Replacing an icon is one of design's greatest challenges. For some it's a heavy burden, while others relish the opportunity to make a name for themselves. For Land Rover though, there is a very real need to replace a car that has been in continuous production in one form or another for over half a century, and to define the very philosophy of the company in the years to come.
Land Rover rolled out two glimpses of that future at Frankfurt with the DC100 and DC100 Sport concepts. The two concepts are being described as design explorations for the Defender replacement, rather than a pre-production sneak preview, but it seems pretty clear that these cars were in Frankfurt to test public reaction and to set the tone for the future.
Land/Range Rover DNA is clearly visible from the moment you look at these two cars, but it is not instantly clear that this is a new Defender model, looking more like an updated Freelander in proportion and detailing.
Gone are the classic Defender's slab sides, chopped rear end and removable doors, replaced with soft shapes, full volumes, and a wraparound greenhouse. The broad wheelarches, which dominate the flanks, echo a theme of hexagonal forms found throughout the concepts, but somehow end up looking more Jeep than Land Rover. Their gentle surfaces flow smoothly into the quarter panels, but their huge size, required to visually balance the massive 22-inch rims, undermine the idea of this car as a utilitarian workhorse.
In fact, many of the exterior design themes on both concepts signal a clear push towards a more mainstream lifestyle vehicle, rather than the simple, spacious and reliable transport that we've come to love. The strong shoulder line of the Defender is clearly visible, yet flattened and sharpened to a mechanical precision that fits the corporate design language, one which strays far from its predecessor.
The DC100 concept's DRG is a busy collection of cut-outs and plastic cladding that combines a winch, tow hooks, fog lamps, modern Land Rover grille and deep-set headlamps with a circular shape, which seems a bit out of sync with the rest of the vehicle. The grille itself is a three-tiered affair with holes through the alternating dark and metallic plastic trim - an unnecessary detail for a car with such a humble job description.
On the DC100 Sport, the DRG is actually slightly more straightforward, with a more horizontal layout and a series of circular LED foglamps set in the lower intakes - a treatment that not only seems out of place on this car, but indeed any Land Rover. The quarter panels that wrap around the headlamp assembly on the DC100 do have a more classic Defender look however, an odd juxtaposition to the starkly lifestyle-oriented - and very orange - concept.
But while the DRG is fussier than expected for a pretender to the Defender name, the general detailing of the DC100 is quite well resolved. The door cutline in particular - integrating the side engine vent and door handle into a symmetrical shape with a continuous, unbroken line - draws your eye down from the windscreen and A-pillar, all the way across to the B-pillar and then onto the roof. Also nicely done, but hidden from view on day two of Frankfurt by glass-covering metal panels, was the interesting honeycomb structure of the C-pillars, visible behind the wraparound tinted glass.