First Drive : Land Rover Defender Electric prototype

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Land Rover Defender Electric (1)

First thing’s first… After reading this, don’t head over to your local Land Rover dealer and expect to be able to hand over a deposit for a new Defender Electric. Land Rover will tell you it’s an engineering programme evaluating whether battery power is suited to the most arduous of terrain and conditions – and, from our brief drive, we’d say this feels like a very viable idea. With provisos…

The Land Rover Defender Electric is powered by a 300 volt, 27kWh lithium-ion battery pack, mounted up front, replacing the conventional diesel power unit. It’s a hefty power unit, weighing-in at 410kg (around 100kg than the diesel engine), which obviously means the balance of the car is altered, but it’s mated to the existing car’s permanent four-wheel drive transmission via a 94bhp Switch Reluctance motor between, which replaces the standard six-speed gearbox.

That means the four-wheel drive system keeps its low-ratio transfer and locking diffs, which in theory means that off-road performance should be unaffected. It’s an interesting contrast that this system creates – on the one hand, you go through an elaborate start-up procedure, where the instruments all dance away for a few secons while the electric drivetrain readies itself – and yet, if you want to transfer between low- and high-range, you need to come to a complete stop (as you do in the diesel powered car) and pull on the stiff lever.

Land Rover engineers have worked hard to ensure that all electrical systems are thoroughly water-proofed. That’s an interesting challenge, but ultimately a worthwhile one, as wade depth is up to 800mm from 500mm of the standard diesel-powered Defender.

But as we said, this is a prototype, and these idiosyncracies are to be expected. On the transmission tunnel, there’s also a terrain mode selector lifted straight from the Discovery, which alters the throttle mapping, depending on how you’re using the car – for wading and tough going, throttle travel is lengthened making it possible to minutely control what the car’s doing.

As for on the road, the Defender Electric works pretty well, too. Some important figures worth bearing in mind with this prototype first: battery range is at least 50 miles, but with a reserve of 12.5 miles. Performance is leisurely, with a limited maximum speed of 70mph, and a 0-60mph time of around 20 seconds. Don’t, though, let the bare figures get in the way of a good story.

This vehicle has been conceived for off-road use primarily – so that range and performance isn’t the limiting factor you might think it is. In real terms, a full charge lasts eight hours in these conditions, and that’s a full day’s expeditioning, as far as we’re concerned. Recharge time is 10 hours, or four on fast-recharge – perfect for an overnight stop.

Driving the Defender is a pretty conventional experience really, and far less alien than some electric cars that we’ve driven. You boot it up, select your drive mode and pull away. Because its maximum torque is delivered at zero revolutions, it’s quick off the mark, with – literally – electric throttle response. Of course, there’s no engine noise as you might know it, but the drive train whines loudly – and, yes, it’s reminiscent of a milk float (remember those?).

However, once you’re off the road, it’s oh-so easy to drive compared with a six-speed diesel Defender and you’ll be left wondering why so many people are happy to change their own gears. It’s interesting that the venue of our test drive was on a typical Engish country estate, because to us, it seems screamingly obvious that an electric Defender would be the ideal vehicle for estate operations – it’s perfect for this kind of operation. Equally, we’d see it happily spend its life on the farm, performing the duties expected of it all day long.

Of course, you’d probably want a diesel powered Defender for long distance expeditions but, for the rest of us, we really can see a point to this one. If you do too, it might be time to go lobbying your dealer and get the word back to Land Rover.

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

27 Comments

  1. Keith. Your just winding me up now!
    I was 64 on Sunday – is this a sort of jokey birthday card from you?
    Long pause.

    Your serious aren’t you?
    Hells bells and buckets of blood!

  2. 300 volts DC – that’s the same as used in the Modec electric vehicle which I did some work on. Not to be messed about with – come into direct contact with 300 volts DC and it’s guaranteed instant game over so a good idea if it’s watertight! Did the heater work – a glasshouse like a Defender in cold conditions eats power to achieve a satisfactory demist.

  3. I think its a great idea it might even suit the typical farmer that only does the trip from one end of the farm to other twice each day with a few odd jobs in between:-) Alex

  4. when its 12 years old and a bit battered, yes! the americans would defeicnatly buy new ones, the few they did sell over there still sell for $40K upwards!

  5. Yeah, so why build a car so YOU can build it in 12 years time?

    I actually agree that LR could do well building V8 Defenders for he Middle Eastern market (the G Wagen does well in this form), but I guess with JE Engineering, Twisted etc building cars like that already they must have a great idea of demand etc…

    I know your views on diesel, electric, etc., but this is the real world, and Europe is an expensive place to live in.

  6. Hmm, I could see an eco Safari company using these (the ones that do trips into the Serengeti from an upmarket eco lodge), and charging the batteries overnight from their own (smelly diesel) generator, but it doesn’t sound economic for everyone else if you need to have a second vehicle to go into town, or to the market.

  7. You know my view in desisiel.. but not electric! I thought the Leaf was great, once the range issue has been addressed I’d have one and it’s getting close (I need a 150 mile range for it to work)

  8. In fact I’d say once electric cars can do 200 miles on a charge, fosil fuel cars will be a thing of the past. While some may say it just moves the polution power stations are constatnt burn which results (like anything) when maintaind properly in lower emissions, which the infernal compustion engine regargless of fuel will never be able to acheive, as the power station turbinse can run a constant speed wioth a constant (and always stoic) burn.

    Neither are zero emissions, but the electric vision is cleaner. And electric motors can more than the infernal combustion engine, just the batteries are the issue!

    If what I have seen in model planes is anything to go by it is not if, but when as far as electric cars go, in fact I think it is now, but as they are virtually zero maintainance sercviceing will be near a thing of the past, and the oil companies won’t be terribly keen either and so it is being sat on

  9. @ Steve Bailey:

    The type of sunroof used on the Defender is determined by the actual shape of the roof itself, which is not continuous in its profile. Having an internally sliding sunroof would be a huge re-engineering exercise and would result in a loss of headroom area in the quest to achieve a flatter travel for the sunroof panel. The same issue was present with the first and second generation Discovery.

    At others:

    I admit that a V8 powered Defender would be a fantastic car, with less bodyweight than either a Discovery or Range Rover. But it would have very limited demand to justify Land Rover homologating it for production for select markets. It would also not be permitted to be sold as a new vehicle in its most promising market territory – North America – because it does not meet their crash safety legislations which, since 1997, has required both driver’s and passenger’s airbags to be fitted.

  10. I take it this is a sister to the one in Geneava? As a parks and gardens vehicle i’d say there is a ready market over most of Europe – could the Defender live on as an Agricultral electric vehicle rather than a road one? Judging by the traditional heater output of a diesel Defender, I wouldn’t think demisting is a concern – you could have an independant fuel burning heater if it was.

    The extra 12″ of wading depth is might impressive too!

  11. Prious runs at about 400v,with stored energy 4 times the kick of an average household. And im still not interested.

  12. @18 Eh? – Obviously a long tome since you studied Physics. I’d stick to pointing out the things that are likely to go wrong on Transit Vans and fantasising about Lakes full of old Cortinas if I was you. UK Industrial voltage is 230V single phase, 400V 3 phase.

  13. That must be a record. We’ve never got to personal insults and filthy language so early in a blog before.
    Well done chaps! (not)

  14. Well im a strong believer in sticking up for oneself,especially when someone tries to imply im stupid in one sense or another. Better had he not said anything.

    And hes wrong about three phase,its 415 Volts.Anyone can question or debate anything i say anytime,but dont expect me to roll over if i have snidey replies which i never asked for.

  15. @14 “In fact I’d say once electric cars can do 200 miles on a charge”

    How are you going to invent a battery with 4 times the energy density? It’s not going to happen – and even if it did the national grid couldn’t cope and it would take you two days to charge it without a 3 phase supply! I suspect range extender cars will become the norm rather than full EVs.

    • You can buy an electric car with a 200 mile and more range: Tesla Model S. Driven sensibly on German motorways (still faster than the UK limit) journalists here in Germany got an easy 250 miles range, when driven hard range it dropped to about 150 miles… Expensive it may be, but I think it also points into the future. Electric cars will also open up new chances for electricity distribution: VW is starting into a project where these cars are also used as transient and distributed storage for energy – i.e. to a certain extend electricity can not only be stored into the car’s batteries, but also withdrawn again when there is demand in the network. Given that wind and solar energy generation here in Germany can supply a significant part of the electricity needed, but it is not controlleable when this is delivered, new ideas about storage are needed. For me the idea of electric cars and integrating them into a modern infrastructure is quite interesting.

  16. Indeed, I think it will happen, the technology is developing at a frightening pace. We will have 4 sester electric cars that are as capable as their petrol counterparts in the forseable future. Its just a pity the wasted so long on making Deisels unrelaible and perform like a petrol engine rather than push EVs forward (with torque even tractor engines can only dream of at 1 rpm)

  17. It’ll all end in tears. You must have suck squeeze bang blow. I need me pistons!
    You can keep your elastic trickery. Don’t come to me when it all stops humming! You’ve been warned.

  18. @26 I agree entirely,experts have been saying we have only have 40 years of oil left for the past 80 years,year-on-year.
    So everyone in Dubai fills thier 5 litre V8’s up for £25! Of course we can drive a 200 mile range Tesla or Fisker or whatever they are but not for £100,000, so its an Ampera for me if i really have to but i wont.
    In fact im going for a ‘special drive’ in my Marina coupe after to poison the atmosphere. To hell with the enviroment.

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