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
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?
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…