Imagine being the only person you know who hates the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or the only one who doesn’t like chips. That’s kind of what it feels like to stick your hand up as a motor journalist right now and squeak: “I don’t like the new Land Rover Defender.”
I so wanted to love it. After the slating the 2011 DC100 concept received at the hands of the press and public, I expected something… more faithful to the original. I had high hopes. What we’ve ended up with is so uncannily similar to that concept pariah that I feel like Mugatu in Zoolander.
There are less subjective problems with it, too. There’s the question as to whether the new car really knows what it is. It’s unmistakeably lifestyley, with hidden door hinges and the option of gargantuan alloy wheels with rubber-band tyres. Two wheelbases is a novelty in itself these days, although it’s probably easier just to think of them as a two-door and a four-door.
Don’t get me wrong; the Defender name has cachet and Land Rover won’t throw that away. Whatever else it may be, the new ‘ruggedly solid’ off-roader will be able to monster life on a farm, a commercial stable or the side of Ben Nevis. It should do, anyway, or there’ll be trouble from owners.
But you look at some of the press shots; at the leather surfaces, the easily-scratched touch-screen, the vulnerable wheels and ‘all-season’ road-biased tyres with less knobbly grip than the backside of a cold frog, and you have to ask the question: if this is as capable as – or more so than – the old Defender was off-road, how can it really be a superlative lifestyle choice on the black stuff? Or vice versa?
Let’s not forget that some of these interior frills will be options, and that the base price of a Defender 110 is less than £3000 cheaper than none other than the entry-grade Discovery 5; a car much more openly built for dual-purpose living and one that we know is ultra-comfy and hugely spacious for a family. In short, it’s the Land Rover to choose if you’re looking for strength, comfort, refinement and technology as well as the ability to track mountain goats in their natural habitat. Next to it the Defender… well, it looks a bit like a gimmick, albeit a gimmick with a central number plate.
“But steel wheels!” you cry. “Steelies, you facile contrarian!” It’s true that the vast majority of the CT office has taken an immediate shine to the steel-toecapped Defender. I just don’t see it. For me the only Defender yet revealed that looks great on steel hoops is the commercial version, which I do have a bit of a thing for. That model adds something clearly different to Land Rover’s cupboard and something much truer to the numerous Defenders that, even as you read this, are out there towing bales of hay, trailers full of sheep, caravans or even other cars.
For me the Defender works as a working vehicle alone. The commercial option has a clear purpose and looks cracking with blanked-out side windows and steel wheels. People ask what the farmers will buy? Well, why wouldn’t they buy this? A mid-size John Deere tractor costs about £45,000; why would farmers baulk at the same for a commercial 4x4? Only time will tell whether this Defender is as easy to look after, as easy to mistreat without penalty and as easy to maintain as the old one.
I’m not sure what the new Defender is trying to be, just as the entire world seemed not to know what the DC100 concept was trying to be, other than radically different to the car it was slated to replace. Superficial elements aside, where on earth can it sit in a range that includes the Discovery 5 – a similarly large and capable 4x4 with presumably greater refinement that can easily be haggled down to cheaper than the Defender – and the seven-seat (and vastly cheaper) Discovery Sport?
The product placement issues mooted long before the Defender’s eventual reveal have crystallised. Excellent commercial version aside, what is it for?