The Land Rover Defender is as much an automotive icon in Great Britain as the Jaguar E-Type, MGB or the Austin Mini.

It's not as glamorous as any of them, but the car's chunky styling, go-anywhere ability and incredible longevity have resulted in the design barely changing since its introduction in 1948.

In fact, the electric Defender due at next week's Geneva Motor Show is one of the biggest changes yet, but you'd not know it from the outside.

Usually powered by a 2.4-liter diesel engine, the electric Defender uses a 70 kW (90 bhp) electric motor, which also puts out 243 pounds-feet of torque.

The Defender's sturdy four-wheel drive transmission and differential lock remain, making it just as capable off-road as ever--but the manual gearbox is replaced by a single-speed reduction gear system, with a ratio of 2.7:1.

Power originates from an air-cooled 300-volt, 27 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, mounted under the hood where the diesel engine would normally live.  A minimum weight of 4,530 pounds is 220 lbs heavier than that of the equivalent diesel, and the brick-like aerodynamics also hamper range, which is only 50 miles.

Even so, Land Rover says that at typical slow, off-road speeds, it's still enough for 8 hours of driving--after which it'll need a four-hour fast charge, or 10 hours from a portable 3 kW charger.

Defenders are some of the toughest vehicles on the road, and the electric version's development cycle was a little different from that of regular EVs.

Tasks included pulling a 12-ton "road train" up a 13 percent gradient, and wading to a depth of over 31 inches.

Land Rover even says the Defender should cause less environmental damage in its path, since the smooth electric drivetrain is less likely to spin tires when crossing uneven ground. Furthermore, the Defender's regenerative braking capabilities are incredibly efficient, harvesting up to 80 percent of the vehicle's kinetic energy.

Developed by Land Rover's Advanced Engineering Team, the vehicle is unlikely to go on sale.

Instead, the seven prototypes will go into service in real-world trials later this year, helping the company understand the needs of electric vehicle drivers in more extreme conditions.

The electric Defender debuts at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show, which starts next week. You can discover more from the show by heading to our Geneva show page.


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