million kilometres of on and off-road testing in extreme conditions around the world, including the scorching temperatures of the UAE, the freezing cold of Arjeplog in the Arctic Circle and the punishing Nurburgring Circuit in Germany, as well as the plains of Kenya.
It uses a lightweight aluminium monocoque construction, which ensures that the new shape is not only the stiffest body the company has ever produced, but also three times stiffer than traditional body-on-frame designs.
Seven models make up the initial range, comprising the Defender, S, SE, HSE, First Edition and top-of-the-range Defender X, while still giving customers plenty of scope to personalise their vehicle as Land Rover owners are want to do.
To satisfy the personalisation requests the company constantly receives for a vehicle that can be adapted to suit virtually any situation including ambulance, military and emergency services as well as a family’s weekend escape vehicle, it comes with a variety of accessory packs such as the Explorer, Adventure, Country and Urban pack.
Each gives the 4x4 a distinct character, while exclusive first edition models include a unique specification and will be available throughout the first year of production.
Available in both 90 and 110 body designs, the numbers previously denoted the wheelbase in inches, whereas now it signifies the three and five-door body styles, it offers up to six seats in the 90 and the option of five, six or five 5+2 seating in the longer 110.
As you would expect, Defender features permanent four-wheel drive, an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox and twin-speed transmission, a maximum towing capability of 3,500kg and a maximum static roof load of 300kg. This all sits upon fully independent air or coil sprung suspension.
A handy new feature on the Defender is "configurable terrain response", which allows drivers to fine tune a range of settings to suit the conditions more precisely. A new Wade programme optimises the vehicle for fording wadis and rivers with a staggeringly good 900mm of wading depth.
The new Defender will potentially serve in an official capacity in the UAE as it was put through its paces before a group of all-terrain experts from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies when it came to Dubai in August.
This relationship dates back 65 years to 1954, when the first specially adapted Land Rover entered service in the region as a mobile dispensary.
“The United Arab Emirates remains one of the most important regional markets for Jaguar Land Rover and the Dubai International Motor Show continues to be an influential platform for Land Rover to reach the region's most discerning automotive enthusiasts,” Robertson said.
The 15th Dubai International Motor Show features more than 90 companies and more than 40 car launches. It is on until Saturday at the Dubai World Trade Centre from, 1pm to 9pm.