The launch of the new Land Rover Defender marks the revival of one of the brand’s most fabled models. Unsurprisingly, it has proven a somewhat contentious car – with the adoption of unibody construction, independent suspension and increased complexity causing myriad outbursts worldwide.
Many are also frustrated with its pricing, as the entry-level Defender 90 starts at £40,290. For what historically would have been considered a utilitarian vehicle, that is unquestionably a substantial chunk of change. After all, there are countless practical and durable pick-ups that cost five figures less. Then there’s the small matter of the more affordable and indomitable Land Cruiser to consider, too.
HOW RIVALS DEFINED THE NEW DEFENDER
Alternatives such as the Toyota Land Cruiser and Hi-Lux, and other pick-ups including the Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi L200, are partly responsible for Land Rover’s dramatic change in tack for the all-new Defender. For starters, Land Rover’s current products are aimed at the more expensive and upmarket end of the scale. This, coupled with increased competition and question marks over volume, make the business case for a more straightforward and affordable Land Rover very weak; as a case in point, five years ago, Land Rover built 17,781 Defenders. In the same year, a grand total of 144,693 Toyota Hilux pick-ups rolled off the production lines.
Regardless, there’s no disputing that the Defender – as well as the Series, Ninety and other variants which preceded it – built itself a tremendous and justified reputation as a rugged off-roader during its 26-year production run. Markets, fashions and companies change, though, and cars are no exception to this rule. The design and pricing of the new Defender, like it or not, represents the only way that we would see the now-legendary model successfully continue.
Consider this, too: in 1989, a Ninety County V8 cost £14,468. Adjusted for inflation, that’s some £35,000 in today’s money – which isn’t far from the cost of the far better equipped and far more capable 2019 Defender. Irrespective of its cost, it will no doubt prove popular and serve to further extend the appeal and remit of the brand’s current line-up.
Not that all the news in 2019 will be about the new Defender, as this year also marks a notable anniversary of one of the brand’s other long-popular models: the Land Rover Discovery.
A PROJECT TO FILL A VOID IN THE BRAND’S LINE-UP
During the mid-1980s, customers considering buying one of Land Rover’s off-roaders found themselves with a somewhat stark decision to make – because, at that time, they could only pick between the rugged Ninety, the larger One Ten or the expensive and upmarket Range Rover.
Buyers seeking a halfway house were subsequently left scratching their heads. Land Rover quickly recognised this issue and promptly set about coming up with a more affordable new vehicle that could fill this potentially lucrative gap in its range.
The new concept, dubbed ‘Project Jay’, aimed to blend the capability of the Ninety and One Ten with the improved comfort and road manners of the bigger, more costly Range Rover. Land Rover started by taking the underpinnings of the Range Rover and coupling them with less costly engines. A practical body was then dropped on top, and outfitted with a far more straightforward interior with a focus on outright practicality – making it far better suited to those with family or work-related use in mind.
There were plenty of bespoke design cues, too, including a distinctive stepped roofline that served to increase headroom for the rear-seat passengers. Aside from being genuinely useful, such features also made the new car easily distinguishable from others in the company’s line-up and embued it with its own character.
FRANKFURT MOTOR SHOW DEBUT
It was at the Frankfurt motor show, on 16 September 1989, that this new 4×4 – dubbed ‘Discovery’, instead of suggested alternatives such as ‘Prairie Rover’ and ‘Highlander’ – made its public debut. It packed excellent off-road capability and practicality into a more civilised package, with plenty of creature comforts and seating for up to seven, which made it an eminently versatile vehicle.
As intended, the first-gen Discovery was also more affordable; the later V8 version commanded £20,470, for example, compared to the equivalent V8-engined Range Rover’s £31,949.
EVER-CHANGING DESIGNS TO MEET EVER-CHANGING DEMANDS
Land Rover continued to improve and expand the series I Discovery range, adding new engine options – including the aforementioned V8 – along with more equipment and refreshed styling. It was also later made available in the US market, bolstering its popularity further.
The Discovery would also evolve to meet changing demands, just as is now the case with the Defender. By the time the third generation arrived, the Discovery 3 had made the leap to fully independent suspension; while some were disappointed by the move, most otherwise appreciated the vastly improved on-road dynamics and ride quality.
Additions such as adjustable ride height and Land Rover’s Terrain Response System, however, ensured that the Discovery remained remarkably capable when driving on rough terrain.
Now, in its fifth generation, the Discovery looks very different to its predecessors – but its flexible and practical nature remains, ensuring its ongoing appeal to a plethora of buyers.
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