Mike Boyd, chassis and vehiclecapability delivery manager, describes his department, Jaguar Land Rover Research, as the ‘Q' branch of the company, alluding to the James Bond-like technology in development. It's a job he obviously relishes and he's bursting to tell us all about the ‘toys' he gets to play with —and those that are coming down theline in future products from Jaguarand Land Rover.
Today we're at a small ski resort in France called Megève to get up close and personal with one such product — a preview to the replacement of Land Rover's most iconic model, the Defender.
The DC100 concept was first unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show at the end of 2011. In Germany it was displayed in open-topped Sport guise and in the more conventional shape pictured here.
Since then it has been repainted twice as it's hawked around the world to various shows, and we're about to take the wheel. Knowing that we're going to drive a virtually priceless show car adds to the nerves, but they're soon forgotten on seeing the DC100 on the snow for the first time. It looks stunning. Motor show lighting, no matter how good, never flatters a car and the concept's lines are far more at home in daylight. The contrast between the lustrous red paintwork, the white snow, blue sky and dark green trees is nothing short of spectacular.
While there's been some controversy over the direction of the design and engineering of the next Defender, we think the show car has got the style spot on. It's undoubtedly a Land Rover evolved from the likes of the Series 1, but it's in no way retrospective.
In profile the concept is reminiscent of the Skoda Yeti and it shares a bold face with that crossover, though the proportions are very different. The Land Rover is distinctly square in stance, as emphasised by the wide wheel arches covering huge 20in alloys and chunky off-road tyres. The view from the back is pure Defender, though with attitude. Take a closer look and the concept car jewellery is more obvious. The roof over the luggage compartment appears to be made of solar cells and the C-pillars are constructed of a lattice so that the driver can see through them. Indeed, their design, and the all-round visibility offered by the high, upright glasshouse, hints at more than just a one-off show car for cheap publicity. As too does the back-to-basics interior that looks like it would survive a hose-down.
That is until our minder removes the centre console and appears to join two wires together to start it up. I'm told to press the large brake pedal while he fires the engine into life. Under the square bonnet is the Range Rover Sport's V8 engine and it sounds fantastic, even at idle. Not that we can hang about, as apparently the fuel tank only holds five litres of petrol. Don't expect that limitation in any Land Rover you canbuy soon.
We're told to keep the speed down to preserve the integrity of the clay body work, but even so the DC100 effortlessly shrugs off the conditions and burbles up the mountain. Its damping is too soft for a production car's though and we bob over the bumps. The turning circle is impressive, however, and the view out makes it easy to place the car. That said, on full lock, while traversing ruts in the snow, one of the tyres catches the inner wheel arch and our minder winces. It's a lesson we learn from though and soon we're confidently following the route.
The Range Rover's engine makes short work of the show car and I only needto tickle the throttle to maintain momentum. Allied to the V8 engine isa ZF automatic transmission, whichmakes the whole experience particularly relaxed, despite the obviously fragile nature of the concept.
For Land Rover today, there is no compromise made between form and function. Mike tells us that the functionality of the vehicle must bea given, so the next Defender, no matter what it looks like, no matter how much technology it can be fitted with, must be at least as competent as the car it replaces. That must be the case in the most basic version of the new model, as it is forthe most tech-laden variant. For seriousoff-roading that means minimal overhangs front and rear plus substantial ground clearance. We've been assured that the new Defender will set a benchmark for all those things.
Where Boyd and his ‘Q' branch team come in is to extend the reach of the Defender and open up its capabilities to a wider market. On one hand it needs to be more comfortable and usable in everyday conditions, while on the other it has to move with the times, and right now that means the option of loads of funky technology. It's what the kids want. Land Rover has an arsenal of the stuff just waiting for the right vehicle to apply it to.
First up is Auto Terrain Response. Current Range Rovers and the Land Rover Discovery feature driver-selectable Terrain Response, which alters various parameters of the car according to conditions. This can control the transmission (gearbox, differentials, etc), steering, throttle map, traction control, stability control and suspension settings, optimising them for a given scenario. Options vary per model, but usually include grass, gravel, snow, mud and ruts, sand and rock crawl.
The next generation of this system will use various sensors around the vehicle to automatically determine the best settings for the terrain underneath. Following on from that, Land Rover hopes to introduce a forward-looking system, which uses high-definition cameras to map out the route ahead and alert the driver to any hazards, while automatically preparing the vehicle. It's not as sci-fi as it sounds — this is coming to production.
So too is the neatly-named Wade Aid. While this doesn't increase the depth at which a car can wade through water, it does allow the driver to maximise the car's capability. It does this by using sensors, potentially mounted on the door mirrors and bumpers, which monitor the level of the water and whether it is deepening to unsafe levels. The next iteration would conceivably raise the ride height of the car automatically and even set the perfect speed to create a bow wave ahead of the engine. In the future, we suspect that mapping of the river bed might be possible too using sonar.
We don't have to call for that on the snow in France, though we could do with spikes in the tyres to explore the upper reaches of the mountain. Land Rover has an ingenious solution to that in its on-demand spiked tyres. That one really is straight out of a 007 movie, Die Another Day from 2002 to be precise. Land Rover is working with several tyre suppliers to make it a reality and has even revealed how it will work. It's beautifully simple and robust and though designed for use on compacted snow and ice, spiked tyres could be of real use on other slippery surfaces, such as wet grass.
On the tyre front, Land Rover is also exploring other functions. It realises that, for extreme off-roading, pinch punctures are a nightmare, so airless tyres are under investigation as an option. Before they are introduced we're likely to see variable tyre pressure management. Along with keeping your tyres at the optimal level, this system could allow the driver to change the tyre pressure on the move to suit the conditions. Theoretically the Auto Terrain Response system could manage it all. As we slither across the snow we're told that Torque Vectoring will be a prominent feature of future Land Rovers. This system actively manages torque to each individual wheel, but goes beyond what mechanical differentials can achieve in terms of maintaining progress. Traversing a slippery slope, the car can automatically deploy more torque to the lower wheels, making it easier for the driver to maintain the path they intended to. This could be particularly useful when towing. Torque Vectoring is equally powerful on the r
ad, where it endows a car with a feeling of agility and composure in all situations.
And it's on the road that the Defender needs to improve the most. Only time will tell whether Land Rover's engineers can carry out the feat of making its icon more comfortable without losing its off-road ability. Beyond that, the company must also consider the car's efficiency. Only recently were the LR2 and the new Range Rover Evoque offered in more fuel-efficient front-wheel drive formats and it's highly likely that even the Defender will have to give up its full-time four-wheel drive. For that reason Land Rover has developed Driveline Disconnect, which promises fuel savings of the order ofseven per cent thanks to reduction in friction and inertial losses by mechanically disconnecting the rear axle via the centre differential. Land Rover claims that the axle can be reconnected just as quickly as any electronic system and of course may be permanently connected at the behest of the driver.
That's perhaps the most conventional piece of technology touted for the new Defender, if no less controversial than any of the other items.
While moving forward, Land Rover is all too aware that its current Defender is used in a wide variety of situations, from on safari in Africa to maintaining electricity supply in the far reaches of Scotland and so the replacement must be versatile. Because of that we're told not to read too much into the design or layout of the DC100 concept, as there's a lot of work to do before the next Defender is launched in 2015.