Connor Struyk ’20
When you think of the defining off-road automobiles of the 20th century, classics such as the Ford Bronco, Toyota Land Cruiser, Jeep CJ, and the Mercedes G-class spring to mind. All of these vehicles are extremely capable and greatly contributed to the popularity of SUV’s today. That said, there is a vehicle whose capability, brand recognition, and popularity puts them all to shame: The Land Rover Defender. The Land Rover Defender was originally launched in 1983 as a continuation of the Land Rover Series I,II, and III which had been in production since 1948. Like the Jeep CJ and Mercedes G-class, the Land Rover can trace its linage to military trucks converted over to the civilian market.
Much like the G-class, the Land Rover Defender was unapologetically a box on wheels but what it may have lacked in looks, it more than made up for in off-road capability. It has repeatedly crossed deserts, climbed mountains, and traversed continents. It is in short one of the most successful vehicles ever produced. Despite this, the Defender was only sold in the United States for four years between 1993 and 1997 due to a lack of front airbags and insufficient side impact protection. In spite of its brief stay in the United Sates, the Defender had gained an immense following with pristine examples costing well over $100,000 today. Even without being sold in the United States, Jaguar-Land Rover continued to produce the Defender until 2016, marking the end of 67 years of continuous Land Rover series production. Don’t despair however because in 2020, the Defender will be back.
A redesign for the classic Defender had been teased since 2011 but would not be confirmed until the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show in Germany where a prototype of the new Defender was shown off. The redesign allowed engineers to create a vehicle which would comply with modern safety standards and allow for its sale in up to 128 countries including the United States. The redesigned Defender comes in both three and five door variants like the original. It is there however that the similarities end. The new model is a unibody, unlike the previous model’s body-on-frame, and features air suspension as standard. It is powered by either a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine delivering 296 HP or a 6-cylinder delivering 395 HP. The only transmission option available will be an 8-speed automatic with a 2-speed transfer case. As disappointing as this may be to some perspective buyers it really isn’t my main problem with the new Defender. During the redesign, much of the boxiness and angularity of the original design was lost, likely in the name of pedestrian safety. In doing so, the new Defender lost, at least to my eyes, some of what made it unique. The Mercedes G-class also recently had a major re-design and has seemingly lost none of the character which has made it so unique and desirable. To me, the new Defender has a bit too much early 2000’s Range Rover in its design (especially in the front end) and no one has ever accused those cars of being beautiful. I am not saying that the new Defender will be a failure however and am especially interested in the 3-door model which is slated to launch a bit later than the 5-door. It will be interesting to see how the new Defender will compete with the 2020 Ford Bronco which aims to capture a seemingly similar market with a similar design philosophy.