(Image source: Jaguar Land Rover)

Since its debut at the Amsterdam Motor Show in 1948, the utilitarian Land Rover has been synonymous with can-do off-road capability in the furthest reaches of the globe. How many documentaries on African wildlife would have ever been made without the participation of Land Rover?

The ubiquitous Land Rover gained the Defender moniker in 1991. The idea was to distinguish the traditional model from the then-new Discovery. But all along, it has been available in 90-inch short wheelbase two-door and 110-inch long wheelbase four-door variants, and they are identified by those numbers.

The previous Land Rover Defender 90 and 110 went on hiatus in late 2016 and it is returning now in rejuvenated contemporary form for 2020. While Mercedes chose to leave the outer appearance of its G-Class SUVs largely unchanged when it redesigned that vehicle, Land Rover chose to look forward rather than back, with styling that honors the original Defender without mimicking it.

While styling may seem superficial, plenty of tough engineering work went into producing a suitably upright, boxy design that slips through the air with minimal blunt force trauma. By carefully finessing the new Defender’s surfaces and using accessories as aerodynamic aids, the Land Rover aerodynamic team was able to whittle the Defender’s coefficient of drag down to 0.38, reported chief engineer Mark Wilson. That’s the same as Land Rover’s sleek-looking Range Rover Sport model.

The Defender’s traditionally abbreviated front and rear overhangs remain, ensuring good approach (38 degrees) and departure (40 degrees) angles for traversing steep obstacles. At the same time, however, take note of details like the circular-square openings in the front bumper fascia, which are optimized for airflow. “They are not some random size,” Wilson pointed out. “They’ve been engineered.”

(Image source: Jaguar Land Rover)

Air ducts through the fascia’s intake vents to jet out ahead of the front tires in the wheelwells, creating an air curtain that steers airflow away from the drag-intensive spinning tires. Speaking of tires, take a look at the spare tire mounted on the rear of the Defender. It is carefully positioned as an aerodynamic aid, to optimize the vehicle’s wake, according to Wilson.

Land Rover achieved the Defender’s remarkable aerodynamic performance by “tweaking ever single surface around the car,” Wilson said. “The engineers all pulled together and they’ve really gone after it.”