Opinion : Why Land Rover has done the right thing

Land Rover Defender 2020 and Series I Land Rover

I’ve been in Frankfurt all day having fun with my day job, but at least I had plenty of time to have a good look around the Land Rover Defender, which seems to have lit up the Internet in a very big way today. In one way, I’m really encouraged by this, because it proves that, even in this clogged-up, noisy world we live in, if a car’s special enough, its launch can still have major cut through. But then, so it should be – the Land Rover Defender is a national institution, known and loved by many, many people in the UK, the Commonwealth, Europe and (less so) North America. It’s as recognisable as a Mini or a Volkswagen Beetle, and its influence on car culture far exceeds the number of examples sold.

In short, we all love the Defender, and we’ve been waiting for a very long time for the new one to arrive and carry on the classic’s good work. And I don’t envy the task Land Rover has had in doing this. Rather like Rover had been grappling with the matter of replacing the Mini several times since the early 1970s before getting really serious in the 1990s, JLR had been agonising over this one for years. We all thought the DC100 Concept marked the imminent arrival of a new Defender, it ended up being a further eight years before it saw the light of day.

But now it’s here, and it’s all feeling rather familiar. I don’t mean the styling – yes, that’s not exactly earth-shattering and pretty much what we expected – but the reaction it’s received. The Internet has been alight with criticism and praise for the new car, with many current (classic) Defender owners bemoaning the new car as being too urbane to be a true Defender…

Dividing opinions – a very good thing

Land Rover Defender in Frankfurt

The reason it’s so familiar is that the reaction to the R50 MINI when it was shown in 2000 evoked the same responses. Many traditional Mini owners hated it for being too big, too modern and too far removed from the Issigonis original. ‘Issigonis must be spinning in his grave,’ was the oft-repeated mantra of 2000/2001. I bet if I look hard enough, I’ll be able to find, ‘The Wilks brothers must be spinning in their graves,’ on one of the forums or social media threads.

There have been some very amusing comments so far:

  • Well Land Rover the Defender is a living Legend in its old form
    Personal you have sold your self down the line 
    It does is just a Discovery 3 with a tweek
    It's to posh and it will not stand the test of time.
  • I’ll not get many sheep in the back of that. It’s a fookin freelander. What are you thinking landrover?
  • It’s a f*cking freelander...
  • Not very usable in the feild by the look of it.cant see builders and farmers taking it.another lifestyle vehicle. Not for me even in 20 yrs !

Who’s going to buy the new one?

Land Rover Defender 2020 commercial version
Land Rover Defender 2020 commercial version at Frankfurt

I split my life between Rutland and Cumbria these days and know a lot of people who know a thing or two about what goes on in farms. Many have Defenders, and see them as part of their families. What they’re going to think about the new one will be very interesting. There are other farmers who have held on to their beloved Discovery 3s and 4s because the new one is too posh – but they want something new and I can see this Defender being perfect for them. A replacement for an older Discovery that comes with all the bells and whistles, but is still capable of some serious off-roading as well as taking the kids into town at weekends.

For what it’s worth, I think Land Rover has done the right thing with the Defender. It’s a modern interpretation of the original Series Land Rover had it been developed along the way by a company with more money than Land Rover. Yes, it’s pricey at £45,000 for the entry-level 110, but considering that 91% of them are likely to be bought on finance in the UK, and the monthly payments should be competitive given the car’s expected strong residuals, that’s not the barrier to ownership it once was. Don’t believe me? How many Evoques are on the road? Exactly…

It’s also probably going to have far more commercial appeal than the old one, too. Many will end up as family cars, with fewer sold to the farms than what was traditionally the case. In reality, Land Rover had effectively surrendered that market sometime back – most farms where I live are kitted out with Ford Rangers, Mitsubishi L200s and Volkswagen Amarok pickups. No, this one will encourage new customers into the Land Rover fold, which I think is a very good thing to guarantee the continued survival of the UK’s largest carmaker.

Defenders for everyone?

There are diesels, petrols, and an interesting 48V six-cylinder mild-hybrid, too. There will be a plug-in in due course, so it’s been designed with a decent amount of future proofing. The styling passes muster, although there are some who would say it could have been closer to the original like the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen and others who say it should be more utilitarian like a Suzuki Jimny – but it’s very much followed the MINI school of design, and there’s nothing too much wrong with that.

We’ll see if they can ramp up production to meet demand. A senior Land Rover executive told me today that they’re not bothered about chasing volume, instead concentrating on supply, demand and profit. Sensible given the lean times JLR has endured over the previous few months. Will this be the right thing to do? Time will tell… But I think they’ve got it right – and the evidence is good, considering the favourable response it received in Frankfurt – so as long as the reliability and quality are good enough, I think they’re home and dry.

I just wish it was being built here and not in Slovakia…

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

39 Comments

  1. Keith, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I’m growing tired of the criticism from the stuck in the past Defender brigade. I myself have one of the last 110’s, I adore it, it’s iconic, it’s terrible, it’s beautiful all at the same time, I wouldn’t be without it. However, this is precisely what the new Defender needs to be, I’m very impressed with it, I’m impressed they’ve really put some engineering and tech into it, I’m impressed they haven’t really overpriced it! consider you can get a top spec Skoda Karoq for £40k! The Defender at a smudge more, and eminently more capable and iconic, is a bargain at the price! Consider that it’s actually cheaper than the Jeep Wrangler! in both Short and Long wheelbase format – and about 5 stars safer! I also love the fact that LR can, justifiably IMO, launch the base model at £45k and give you steel wheels! inspired!

  2. I work for a company that operated several JLR dealerships, and over the past few months we had a significant number of enquiries about the new Defender. Yesterday, the amount of enquiries about it skyrocketed. People want this, and in huge numbers. This will be a massive success for JLR.

  3. Oh my good gods that thing’s ugly and those ridiculous wannabe-steelies? I does not “pass muster” it looks like someone had a go at a rectangle with an angle grinder and then sent the results to styling – ooh look a roof window that’d shave a sparrow in flight, glass too expensive?

    Oh fantastic – a hybrid land-rover – that’ll be reliable then. Although to be fair I can’t shout too loud since I’m in the middle of designing a super-cap – alternator – motor belt drive hybrid system for the Wolseley. It’s surprising what you can fit up in those nice roomy front wings…

    This thing is worthy of a Hitler untergang rant – but that’s about it. The entire point of the defender is that it is simple and simply indestructible. It just keeps on going whatever you do to it, up to and including dropping it out the back of an A400M.

    Keith, you hit the nail on the head at the end of the article “build quality and reliability”. They won’t be good, they never are good. There have been court cases over it, including a notable one covered by the great John Cadogan “down there” – to the tune of over $250,000 aus because a brand new Range Rover was sooooooooooo bad the independent engineers checking it refused to let the owners drive it because it was literally too unsafe to take the risk.

    It might conceivably look better in a longer wheelbase form. But I do feel sorry for the Misters Wilks, between this and the Bavarian Money Wasters knock offs, they’re probably spinning fast enough that if we wander up there we’ll have found that the human race has invented antigravity…

  4. It will no doubt sell, but it’s crossed the line. JLR have no need for yet another Seriously Ugly Vehicle. What part of the market does this address that the Evoke, Discovery, Discovery Sport and Range Rover and the even more pointless when seen alongside these F-Pace does not? and just as importantly what part of the market that the old defender did address that the others don’t does this new pretender address? Just let the Defender go if you just going to put the badge on yet another boutique SUV. It should have been an L200 competitor if they were serious about replacing the defender.

    In short it’s almost certainly a good, possibly great car. What it is not is a replacement for the defender, that story has run its course and all good things must come to an end, let it go

  5. I have to agree with your comments about the new Defender, Keith – Land Rover had ‘surrendered’ much of the commercial/farming market many years ago when the Defender had failed to evolve.

    Admittedly I like the new Defender although am somewhat shocked by the starting price of just over £40,000. That puts it right up against the Discovery 5 and other Land Rover models. Then again look at what the Defender is coming with as standard (and also not). These are the early days of the Defender’s launch programme so we may well see cheaper variants with less standard equipment, cloth seats, unpainted neutral dark grey door handles and standard fit steel wheels following in due course (if demand dictates this). The same thoughts may well also apply to additional bodystyles aimed more at commercial users.

    So what are the negative aspects, from my perspective? Well, the classic mudflaps are sadly an extra cost option when I believe they should be standard fit. Why? Because with big wheels shod on low profile tyres, many Land Rovers (as with other SUVs) have an annoying habit of firing up stones onto the windscreens and bodywork of other vehicles behind them. The worst culprits are Range Rovers with wheels ranging upwards of 19-inch in size. A friend of mine has already had to have two windscreens replaced in two years because of stone chip damage caused by stones being fired at him on motorways by the heavy low profile tyres on a Range Rover Sport and current fourth generation Range Rover. Show some social responsibility, Land Rover, and fit full-depth mudflaps as standard to all your vehicles!

    Secondly, body colours – yet more wishy-washy exterior colours to follow the growing trend started by the Velar and further upheld by the new generation Evoque. Not great.

    Thirdly, the colour-coded ‘A’ pillars look slightly at odds with the rest of the black finish upper body detailing intended to create a ‘floating roof’ effect. However, this may well be simply a ‘character’ feature in the same way as the partial body side feature line was on the Discovery 3 and 4. However, it isn’t something as controversial as the side and rear profiles of the current Discovery.

    Did I mention the current Discovery? Well there is an obvious question relating to what will the sales impact be on the Discovery now that the Defender is covering its full price range from £42,000 upwards? Could this be a repeat of what the F Type did to sales of the Jaguar XK, leading to its premature demise? Only time will tell. One thing’s for sure, Land Rover has shown more respect to referencing the design heritage of the Defender than they did when penning the current Discovery. Thankfully the Defender doesn’t have pointless gimmicks such as power-folding rear seats and closing tailgate to reinforce its USP.

    Oh, and where are the funky graphics for the body’s sides? The late Jack Sugden always had them on his 90 and 110 Defenders!

    Like you, Keith, I too wish it was being assembled in Solihull.

    Despite this, the new Defender has been sufficiently distanced from the original whereby it isn’t an completely unknown product or simply a heavy impersonation whereby it limits its appeal. This means that the original Defender will continue to maintain its own special charm complete with age-related foibles and will retain its own distinct following rather like the original Volkswagen Beetle and Mini have.

    One final interesting question to ponder over – What would the late Wilks brothers as founders of the original Land Rover have thought of this new Defender? In reality as forwarding looking engineers managing the Rover Company Ltd up until the mid 1960s, they would probably have been rather shocked that the classic Defender had remained in production for so long. However, with an attitude to recognising changing trends in the new vehicle market but at the same time maintaining an instantly recognisable product with versatile use and appeal, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d have given this latest Defender a nod of approval.

    • While Land Rover have abandoned the market it made its name in, this car should have been the opportunity to return to its roots and been something along the lines of the L200/HiLux that has largely replaced it. The market this is aimed at is already full, 5 of which are JLR products so what is the point?

      • Fingers crossed there are such commercial variants as part of what will be a phased introduction programme for the Defender’s roll-out rather than just 3- and 5-door ‘station wagons’ with a blanked out side window. Like you, I think it is very disappointing that a sector Land Rover was such a dominant force in until the arrival of convincing offerings from Japan from the 1980s onwards (and more recently from Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz), has been left unchallenged. Admittedly, commercial bodystyles are unlikely to sell as well as the passenger carrying variants, but they would still bring in some extra revenue from additional sales and also give a wider breadth to the Land Rover brand. And wouldn’t it be great if the breadth of the Defender’s platform and body design enabled it to be used for creating the type of vehicles demanded by our Armed Forces?

        I’ve personally always seen the Land Rover brand as standing for more than just upmarket SUVs aimed at the urban mum. If buyers want pomp and ceremony, then that’s the role of the Range Rover nameplate.

  6. I’m personally welcoming the new Defender as this will be a strong help to the JLR sales. This car is, I’m afraid, is what market wants. But… let’s face it… Will Land Rover brand still be the most iconic brand in the “offroaders” market if so many manifacturers are doing the same stuff decently these days? What about Jeep nowadays? Supposing a huge amount of money has been spent in this project, am I correct to considering offroading capabilites as a necessary tool for the sales and for the future of the brand? Am I wrong reminding you a few days ago Jaguar “XJ” production has been discontinued? Am I wrong if I say Mercedes and BMW aren’t acting the same way with their “S” and “7” series?

    • JLR announced the end of the current XJ, but they are replacing it with a new all electric replacement – which is what Mercedes and BMW are rumoured to be doing too.

      • I know that but, at the moment, there is no immediate replacement. I heard from Ian Callum interview such car will be a further “new vision” of the classic Jaguar saloon. Considering such are same words to introduced the 2009 “XJ” we are about to face another disaster. Possibly, the last shot to the Jaguar brand heritage and appeal. According to the best-known italian car magazine (“Quattroruote”) new saloon will not be a saloon any longer, Magazine director understood, apparently during an unofficial dinner, new XJ will be a crossover. I have not heard similar words from Merc, BMW or Bentley.

        • Ian Callum said in his departure interview that the new XJ was going to be a saloon. If Autocar is right it wont be long before we see it. The XJ is not a huge seller for Jaguar, probably due to it’s ugliness, so delaying a replacement is probably not a bad thing. It will however require to be a bit special if it is too make waves against the S Class and the 7 Series who have the class really sown up – even Audi struggle to make inroads into this market.

  7. Where are today’s Wilks brothers, able to start from scratch and – using relevant current technology – design a practical light off-road 4×4 vehicle that will be bought by the armed forces, farmers, a wide range of industries, government departments, and sell worldwide – bought by anyone who needs a tough machine that is not easily damaged, is easily repairable – and is simple to fix if it breaks down.? What we have in the new “Defender” is a road vehicle that happens to have four-wheel-drive capability. Having seen the Land Rover develop from the Series One through to the last ‘real Land Rover’, and having known from personal work experiences (in African bush and mountains, and outback Australia) its failings and strengths – and seen how the Toyota Land Cruiser bettered the Series IIs, IIAs and IIIs in some ways – it has been betrayed by its current owners. Imagine what Mercedes would have designed. Look at the range of Unimog models for modern practical off-road 4x4s.

    What about Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos Automative’s proposal to build a successor to the previous Defender?
    Let’s hope Ineos produces a true 4×4 work vehicle, fit for use a hundred miles from the nearest repair shop.

  8. I am not against the new defend but it does look like the previous generation Discovery after an angle grinder has been taken to it. I am also confused why we need so many variations on the same underpinnings? Aren’t they just taking sales from their own vehicles?

    • It should be remembered that’s what they always were, the original Defender, Discovery and Range rover was all based on the Range Rover chassis (the rubbish about the defender having been in production since 1948 being just that)

  9. I like the look of the new Defender although it is obviously very ‘generic Land Rover Family’ from the front. What I can’t work out is why it has what looks like a swimming baths clothes locker fitted into the rear side windows?

  10. I think it’s too much to expect a Defender replacement to look similar to its forebear after all these years. Yes from some angles it looks like a Discovery but at least the commercial 2020 version does look more “Utility” style more in keeping with the 21st century.

    I’m not a user or big fan of such vehicles like luxury or non luxury 4×4 SUV’s anyway. To me they just create blind spots on street corners.

  11. It looks great and it should be practical and good off road. If it’s well made it should enable JLR to turn the corner

  12. I don’t like it at all, and I’m not a defender traditionalist. Frankly I think this should be the new discovery to compete with XC90, the current “SAAB Disco” shouldn’t exist, and there should be one BOF utility vehicle to compete with the Gwagen and Wrangler. It doesn’t need to be ancient but it does need to be tough, butch and practical

    This is over-stylised over-mcgovernised school run fodder. Very very disappointing.

  13. Shame it is not made in the UK, but I understand the economic and capacity issues.
    The ‘entry’ price quoted is for the 110 version not the 90 that is being launched in 2020. So hopefully a basic 90 might be below £40k.
    However I believe it is a good effort by JLR’s engineers and suppliers and we should applaud their efforts rather than the often shrill anti UK rhetoric from British people….many of whom voted for Brexit!!

  14. Overall I like it

    Concerned about HOW electronic and computer controlled it is, but that’s modern cars for you. It does make the Disco 5 look a bit superfluous, other than for those who need a full 7 seater

  15. IMO it’s over styled and over complex (be interesting to know its insurance ratings) but it will sell and make good money for JLR which I suppose is what it’s all about.

    I still think they’re missing a trick and not rebadging/re-engining Isuzus for their more traditional offroad/pickup customers but at least it leaves a good niche for Projekt Grenadier if it ever gets produced.

    • Christopher, The article certainly is a joke. It reads like a typical well heeled car journalist puff piece to me. The fact that Adams thinks it OK at £45k ( along with the huge road tax) because it can be driven but never owned on finance is about typical of thinking in the UK today, and demonstrates that despite the amount of “bangernomics” stuff he plugs here, he is entirely out of touch with the real world of no pay rises since 2008 and zero hours contracts McJobs.

      After the slating he has given MG in recent years, it’s difficult to see why he is so keen to plug a car built in eastern Europe by an Indian company, a supposedly reborn British “icon” that JLR can’t even be bothered to launch in RHD form.

      Perhaps he needs to come over to South Lincs and see what goes on on farms, wealthy farmers drive through the fields here in Range Rovers, paid for by EU subsidies, and look out on crews of minimum wage east Europeans, who could be replaced with technological advances but impoverished human beings are cheaper. Not one of them could afford those acceptable finance payments to drive about in one of these ridiculous toys.

  16. Personally, I love it. I think it looks great and has some fantastic features and I’d happily give one a home.

    However, it’s about as much a “Defender” as that silly little Ewok thing is a “Range Rover”. Frankly, it strikes me as more the car the new Discovery should have been, instead of the ugly monster (with a needlessly offset number plate) that it has morphed into.

  17. Agree its a great effort and exactly what a 21st century Defender should be like. Its not 1948 or even 1984 anymore, we dont have outside lavatories or tin baths in front of the fire, the world wants posh – If a car with steel wheels, rubber flooring and cloth seats can be regarded as “posh” these days. The old Defender like the original Mini in 2000 was car everyone loved but no one would dream of spending their hard earned on. Like the post 2001 BMW Mini this will fly out of the showrooms without incentives and make real profits for JLR and if your a car manufacturer, isn’t that what its all about?

  18. I agree it looks too much like the Discovery and I haven’t made my mind up whether I like it or not.
    The “Build Your Own” configurator on the website is limited to the 110s at the moment too.
    I do, however despair at LR only selling automatic gearboxes throughout the range (seemingly except the 2WD Evoque) in the UK – not that I can afford the £30+ to buy any of the models.

  19. When you’re replacing a vehicle, you need to make it actually replace the previous generation. This does not do that, it’s an ever so slightly utilitarian SUV that will appeal to the Discovery/Freelander crowd. People who bought the Defender in the past because they wanted/needed a Defender will not buy this as it’s a completely different vehicle.

  20. I disapprove of the new Defender. Not for the usual reasons but because…..
    The traditional Land Rover never really was a world success other than in the minds of the British. It was surpassed in world sales success and technical attributes by a succession of Land Cruisers, Nissan Patrols and others. Even the Austin Gypsy had it over the Land Rover in some ways.
    Instead of looking for yet another (high unit profit) D7a derivative to conquer the line ups outside private schools in Marlow on Thames, a world work-horse should have been the JLR aim. The UN inspection teams, NGOs and charities in Africa, the Australian farmer, so many armies and military entities. They won’t be buying the new Defender.
    The trendy housewives of Marlow are fickle and will move on to the next trendy vehicle. Particularly as such attractive German SUV offerings continue to increase in numbers and appeal. They make JLR product look less and less special.
    A more simply constructed new Defender, suitable for multi-site world manufacture, having high capability and reliability and in multiple configurations incl being upgradable to Marlow duties was the answer.

    • Robert Wild is, I surmise, too young to know that the original LR was indeed a world success. The larger imitators like the Toyota and the Patrol did not arrive for nearly 30 years after its introduction , and were in large measure a response to the success of the Range Rover rather than the original

      • I’m not sure that’s really true…..When the original Land Rover was launched, the world was a different place. There were really only two 4x4s, the Land Rover and the Jeep……if you lived in a part of the world that was pink on the map, you bought a Land Rover. Anywhere else and you had a Jeep……as soon as competition came along, market share of both vanished.

      • Christopher, I should tell you that I began a Rover Engineering apprenticeship in 1966 and soon after was making LR body dwgs. The cruiser and Patrol preceded Range Rover and were not LR imitators.

  21. I like the fact the styling pays homage to the original, and hopefully it has the same off-road capability, although in all honesty the market has changed tremendously. Will there be a less posh one aimed at the world’s armed forces and emergency services, which no doubt made Land Rover a household name? The only civilian vehicle I see it competing with is the Jeep Wrangler, which also pays homage to its wartime predecessor in a more civilized package than before.

  22. My thoughts too Bajan Dave. I liked the look of the commercial version in the launch photos, but will there be a basic forces/emergency services model and, even if there were, would they be encouraged to buy it? I think I knew it would be built abroad, but it’s still disappointing.

  23. I have to agree for the first time in all my years reading and contributing to this site, that it sounds like our Keith has been wined and dined – and fallen for the spiel on this one.
    I spoke to a farmer in Cumbria earlier this week – “so what do you think of the new Defender?”
    “Well – it’s just another 4×4 fashion toy – it’s not going to replace this (tapping his beaten up 110).is it? Imagine that new dashboard covered in grain and dust in the summer and muddy paw prints in the winter! Bloody rediculous!
    OK – just one farmer but surely something replacing a Defender should do the same job as the Defender. Logical?
    I’m not fortelling it will be sales flop – just that will not sell in huge numbers to farmers and builders and grounds people currently with rough, tough, indestructible (zero fashion) Landy’s. I do know something about it – I did extreme off reading for twenty years! Loved it when the Japs turned up and all the plastic bits fell off!!!

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