Sam Purcell has the squishy green of Land Rover in his veins and plenty of seasoned confidence in the brand's abilities … But there's a lot to drive on the upcoming new Defender. Does it have hope to please the faithful?
For a while, I did not know what to call the piece. I've called it "Land Rover Rant" most of the time, when I wrote a little bit, forgot it, revisited, wiggled it, hated it, left it alone, and returned to my personal place and something to relate to in the last year or so.
Will the new Land Rover Defender 2020 be on the money or will it miss the mark?
I come from a family of Land Rover tragedies. Mind you no Land Rover. Just Series Land Rovers and Defenders: The boxy, leaky old ones everyone knows and loves, but few are stubborn. Let yourself be pampered.
As early as the 1950s, my grandfather owned a Series 1, which was replaced by a series II model, with which he was towed, towed and beached on the north coast of New South Wales for decades. He ran a pub, so if the old rover did not hunt waves and jewels, he would drag barrels and grog.
For the last 45 years, my dad has had a Series III, a Ten and two Defenders who have served him faithfully. On average, he covers a few hundred thousand kilometers on each track.
I have some incredibly good memories of the 1985 One-Ten with the 3.5-liter V8 that was the faithful family car in my early years. Although it did not have much power, it sounded absolutely lovely as it pushed through the soft sands of Stockton Beach, where family, esky, and surf gear skipped around.
My brother also has a series of leaky boxes on wheels, half a dozen since his university days. A 2006 Td5 Defender is the current family car. His favorite, which he still wishes he would never sell, was a 1994 200tdi Hardtop 110. I agree, it was a great car.
My sister had a Discovery 4 for family responsibilities, but shook the foundations of the family when she recently switched to a LandCruiser of the 200 Series. She just could not care for a new discovery for her growing family, and I could not argue with her logic.
I've just bought two vehicles in my life: a 1971 Series IIA and a 2001 Defender 130 I still have both – no amount of financial logic or logic can make me sell anything. Sorry Michelle, sorry bank. My defender was up and down twice in the Simpson Desert and many times on the coast. It was as far north as Brisbane (it will one day pass the Cape) and as far south as Bruny Island, Tasmania.
All these vehicles above were not only damn good off-road, but also fairly reliable and reliably trustworthy over the hundreds of thousands of miles they drove. Not faultless, mind you, but damn good. My point is: Do not believe all the horror stories about the Green Oval. But for God's sake, continue with maintenance.
I personally love Land Rover and I'm in love with the Defender. I like what they look like, how they feel when they sit and drive. I love how they smell; a combination of oil, diesel, surf wax and adventure. I love how your arm rests on the door when you hold the big, vibrant steering wheel between your thumb and forefinger, without paying any attention to anything happening on the highway. I love their rough off-road mechanical capabilities, which are possible through good articulation, plenty of ground clearance, and ample rubber. But they are not just a toy: the defender is happiest when he works hard. I love that, damn it.
As you can imagine, I look with a mixture of fear, excitement and fear at the upcoming new defender. It's not just another car for me. It is the heir of a genuine four-wheel drive, an absolute legend on wheels. Something that has historically put everything behind this basic philosophy of rude utility. Something so uncompromising that it is incredibly compromised.
The old defender could not live on and gets a complete overhaul, which will be revealed shortly in Frankfurt. If you try to integrate such a stubborn vehicle into the modern paradigm of efficiency, complexity and safety, then something has to change.
While the original Land Rover had such a short pregnancy back then, this new Defender cooks off for years. This hated DC100 concept was unveiled back in 2011, which allows us about a decade before the arrival of the new concept. A life in the car world.
In the meantime, the Defender stopped production. Sales and values soared as many climbed on top to secure the final rendition of a true car legend. The production ended almost three years ago in January 2016.
The sales break must hurt Land Rover. Imagine, Jeep would not sell the Wrangler for nearly five years. Or Toyota has not sold any LandCruiser. The Defender is the heart of Land Rover, with everything that comes from its first model and the foundation of everything that has since been done for the brand.
The fact that the brand's niche precursor is unavailable or even invisible in the showroom must be detrimental. Even if you do not buy one, you'll pass it on your way to a Discovery or Discovery Sport. It's a headlight that goes into the brand, the story, the legend. If there is no Defender, what is the Land Rover brand? What is it really for?
To further explore this question, what is Land Rover when Defender evolves into something completely new, something completely different?
The original Land Rover was famously designed on a beach with a stick and put into production just a few months later. There was no design in terms of style or aesthetics; it was a pure practical benefit. And that's what makes it so iconic and inedible.
Let's not get weepy here, we have to stay rational. If Land Rover continues to sell the Defender, whom everyone knows and loves (but few have participated, let alone drive), he would be put on trial for cruel crimes against passengers, kidneys, drums, and the belt loops on yours Pants has committed. The defender needs to be modernized, and in no way two ways.
This is the harsh reality: The original Defender is something that everyone knows and loves, but only a handful of Crazy / Idiots are brave or stupid enough to buy new ones. This is never really a complete success for the ledger. The world has evolved and continues to move at a frightening pace.
Land Rover has also evolved. While formerly intended only for off-road use, today it is more at home on the polo fields than on the battlefields where drinking wine is more than conquering the wilderness. Of course, there is still off-road capability, but not the same one-dimensional, gross focus on utility.
As a brand, can you simultaneously be a master of both worlds? Dominate the Canning Stock Route and the catwalk scene, become the favorite of the Socialites and the Serengeti? It could be argued that the two are incompatible, but Mercedes seems to sell the Unimog and AMG GT, the G-Class and the GLS, all with their own self-confidence. Leave the X-Class aside for a moment.
Not to mention the success of all-wheel drive vehicles currently known in Australia: the 70cc Suzuki Jimny LandCruiser and (not to the same extent) the Jeep Wrangler are profitable sellers and unbelievably positive values for their respective brands. While they are not listed in the sales charts, the rest of the range has a significant halo effect.
The old Defender is similar to those vehicles: an old design without safety, modularity, efficiency or ability to streamline the production process. This makes it unique, but unfortunately impossible to fit into the plan and structure of a modern OEM.
Added to this is the complexity of the defender's European roots. It has to be sold on the domestic market and reintroduced to the USA. The amount of loopholes that the new design has to leap to accomplish this is huge and will undoubtedly move it further from the original recipe.
The big question I have for the new model is: Can you turn the charming utility and charming design of the old model into a new model with only one name?
Very Few nameplates get such a radical remake as the defender. After 75 years of low gears, live axles and a steel ladder chassis, it's completely revolutionized.
A full range of gasoline and diesel engines with independent suspension will be available all round. There will be airbag suspension and more safety, technology and electrics than at an e-sports convention.
The defender needs to evolve to stay alive and viable, but will the modernization process throw the baby out with the bathwater?
Land Rover is on the way to marketing to show us that the old Defender is all-wheel-drive in every way. It's great off-road, as they show us, when the Defender takes on the red rocks of Moab, Utah.
Do not get me wrong, Moab is a big challenge and a good measure of off-road capability. However, this was not the whole premise or vocation of the defender. Yes, it has to be technically good in off-road terrain. But in my opinion, it has to be more.
To keep the nameplate alive the new Defender has to keep up with a Wrangler most of the time, but also with a full load of firewood in the back. It has to be able to carry what a wrangler can not do well.
Then it has to absorb tens of millions of waves – clatter and bounce, but not break. And of course it has to deal with muddy tracks, boots and bodies without raised eyebrows. Think of a Wrangler's ability, but take in a few big tricks from the rugged LandCruiser-like utility.
The proof will probably be in the pudding. The re-creation of such a legendary vehicle, which has been largely unchanged for so many years, however, carries great dangers.
I'm looking forward to the new model and what it means for a rapidly evolving 4WD market. Land Rover is the king of evolution and innovation in this area: coil springs, luxury 4x4s, off-road capability, airbag suspension and many other areas are areas where the British brand has set its first milestone.
The Defender is the biggest chance Land Rover has long had to regain a dominant position while remaining true to the brand's original ethos.
Many would argue that the new Discovery has moved away from its original drawer with a bold, modern design. But many punters just have not gotten used to it. Will the new defender fall into the same trap?
I am worried that I will be disappointed, as my local pub closes and reopens as a hat shop. Maybe I'm just a shabby, rusty enthusiast, who has tin boxes, bent backs, no entertainment at highway speeds and has problems with coming up with the times. My only opinion, however, does not matter. The big question is whether the market likes it. And will it sell?
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