land rover

The eco activists are right – crossovers ARE going to go out of fashion

IT’S not often someone who owns a 1970s dinosaur of a car, powered by a three-litre V6 knocking back a gallon of unleaded every 23 miles, agrees with a group researching ways to make Britain a leaner, greener, zero carbon emissions country.

Yet, for once, I’m completely in agreement with the scientists at the UK Energy Research Centre – we really do, as a nation, have to go easy on the Range Rover Evoques and the Audi Q3s. Lay off the new Nissan Juke and the second-gen Ford Kuga a bit. Oh, and definitely have a gentle chat with anyone thinking of chucking more than £44,000 on a BMW X4.

You’ll have noticed something all of the aforementioned beasts of burden have in common; they’re all SUVs, off-roaders, crossovers, or whatever lifestyle-orientated name they’ve been given this week. The UK Energy Research Centre’s argument is that because they now account for just a fifth of the nation’s new car sales – as opposed to 13.5 per cent just three years ago – hauling around all that extra weight is completely undermining the do-gooders currently buying 44,000 zero emissions motors a year.

Professor Jillian Anable, the group’s co-director, said: “The rapid uptake of unnecessarily large and energy consuming vehicles just in the past few years makes a mockery of UK policy efforts towards the ‘Road to Zero’”, the last bit referring to the Government’s aim of making Britain net carbon neutral by 2050.

My beef with these cars – and I choose my words carefully, as I dearly hope the UKERC doesn’t have the same wrath towards the 1977 Reliant Scimitar GTE – is that almost all of these SUVs are nothing of the sort. They’re front-wheel-drive, aren’t designed to venture up muddy tracks and don’t do anything a Vauxhall Astra can’t do. If you need more space, get a Combo Life. Only you won’t, because it looks like a van with windows rather than a trendy off-roader.

Virtually every new car I borrow is a bloated, high-riding relation of a much better hatchback that’s been cruelly forgotten by the wider market. I’ve no problem with proper 4x4s that actually go off-road – I grew up in a family that lives and breathes old Land Rovers – but ones pretending otherwise and wasting fuel and resources in the process aren’t doing us any favours.

For ages, I’ve been resigned to it being a relentless march up the new car sales chart that wipes out lesser spotted species in the process (see the critically endangered small coupé, and the extinct-in-the-wild large MPV), but I reckon in a few years crossovers will start to look desperately unfashionable, and it’ll be Greta Thunberg and the march of the green movement behind it. It’s hard enough to justify something like, say, a BMW 3-Series in a world where single use plastic bags are taboo, so turning the same car into a thirstier, higher-riding crossover just seems to be prime ammo for the anti-car lobby.

So don’t make your next buy a Skoda Karoq – make it an Octavia instead, which looks much nicer, will drive far better and be just as practical.

Just don’t follow my example and make it a three-litre 1970s sports car. Otherwise, we’re all stuffed…

The new 4×4 hoping to out-Land Rover the Defender

THE NEW Defender is a proper Land Rover. Or is it?

Apologies if this sounds almost exactly like the opening to last week’s Life On Cars column, but it turns out that barely a week after it was announced that some blokes who met up in their local pub have announced their own equally no-frills off-roader. In fact, they’re so proud of their beverage-based flash of inspiration that they’ve actually named their new offering after it. I kid you not.

The Grenadier – the car, not the London watering hole famed for its whiskies and real ale – is apparently going to go on sale in 2021, so it’ll be at least a year behind the new Defender, but the chaps behind it are promising all sorts of Land Rover-ish things that farmers familiar with the old model will doubtless appreciate. Where the new Defender is going for more car-like monocoque construction for the first time, the Grenadier is sticking with an old-fashioned ladder frame chassis, which is simpler and easier to adapt to different bodystyles. It’ll have beam axles, permanent four-wheel-drive and a boxy, no-nonsense exterior. Sound familiar? Then there are the engines, which are being sourced from BMW in much the same way a certain other specialist in mud-pluggers used to do. Nor will there be any plug-in hybrids or zero emissions electric models – apparently, the car’s pale ale-swigging purveyors thought about it, but decided no-nonsense turbodiesels and petrols would do just fine, thanks.

Only said blokes, while they really did come up with the idea in the pub, aren’t overenthusiastic CAMRA members with a better grasp of Doom Bar than doomed British car designs. These chaps are not like all those tiny British sports car companies who attempt to take on Porsche with a budget of £12.50; nope, they all happen to work for a petrochemical company called Ineos, which is investing a not inconsiderable £600 million in the project. It also employs 22,000 people, and reckons it’ll take on about 500 more making the new off-roader. Three blokes nailing bits together in a shed this isn’t – and it’s pulled off a PR coup by announcing, just days after the Slovakian-built Defender was unveiled, that the Grenadier will be built right here, in Blighty (South Wales, since you’re asking).

But it’ll only out-Defender the Defender if it can get one crucial bit right; the price. Land Rover’s new offering starts at £45k in short-wheelbase 90 form, so the unapologetically unsophisticated Grenadier will have to start at a fraction of that to win over all those farmers, squaddies and forestry workers. That, I reckon, is the opening salvo in the most intriguing motoring battle in years.

All this from a couple of car nuts in a pub. Cheers!

The new Land Rover Defender still needs to pass the Ifor Williams test

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…

New Defender interior leaked – but not in the proper Land Rover way

AS BIG motoring stories go, this was no damp squib. It’s still another couple of months before we finally get to see Land Rover’s new Defender – but the interior’s leaked.

A slew of shouty headlines from the motoring magazine websites said it all; NEW DEFENDER: INTERIOR LEAKED AHEAD OF UNVEILING, LEAKED: NEW LAND ROVER DEFENDER INTERIOR, and, perhaps most promisingly of all, 2020 DEFENDER INTERIOR LEAKED FULLY. As someone who spent most of his childhood in the back of old Land Rovers and still reckons a Series IIA isn’t really complete unless its cabin comes with a slighty musty, countryside-ish whiff, this was great news, because it meant someone at Solihull had really been paying close attention to what old Land Rover owners are used to. If the new Defender’s interior has leaked before it’s even been launched, it’s still a proper Land Rover!

Unfortunately, the story the motoring mags had, er, splashed with referred to a leak of the metaphorical rather than literal sort, and for legal reasons I’m obliged to point that there’s no indication that Solihull’s next mud-plugger will actually allow in the occasional dribble of rainwater every time you take it off-roading. But, if the latest images are anything to go by, it looks like Jaguar Land Rover have spent a lot of time getting the mix of chunky, hard-wearing plastics and the details that are bang-up-to-date, like the neatly-integrated digital dash display, right. A copy-and-paste of the Discovery’s cabin it ain’t.

It’s had to tread a very tricky tightrope with the new Defender – it is, after all, the direct descendant of 1948’s Series I, so it’s got to look, feel and sound like a Landie of the old school while simultaneously meeting all of today’s safety regulations, doing more than 25 to the gallon and comfortably sitting at seventy on the motorway. I’ll happily accept that the farming set have all moved into Nissan Navaras and Mitsubishi L200s now, but the new Defender’s also got to hit it off with those vastly different swathes of people devoted to the old one – so that’s the British Army, Kanye West and the entire readership of Your Horse. Tough call.

But I’m keeping my fingers crossed, largely because JLR (which has just cut 4500 jobs) could use a lucky break, and because the precedent set by the Jaguar XJ nine years ago shows that it is possible to reinvent a British icon that everyone previously declared impossible to reinvent. The new Defender won’t please absolutely everyone, but I’d rather that than there be no new Land Rover at all. Whatever happens, it’ll still be devastatingly effective off-road and bang up to date.

Probably better built than the old one, too. Although if the interior leaks, at least you’ll know why…

You don’t need a Porsche to make motoring fun

You don't need a 911-sized budget to make motoring fun
PORSCHE is, I’ve long reckoned, is the only supercar maker that just about everyone can afford to dabble in.

The days of 944s for under a grand and air-cooled 911s for Mondeo money might be long gone but you can easily pick up an early Boxster for less than the price of a secondhand Astra – try doing that with Ferrari or McLaren. I was at a huge Porsche event over in Llandudno and that’s definitely the vibe I picked up from the people taking part. Sure, there were managing directors flying the flag in brand new Caymans, but there were also plenty of petrolheads who just love their cars, even without the enormous budget, and were just as happy to be there.

Except for one chap, who I can only assume was a member of the public who’d got lost. “I dunno, I don’t get what all the fuss is”, he seethed to his other half as he glanced over 650 of Stuttgart’s sports cars, proudly lined up along a North Wales promenade.

“They’re just cars, aren’t they? A means to an end. As long as it’s got a tow bar for my trailer and starts up in the morning, I don’t give a fig”. Only that last word was something else beginning with ‘F’, of course.

For a moment I thought I’d overhead someone who sees cars the way I see football – but then for all the moments I can feel my eyes glazing over every time I head the transfer window being discussed loudly in a pub, I can at least look back at all the few times I’ve been to see Southport play and ended up cheering them on. This bloke, on the other hand, had no time for cars whatsoever.

His loss, especially when you bear in mind that you don’t have to have a Porsche and that motoring fun can be had in just about any form at every budget, taking virtually no effort to attain. A secondhand Mondeo can be picked up for a few hundred quid and they can be very sprightly through the bends. Gently expand your used car budget and the Golf GTI is your oyster. A mate of mine bought a RenaultSport Megane not long ago – 225bhp and finely honed French suspension for just four grand.

Still not convinced? You could snap up a secondhand Land Rover Discovery and have all the space and countryside chic you could ever ask for, or match family practicality with a healthy dose of B-road prowesss with a 5-Series that’s barely in. Even the most sensible family car I can think of, the Skoda Octavia, can be had in smile-inducing vRS form from about £2000 upwards.

All of these cars, of course, can be fitted with a tow bar and will start up a treat first thing in the morning. Not bad for a means to an end.

A needlessly expensive Rolls-Royce off-roader? Sign me up

The Rolls-Royce Cullinan - seen here in prototype camouflage - is being launched later this year
I IMAGINE there are quite a lot of entries under ‘K’ on the waiting list for Rolls-Royce’s next model; Kanye, Kim, Khloe and Kourtney for starters.

When you name your new model after the world’s biggest diamond it’s inevitable that it’s going to end up with rather bling connotations, even before it’s launched. But then that’s the Rolls-Royce Cullinan all over – it’s a Range Rover for people who consider the Range Rover a bit too common. It’s an off-roader with a whisper-quiet V12 where the establishment makes do with ‘just’ a supercharged V8. A toff-roader, if you will.

It is a completely pointless, jacked-up Phantom that in reality will never venture any further than a slightly damp stretch of field immediately outside Aintree Racecourse or the Royal Birkdale – in fact, you’re more likely to see one appearing on MTV Base alongside someone whose name begins with K.

But that doesn’t stop me liking it. Bentley and Jaguar doing posh mud-pluggers just doesn’t sit right with their carefully honed collective heritage as custodians of well-heeled driving fun, but a Rolls-Royce off-roader is so delightfully silly that it might just work. It’s Kingsman in automotive form; still refined enough to insist that you call its offerings motor cars, but in the background it’s teaming up with The Who’s Roger Daltry for its charity ventures, letting grime artist Skepta spec up the speakers on its one-offs and allowing its older cars to take part in marvellously OTT displays at the Goodwood Revival.

So the idea of taking your Cullinan to the Arctic Circle and lording it over everyone slumming it in Toyota pick-ups – and Rolls-Royce has been testing the new car there, just to make sure it’ll cope – fits in perfectly with the manufacturer’s softly spoken sense of fun. If it can haul itself up the same mucky hill as a Range Rover, but in a much more needlessly expensive way, then so be it. The one per cent have been doing pointless things with Rolls-Royces for generations, and the Cullinan fits in perfectly.

And if any pub bores do wander over (and it’ll be a very upmarket pub, presumably) and start piping up about how Rolls-Royce shouldn’t be doing off-roaders, then you can point out that it was taking on remote places and winning long before Jeeps and Land Rovers were even conceived. In the 1920s farmers used to travel around the Australian Outback in Silver Ghosts because they were the toughest things on the market. So the Cullinan does have off-roading pedigree.

So I like Rolls’ toff-roader because it’s a completely needless car that I’ll never be able to afford. Unless I change my name to one with beginning with K, of course…

Why the Range Rover SV Coupe proves that less is more when it comes to luxury cars

The SV Coupe revisits the idea of the original two-door Range Rover from the 1970s

FORGET everything you’ve ever learned about quality over quantity for a moment. When you wade into the world of the fabulously wealthy, less is usually a lot more.

The price you’d pay for a truly palatial pad in Kensington, Liverpool, for instance, would barely get you a one-bed flat in its London namesake. A main course at an upmarket restaurant in Marylebone or Mayfair costs more than I’d normally spend on a couple’s three-course night out in this part of the world. And don’t get me started on £6 pints.

It’s the same with cars too, as anyone who’s ever ordered a Porsche GT3 and traded rear seats for roll cages and stereos for stripped-back carbonfibre will know.

Which is why I have to admire Land Rover for unveiling its new, ultra-luxury spinoff of the Range Rover at the Geneva Motor Show last week. There’s lots of “contemporary design” and “up-to-the-minute technology” breaking up the slabs of wood and acres of leather you’d expect on the inside, and they are only building 999 of them, but what you can’t fail to notice is that for your £240,000 asking price you get two fewer doors. Automotive proof that less really is more in the world of cars, too.

What it does prove, however, is that if the money’s there then it’s not impossible to convert a five-door car into a three-door one; which makes me wonder why three-door cars much further down the pecking order are all being quietly killed off. The RenaultSport Clio – a car you’d expect to arrive sans rear doors, because that way the body’s stiffer – is now only available in five-door form, and it’s the same story with the Ford Focus, and the Honda Civic. Word has it that the three-door version of Audi’s A3 is being pensioned off, too. Which is a real shame, because for all the awkward fumbling you have with sliding seats forward and climbing through narrow gaps there is a youthful sense of fun about three-door hatches, and it’s sad to see it slowly disappearing.

The Peugeot 205 GTI just wouldn’t have had the same frisson of mischief had it been equipped with five doors, and nor would Renault’s Clio Williams or Citroen’s AX GT. They all had five-door cousins, of course, but it was worth eschewing the practicality for a stiffer bodyshell and cleaner looks. Surely if the argument works for the Range Rover all these years later – especially being positioned as a luxury spinoff – it’ll work for the next Ford Focus RS or Honda Civic Type-R, too?

It’s exactly the sort of petrolhead argument I’m hoping to win next time I visit the pub. Anyone got six quid they can lend me?

Don’t panic about snow – learn to drive on it!

More should be done to prepare motorists for coping with snowy conditions

THIS TIME last week there was a joke doing the rounds in the bars of Helsinki about our recent spate of bracing weather.

The English called the weather front, on account of it sweeping across the North Sea straight from the chillier bits of Russia, The Beast From The East. The Dutch dubbed it The Siberian Bear. Even the Swedes got a bit over-excited and labelled it The Snow Cannon. But the Finns called it… Wednesday.
It’s a bit of a harsh observation, but when it comes from a country that’s produced seven world rally champions there is an element of truth in it. We Brits just aren’t too hot at coping with extreme cold.
I can understand the schools closing for the day and the train operators finding things a bit tricky – but all those warnings about not travelling unless it’s absolutely necessary rang a bit hollow. Okay, so horsepower hedonists like me who venture out simply because it’s fun had to hang fire on getting their MX-5s and M3s out for a few days, but everyone else who’s vaguely normal only ever travels because it’s necessary. You might be lucky enough to work from home or to have a boss nice enough to deem your drive in non-essential, but for the rest of us we’re on the roads not to be annoying, but because we have to be.
Which is why there really ought to be more emphasis on learning what to do when you have to go out in the snow, so you don’t have to stay in and listen to people on the news telling you how treacherous it is out there. If you woke up to a genuine ten-foot high snowdrift than fair enough, but you’d be surprised at how far you can get on the white stuff in a car that isn’t a Land Rover Discovery if you drive sensibly. Even on quiet roads that hadn’t been gritted my 20-year-old Toyota Avensis managed to cope admirably, and one pal of mine managed to overcome just about everything in a Fiat Cinquecento. Neither had chunky winter tyres or fancy traction control systems – but they did have decent rubber, a lack of weight and some careful driving in their favour.
But far too few drivers I encountered during Snowmageddon seemed completely clueless about what to do when you get that horrible moment when the steering goes light on an icy patch or what to do when the back end snaps out of line on a slippery bit of snow. I’m not suggesting that we’re sent on weekend breaks to Finland to learn how to drive a Mitsubishi Evo VIII rally car on a frozen lake to sharpen up our skills (although I’d be more than happy to volunteer!), but I’m sure that equipped with some snow-driving knowledge the recent conditions wouldn’t have been as ominous.
Let’s stop panicking about the snow and learn to drive on it instead. Then the Finns might stop taking the mickey out of us…

The best way to sort out all those aftermarket Land Rover Defenders? Reintroduce the real one, of course

Land Rover is only making 150 of its Works V8 Defenders

SO FAR Theresa May’s yet to make any announcement banning future episodes of Love Island being broadcast for good. Oasis are yet to get back together, and Britain’s best brewers still haven’t worked out how to create beer that helps you lose weight.

But very occasionally things you keep your fingers crossed for do actually happen. Regular readers might recall that in these very pages about six months ago I openly wished for Land Rover to bring the Defender back, if only so it could give all the aftermarket customisers currently ruining the old ones a well-deserved drubbing.

Amazingly, they’ve only gone and done it.

The Defender Works V8, to give it its official title, is not Britain’s biggest carmaker admitting it got it wrong all along and begrudgingly putting the nation’s most hardcore off-roader back into production. It’s being tackled by Jaguar Land Rover’s classic car division, but nor is it one of their beautifully executed revivals of its greatest hits, like the Jaguar E-types or the two-door Range Rovers it’s put together in recent years. This is Land Rover playing the aftermarket boys at their own game, by taking old ones, and imagining how much cooler they’d be with big alloys, a noisy V8 and leather-lining trimmings. And then making it happen.

As a result it’s rather more expensive than the regular Defenders ever were – £150,000, since you’re asking – but it does churn out 400bhp, so it can hit sixty in 5.6 seconds AND go mountain climbing afterwards. Admittedly, you’d be a bit cheesed off if you bought one of the last-of-the-line Defenders two years ago, but Land Rover says that it’s only because it’s celebrating its 70th birthday this year. Honest. They won’t make any more Defenders after that. Promise!

As someone who spent most of their childhood in Land Rover’s V8 offerings I’m more than happy for them to have another crack at it – and while I reckon it’s a lovely birthday gesture it achieves what I suspect was Land Rover’s aim all along, because it looks so much better thought-out than all the dreadful Pimp My Defender offerings doing the rounds at the moment. For all its blacked out alloys and chromed door handles the Works V8 looks like it could still fit in at a farmers’ market in deepest Shropshire.

Obviously my next wish is for roughly £150,000 to appear in my bank account. Fingers crossed, and all that…

Jaguar Land Rover has a great opportunity right under its nose

Currently the Jaguar Land Rover range starts with the XE saloon

WHAT’S your worst nightmare? Perhaps it’s giving an important work seminar wearing nothing but a bikini – even though you’re a bloke – or being locked inside a hi-fi shop overnight with every stereo system set to play Justin Bieber’s greatest hits on repeat, ad nauseam.

For me it’s trying to explain Jaguar Land Rover’s plans for world domination to someone who doesn’t understand cars. The Jaguar stuff’s fairly simple – you start with the wonderful XJ, replicate in slightly smaller sizes and then chuck in a two-seater sports car for good measure, but I’m completely lost when it comes to Land Rover. There’s no Land Rover-shaped Land Rover any more, a Discovery that looks just like a Range Rover Evoque, and a big Discovery that’s now tremendously ugly. Then there’s the Range Rover, but it’s accompanied by another Range Rover that obsesses over Nurburgring lap times and looking good outside footballers’ homes, a really small Range Rover that now looks a bit like a Land Rover Discovery Sport, and the Velar, which sits somewhere between the two.

All of which hurts my head (and probably yours) slightly. So rumours that JLR’s looking to expand its range of offerings even further are going to have me reaching for the Nurofen.

The manufacturer’s Indian bosses are reportedly thinking about snapping up another brand to boost its luxury offerings, with everything from Aston-Martin to MG under consideration. Even Jeep’s been linked to a potential deal, although this would be a bit like Liverpool snapping up Arsenal.

Then there’s serious consideration apparently being given to launching what’s being dubbed the ‘Road Rover’, which would be a sort of tarmac-orientated twin to Land Rover’s current offerings.  All of which would make it… a Rover, surely?

Rover would be a great name to bring back. If VW can successfully turn Skoda from the butt of motoring jokes to a champion of sensibly-priced family cars, how hard can it be to turn an (admittedly tarnished) British brand back into the luxury name known for cars like the P5 and P6? BMW so nearly did it with the 75 but famously bottled it in 2000. Jaguar Land Rover, with its clever engineering and healthy cashflow, might just crack it.

Admit it – a properly engineered Rover with wood, leather and some Jaguar-esque tech beneath the skin really wouldn’t be a bad thing. Better than presenting that work seminar in a bikini, anyway…