Land Rover is at the Nurbürgring testing what looks to be a highly strung range-topping version of the Defender, which could bring a dual focus on street and off-road performance.
A prototype was spotted lapping the Nordschleife at speed, and while it appears closely related to the current Land Rover Defender, there are telltale signs of this being a more hardcore, performance-focused version of the large 4x4.
The quad-exit exhaust gives this away as the popular V8-engined car, but there are subtle clues that point to this being a radically different proposition to the existing car.
Flared arches, chunky tyres and large mudflaps are the immediate visual differentiators, and they suggest that Jaguar Land Rover's Special Vehicle Operations division could be working on a highly strung off-roader in the vein of the ultra-exclusive Defender 110 SVX Spectre that played a starring role in the eponymous 2015 James Bond film.
That car was marked out from the standard Defender (in that case the open-back pick-up) by its huge off-road tyres, protective external roll-cage, front winch and chunky protective bodywork.
At this stage, the only clues that this new creation will follow the same path are its bespoke wheels and tyres, which are clearly geared more towards off-road usage than track work – despite the Nordschleife playing host to development work.
The Land Rover Defender V8, powered by a 518bhp 5.0-litre supercharged engine, has been a roaring success for the British firm, contributing to record order banks and forming the basis for a James Bond-themed special edition last year.
A high-powered, off-road-oriented version of the 4x4 could follow in the footsteps of the extreme Land Rover Discovery SVX, launched in 2017. At the time, the firm's design boss Gerry McGovern even told Autocar that the badge could "arguably" be appropriate for a variant of the latest Defender.
It would no doubt be a more pricey – and potentially more limited – proposition than the current V8, coming in well above that car's approximately £100,000 start price. Whether the visual makeover will be matched by substantial upgrades for the powertrain and chassis, however, remains to be seen.
The eventual finished product is not expected on sale for at least two years, and so could be part of an updated Defender line-up.
Autocar has previously reported that Land Rover is planning a new luxury-focused Defender model based on the Range Rover's MLA Flex architecture, and an open-backed pick-up to cater to the commercial market.