Emerging from post-lockdown ‘slumbers’, LR Defender can think itself ‘holy’
Some things in the big, bad commercial world do appear to be many-times blessed, states Iain Robertson, not least the LR arm of JLR, which, in his view, has enjoyed several periods of grace, many of which were undeserved but just sheer good luck!
Land Rover may well be an admirable brand. When new, its products deliver in spades, thanks to indefatigable off-road talent in their designed for purpose roles. Yet, while somewhat larger than its annoying sidekick Jaguar Cars, with which it was incorporated following the dissolution of the ‘Rusting-Over Group’ (ARG) and subsequent disposal by Ford Motor Company, after BMW enjoyed more than a technological nibble, it remains a carmaker that has been gifted more chances of survival than it ought to have been.
It is very easy to become overwhelmed by xenophobia. After all, Land Rover is a proud defender (sic.) of the 4×4 faith, starting out in life as a semi-ropey UK alternative to the US ‘General Purpose’ (Jeep) vehicle that aided its nation’s WW2 conquest. That it survived against a modicum of rivals that included the Austin Gypsy lies purely with the raft of accessories that have grown off its back, including caterpillar-style tracks, Forward Control variants and government supply contracts.
Available in both short and long wheelbase standard forms, the vehicle renamed subsequently as Defender was the UK’s own ‘GP’, powered by a choice of raucous petrol, or more raucous diesel engines and semi-indestructible transfer gearboxes. It lacked creature comforts, demanding little more than a chamois hide to demist windows and a hose, with which to clean it both inside and out…until Range Rover appeared.
Ironically, the plastic seats and rubber floor mats of the Rangie were soon replaced by finest leather and Wilton and a radio was installed as standard equipment, along with a decent heating system. Either the vehicle-maker had appreciated a market opportunity, or farmers, land workers, utilities, airports and emergency services became ‘softer’ and ‘girlier’. Regardless, Rangie became desirable, while Defender retained a more agricultural but possibly less covetable stance…until the outdoor leisure sector decided to the contrary.
Yet, in the post-ARG era, certainly not helped by the perpetually limping and complaining Jaguar, the West Midlands-based operator bolstered the positions of its senior management, over-produced a truly confusing range of Land Rovers, augmented by an equivalent line of Range Rovers, and built an image (thanks to ingenious and original marketing ploys) that was supported financially by the Indian Tata conglomerate. Just to remind you, (including J) LR is an Indian takeaway and no longer a British institution. Fortunately, its relative strength in the new car scene ensures that, when it makes major market errors, its funders continue to send massive quantities of Rupees to ensure its survival.
Suzuki missed a major opportunity during the period, when Land Rover decided to drop Defender from its price list (as it was developing the new version), by not importing a range of stripped-out Jimnys even to be perceived as helping out the customers that LR was deserting. It has done so, now, announcing that the Jimny van will be available in Europe but not mentioning its possible sales in post-Brexit Britain. Regardless, even importing a left-hooker would be less costly than investing in a new Defender…a point worth highlighting.
Having swooned in shock at the launch prices for the new Defender launched right at the start of pandemic ‘lockdown’, it is no surprise that our roads have not exactly been over-populated by LR’s new ‘Tonka Toy’, on either count. Fortunately, LR has reacted to initial impact by introducing a proper entry-level variant, with hardtop prices starting from a more reasonable £35,820 (exc. VAT) in 90 form and the 110 from £43,012 (also exc. VAT). Still expensive but also still purposeful. In addition, a 400bhp P400e plug-in hybrid 110 model has been added to the range, promising low CO2 emissions at 74g/km, decent fuel economy at 85.3mpg, a top whack of 130mph and a relatively blistering 0-60mph time of just 5.4s, which should add some extra fun on the farm.
It is a proper LR, capable of tugging up to three tonnes but also carrying 168kgs on its roof bars. The 19.2kWh lithium-ion battery pack provides a useful bottom-end torque boost and up to 27-miles of EV-mode. The usual recharging times and rates apply. However, its primary power source is the 300bhp Ingenium 2.0-litre petrol-turbo engine (to which is attached the 105kW electric motor), which is already proving to be less than dependable, judging by the repute it has gained at dealerships for failures and their requests for £12,000 replacements. Do not let me put you off, if you have a burning desire to invest in a hybrid Defender, after all that is what warranties are for!
On the other hand, even though it is a member of the Ingenium engine family, the D300 is a 299bhp, 3.0-litre, turbo-diesel, inline SIX-cylinder that can whisk a 90 (SWB) from 0-60mph in a still racy 6.3s. The same engine is also available in 197 and 246bhp forms (200D and 250D respectively) all versions benefiting from mild hybrid technology that provides stop-start facilities and a small but useful energy boost. When they work, hopefully most of the time, they work with the customary Land Rover off-road strengths and vastly improved on-road dynamics.
There is also a new, extra-cost, X-Dynamic trim available for Defender. New skid plates, grille bar and badging help to differentiate it from lesser variants, with dark grey/black alloy wheels and other detailing externally and new ‘Robustec’ seat material internally. It is a tough and protective material inspired by textiles used in extreme outdoor situations, being both hard-wearing and resistant to abrasions, with a hexagonal pattern and tactility that adds greater depth to the Defender’s interior. Defender X-Dynamic S and SE models feature duo-tone grained leather with Robustec accent, while the X-Dynamic HSE features duo-tone smoother hide with the contrasting accent. All come in a choice of Ebony, Khaki and Ebony twin-tone, or Acorn and Lunar seat colours.
Conclusion: While the vast majority of us wants Land Rover to cut the mustard and survive, the company needs to smarten-up its act, improve reliability and, rather than just whack-up prices, earn some true profitability for its Indian masters. Then, it will be a brand worthy of praise, not ridicule.