BY JAMES CAMPBELL
The Great British Countryside is already missing the Land Rover Defender. Not only is there an emotional attachment between this rugged four-wheel drive workhorse and country dwellers, there is a practical side to the Defender that other car manufacturers have failed to cash in on.
Yes, there are still plenty of Land Rover Defenders on the market but production did cease, after 67 wonderful years, back in February 2016. The problem with buying a near-new Defender is that the prices are much higher than a year ago. And since no more are in production, their price is likely to be heading only one way for the foreseeable future.
There will be a new-generation Defender on the market but this is likely to take a few years. Autocar is suggesting 2019 as the launch date for this new model. However, talk of “making use of technology even more modern than that adopted by the recently launched, all-new Discovery” sounds worrying. What the 20,000 Defender annual buyers want is the Defender – not a Discovery full of tech that looks a bit like the Defender.
What other manufacturers – and Land Rover – have failed to understand is why country folk bought the Defender in its thousands in the first place. Obviously, not for long distance motorway driving or all those mod cons you can get as standard in vehicles designed this century. People bought the Defender for its reliability, its usefulness around the estate and out-and-about negotiating the daily hazards of the countryside. But, above all perhaps, real country people bought the Land Rover Defender because it’s thinner than almost all its competitors.
And car manufacturers have clearly never driven around the UK where – from Cornwall to the Highlands – there are lots of narrow country lanes which are really BLOODY THIN!
I’ve done a comparison of car widths for The Country Squire Magazine and there are very few equivalent vehicles which get anywhere near to matching or beating the thin width of a Land Rover Defender (which measures 1.79 metres at its widest point).
The Range Rovers fail miserably – the Evoque coming in at 1.985 metres, while the Land Rover Discovery and larger Range Rovers are both 2.073 metres wide.
Whereas the Defender was the chosen vehicle of the school run, now what do parents around the country turn to?
How about a Jeep? No use: The Jeep Wrangler is a whopping 1.877 metres wide, the Cherokee measures 1.859 metres and the Grand Jeep Cherokee is 1.943 metres wide.
The luxury SUV’s don’t help either. The Jaguar F-Pace is 1.936 metres wide, the Mercedes GLE is 1.935 metres wide and the Infiniti QX70 comes in at 1.925 metres. Meanwhile Audis are fat too: 1.831 metres for the Q3, 1.893 metres for the Q5 and 1.968 metres for the Q7. The VW Tiguan measures up at 1.839 metres, the Lexus RX at 1.895 metres, the Porsche Cayenne at 1.939 metres and the Volvo XC90 comes in at a very portly 2.008 metres. None are any use for a thin lane on the moor, so prepare to get them scratched!
Heading down market there’s the Toyota Rav 4 at 1.845 metres, its big brother the Land Cruiser measuring in at 1.885 metres and the Hilux – useful for carrying feed and bales – is a fat 1.855 metres wide.
Hyundais are fat also – the Santa Fe is 1.88 metres wide while the Gran Santa Fe is 1.885 metres in width.
Nissans are fat also. The Qashqai is the thinnest at 1.8 metres, the X-Trail is 1.82 metres wide and the Navarra – used by many a builder and mechanic – measures 1.85 metres in width. Half a metre more than a Defender is an awful lot on a country lane.
The old Honda CRV used to be a match for the Defender but even that has widened. It’s now available at 1.82 metres.
So, what’s left?
Well there’s the Citroen Cactus at 1.729 metres if you want to drive around when it’s dark! Then there are all those crossover super minis – the Dacia Duster, Mazda CX3, the Audi Q2, Kia Nira, the Honda HRV, the Skoda Yeti, the SsangYong Tivoli SUV and the Renault Captur. But they are a hell of a squeeze when it comes to fitting in the dogs, the double bass, the kids, games kits and Great Aunt Nelly too. The best of that crop is the Mini Countryman and that’s hardly thin – measuring 1.789 metres in width.
Your best bet, frankly, is to lose the lustre of the Defender and buy a Mitsubishi L200 which is thinner than a Defender and a lot cheaper. The L200 is only 1.785 metres wide. The only problem with that is the length of the double cab versions which seem to stick out for miles in supermarket car parks and are a nightmare to park down at the village shop or local pub.
Many are demanding it already – the post-Brexit continuation of the Defender itself. Come on, Land Rover. There are plenty of us Britons willing to buy British now – meet the market! Don’t give us a Discovery in a new suit.
Maybe the new generation of the Defender could add a few creature comforts. However – most important of all – the new Defender should be thin enough for Britain’s narrow country lanes!!
Are you listening Land Rover?