The new Land Rover Defender has been spotted testing on public roads for the first time. Land Rover has sent out the first test mule ahead of the SUV’s projected 2020 launch.

The spy shots snapped by Autocar UK show the new Defender under camouflage on the roads around the Jaguar Land Rover factory, Gaydon. Queried about the images at the Paris Motor Show, Felix Bräutigam, marketing chief at JLR, told Autocar that they were indeed photos of the first Defender prototype to commence testing, and more would follow in the coming months as the ramp-up to production begins.

“These are what we call Pilot build cars and testing will increase on public roads from now,” said Bräutigam. “The first four cars are ready, and now the line is running you can expect the number of test cars to grow exponentially.” Over time, the iconic bare-bones 4×4 would undergo rigorous testing through the usual routines. This includes cold-weather testing in Arjeplog, Sweden followed by hot weather testing in Death Valley, USA. The news of the new Defender is especially exciting since it is not just a motoring icon that is coming back to life, but a whole new family of SUVs built upon the new platform.

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Fiddling with an icon is a delicate task. It will be interesting to see how the Defender shapes up.

“Our brand is about passion, and it is icons that drive that passion. The truth is the world doesn’t need another premium brand doing what all the others do. These icons are what separate us; at Land Rover we are rooted in our heritage and that’s what makes us different,” added Bräutigam. He also said that he felt the time taken between axing the Defender from the lineup in 2016 and relaunching could do the car a world of good. There is a high likelihood that the new Defender could be offered with an electric powertrain along with the staple petrol and diesel units.

Tackling the rebirth of an icon is not an easy task. “If we had wanted to recreate the existing car then we could have moved quicker, but it is our view that for an icon to remain an icon it cannot only look backward but must move forward too. The new Defender will move the game on again, and having the benefit for some perspective in order to achieve that should be to our advantage.”

A JLR spokesperson had initially declined to comment on the pictures, but when asked about the new Defender, had this to say: “We can confirm customers around the world will be taking delivery of and enjoying Defender again from 2020.”

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From the looks of it, the test mule points to a boxy yet modern Defender in the making.

All Images Credit: Autocar UK