IT’S A Kia Soul. It’s a Skoda Yeti. It’s a bloated pastiche of a British icon. And what the heck is that weird block in the rear window, anyway?
Actually, I quite like the new Land Rover Defender. I got the chance to have a proper look around it at last weekend’s Goodwood Revival, just a few days after its big debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show (although why a show dedicated to 1960s classic cars is being used to promote brand new off-roaders is another question entirely), and first impressions are… that it’s massive. The helpful folk at Solihull had stuck an old Series I next to it, and it was well and truly dwarfed by the new arrival.
But once you come to terms with its sheer stature and start looking at the little details, the more it looks and feels like a proper Landie. There’s a rather uncomfortable looking middle seat between the driver and front passenger – just like there was in my dad’s old One Ten – and where other purveyors of mud-pluggers treat the bodywork with garnishings of chrome-effect trim, the Defender’s got chunky swathes of unromantic plastic. Which is exactly what you want when you’re brushing past hedges on rutted farm tracks.
With the notable exception of the front windscreen, which I still think is a little too steeply raked, at first glance the new arrival does pull off what everyone thought was impossible; replacing an off-roader that’s been in production since 1983 with something that looks simultaneously modern and traditional. Obviously, it’s only fair to reserve final judgement until everyone starts driving it (preferably up a few muddy inclines), but I think we’ll only really know if the new Defender works once it’s out of the car shows and away from the flattering press shots of showroom-fresh examples being driven up mountains and across deserts.
Specifically, it needs to work when it’s shorn of its rear bodywork and fitted with an Ifor Williams aluminium canopy. Drive over the border into North Wales, go to somewhere like Denbigh or Llanrwst, and you’ll see Land Rovers in their purest form, invariably hauling sheep back and forth. There isn’t an alloy wheel, LED light or trendy paint job in sight here – spot a Defender here and it’ll almost always be painted in a drab, non-metallic shade that’s splattered with muck, kitted out on steel wheels and fitted with a canopy that’s covered in scratches. That’s how a Land Rover should look.
The new Defender has pulled off looking brilliant with an aplomb that’s managed to surprise just about everyone. But if it can pull off looking down-at-heel too, only then will we know if it’s replaced an icon. Best get busy if you work for Ifor Williams…