The March issue's Dave Phillips - Rave On - column has accidentally appeared in April's LRO instead of the correct April one. LRO, of course, apologises for this error and is happy to put the words to the April column - full of its usual opinion and personality - here on LRO.com. Readers can also contact Editor-in-Chief, John Pearson for a pdf version (firstname.lastname@example.org).
What follows is Dave's take on the X-Tech Defender;
Defending the Faith
Last month's news pages featured what could be a historic vehicle launch.
The limited-edition X-Tech may be the final incarnation of the Defender before its replacement is launched. On the other hand, it probably isn't. Land Rover bosses, so positive about regular updates of the Range Rover, Discovery and Freelander models, are decidedly jittery about introducing a new version of the Defender. Originally pencilled in for next year, it now looks unlikely to happen before 2013 if it happens at all. And that's amazing for a vehicle that has been around for a very, very long time.
The name Defender dates back to 1989, when Solihull christened it thus in order to avoid confusion with the new Discovery. Before that, it was known as the Land Rover One Ten or Ninety, introduced in 1983 and 1985 respectively to replace the leaf-sprung Series III. The model has changed a lot in almost three decades, early diesel versions were fitted with painfully slow naturally aspirated engines, for example but you have to admit that the new X-Tech looks a lot like its 1980s predecessors. You wouldn't need to take a blood test to prove paternity. So, why is Land Rover apparently so reluctant to replace it?
It hasn't always been so backward in moving forward. For example, the original Series I was replaced after just 10 years by the Series II which, along with the Series III, didn¹t last much longer. Yet once the leaf-sprung utilities were replaced by the veteran coiler, time seemed to stand still. The updates the Defender has enjoyed have usually come courtesy of parallel developments in the engines and powertrains of its stablemates. The 200Tdi, 300Tdi and Td5 engines were shoehorned into the Defender after being developed primarily for the Discovery 1 and 2. Engines that have followed since are from Henry Ford's finest.
Yes, comfort has improved. But since the early models had sliding windows and didn't have power steering, that was inevitable. Complaints about the model's notoriously poor heater and restricted legroom have only been addressed in recent years. The new X-Tech looks good, with its restyled front end, silver paint job and black alloy wheels but this is just superficial gloss. It hasn't addressed the lack of elbow room. And it just isn't enough. Land Rover's tardiness in replacing the Defender has cost it a fortune in lost sales especially in the US, where the venerable design made it impossible to fit passenger airbags, which have been compulsory since the 1990s. But the continued improvements in the designs of its Japanese rivals have cost it even more.
We're often reassured that the appropriately named Project Icon team have been beavering away furiously for years to come up with the Defender's replacement. But still the due date keeps being postponed and the comments made by Solihull's top brass give little cause for optimism. In 2009, Land Rover's then MD, Phil Popham, said he wasn't sure if a Defender replacement would sell the 40,000 per annum needed to cover development costs. Popham's boss, Carl-Peter Forster, global MD of parent company Tata Motors, was ambiguous on the subject at the Paris Motor Show last October. 'We must decide whether to have a replacement or not,' he told the motoring press. We're aware of the responsibility to make sure the national icon does not die or else we won¹t be allowed back into Britain!' he added, tongue in cheek. But it's no joke: it's make-your-mind-up time for Land Rover. In 2013 the current Defender will have to be withdrawn from the market, as it will no longer meet stringent new-car regulations. But don't panic. I don't for one moment think Land Rover will abandon the vehicle upon which its reputation was made. Instead, it will do things the way it always does and dip into the spares bin in this case, to make use of the discarded chassis of the outgoing Discovery to provide the platform for the Defender's replacement. And you know what? We'll love it just as much as ever.