CC doesn’t really do scoops or sneak previews, not least because there are no scoop shots left to publish on the Chevrolet Vega, Oldsmobile Cutlass or Hillman Minx. And you can argue that this is not a scoop shot anyway, since the new Land Rover Defender has been seen in public across the world, although not on CC in the flesh. As this was the first example I’d seen, about 40 miles from its development home in Gaydon, Warwickshire, I thought it worth sharing, and sharing a few thoughts.
First impressions count a lot – in people, in job interviews (both ways, incidentally), in houses, towns and restaurant dinners, and, of course, car showrooms and pubs. Given that, and the starting point of the new Defender as the successor to the old Defender and the inheritor of the one of the strongest (perhaps the strongest to many of us) off road vehicle pedigrees there is, the first impression was going to be vital and had to be good. The converse, of course, is the risk of being seen as a modern pastiche or facsimile of the original. They don’t always work – see VW Beetle, Ford Thunderbird and Mini Countryman for further information. Or closer to Gaydon, the folk history of the Jaguar S Type and Rover 75.
So, what was my first impression of the new Defender? Well, I spotted it, even in “hide me black” without being caught by any gargoyles. The stance is there – strong, square, planted but also contemporary. At the front, the traditional raised bonnet is there, as are the reinforced wing tops, or at least a nod to them, as the inlays are plastic not checkerplate. The bluff Defender nose is there too but looking considerably more modern and cohesive than anything seen before, and linking to the Discovery 3 (LR3) whilst looking a bit tougher. The black colour hides some of the details, especially around the base cladding and on the C pillar, where the body panels would normally show clearly.
Working backwards, the side profile is recognisably Defender, though clearly it’s bigger, and the rear even more so.
The absolutely vertical tail, the Alpine roof lights, the lip on the window line, the side hinged door and external spare wheel (I suspect lifting that spare wheel up is a two man job) are spot on to the old car, and underline the functional nature of the whole vehicle.
The rear lights look like the 1950s lights of the Defender, brought bang up to date.
A quick look through the window showed a cabin that is clearly designed to look sturdy and modern, with a strong practical, almost industrial vibe coming through. Again, Land Rover, but up to date.
To me, that is what the whole car is though. It has been said that this Defender is what the Land Rover Series 1 or 2 would have become if they had been developed as the Porsche 911 has been for nigh on 60 years, and I think it pulls that off. Its grown in size like the 911 as well – the 110 has a wheelbase of 120 inches and is 18 inches longer than the old model
Questions have been asked as to where this vehicle fits in the Land Rover range. It is clearly more sophisticated, likely more comfortable and probably ultimately more capable than the old Defender, and also considerably more expensive. This car, with the 2.0 litre diesel, black paint and 20 inch alloy wheels would retail for around £47,000.00, which is to going into Discovery territory. Is the Defender going to cannibalise Discovery sales, which have been down over recent years?
I can’t tell you that for sure, but my hunch is that as the Defender has moved upscale, the Discovery will too. Already, the current Discovery 5 is trimmed and equipped like a Range Rover was just recently, and without the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport could easily be sold as a credible full upscale SUV. If the next Range Rover, due in 2021, and from 2022 with electric power options, moves in the same way as every Range Rover has for the last 40 years, there’ll be plenty of space for the Discovery to move into, and let the Defender take the slot the original Discovery used to hold, of the vehicle that bridged the utility, practical and comfort conundrum.
As I wrote this piece, the first driving impressions of the new car appeared in the UK press and websites. The impressions seem to be very positive (though we must caution about a certain amount of national interest), providing you need the capability the car can offer.
Let’s see what happens. Initial orders are said to be better than expected. And my first impression is that this is a modern Land Rover Defender.