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Land Rover Defender's Return At Los Angeles Auto Show Thrills Off-Road Enthusiasts

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Land Rover Defender's Return At Los Angeles Auto Show Thrills Off-Road Enthusiasts

 

LOS ANGELES – The Land Rover Defender isn't just another off-road vehicle. To its admirers, it holds a special place in the four-wheel-drive pantheon for its history and capability.

"They are used as pack mules," says Chad Manz of the Arizona Land Rover Owners . "It's nice to be able to take these things off-road and go and explore."

Gone from the U.S. market since 1997, they are coming back: A 2020 Defender was unveiled Tuesday night as part of the Los Angeles Auto Show.

The new Defender draws a direct line to Land Rover's beginning in 1948 – distinctly British vehicles famous for their ability to navigate African jungles and splash through Asian swamps, exactly the kind of heritage sure to draw a reaction from off-roaders. How to describe their reaction?

"'Beloved' is an accurate word," says Karl Brauer, executive publisher of AutoTrader and Kelley Blue Book. "It got a reputation for going anywhere and everywhere, unstoppable for going off-road."

Like other automotive icons – from the Volkswagen Beetle to the Chevrolet Corvette – Defender will be instantly recognizable.

It's boxy, rides high and has an upright stance like a scout standing at attention eager to head out on the next mission. The 2020 model includes many of the quirky features that its fans say have made Defender so emotionally appealing over the years.

The high ground clearance speaks to its ability to climb over fallen tree trunks, crawl through rivers and negotiate rutted trails.Land Rover notes theroofline windows, another design cue from previous versions, afford a peek at the sky. A fold-down middle front seat gives it the ability to bring one more adventurer aboard. The twin-rail dashboard hearkens back to the metal dashes of the original. Rubber flooring makes the vehicle easier to hose out after an expedition.

Defender has been updated with modern digital features. Land Rover spokesman Stuart Schorr points to the ability for drivers to customize the terrain settings – sand, mud, snow and alike – to include preferences for the amount of traction, the sensitivity of the throttle and the amount of lift. There's a "wade sensing" function that appears on the infotainment screen to inform drivers of the depth of the water they are treading. (Not to worry: It can handle depths up to almost 3 feet.)

"It’s basically got all those things every automaker would love to have in their lineup," Brauer says, and that starts with "an easily recognized look and feel."

The new one, expected next spring at a starting price of $49,990, will join a growing segment of off-roaders, some of which already hold their own emotional appeal. They include Jeep Wrangler, the Mercedes-Benz G-wagon and soon, Ford's new incarnation of the Bronco.

Why the nostalgia?

The oldDefenders had body panels that could be easily unboltedon the spot and replaced in case, for instance, they were pierced by a charging rhino or if African lions hopped on the hood and dented it. They were built to handle the rattles and shakes of dirt-road driving.

"When you look at these early vehicles, they are purpose-built tools," says Kim McCullough, a Jaguar Land Rover vice president, not so much a vehicle but more of "a companion."

The toughness of the original Defender made it the choice of the British Army for use as combat ambulances. Queen Elizabeth has been photographed tooling around behind the wheel of a Defender. Yet, Defender was withdrawn from the U.S. market when it faced emissions and crash-test hurdles, though it stayed in production for other world markets through 2016.

In bringing back Defender, Land Rover had to walk a fine line between its humble roots and its position today as a luxury brand. As such, while Land Rover paints the 2020 as being as rugged as ever, it will have a gentler side with upscale touches and modern technology to try to lure those who might want it as their primary vehicle.

"It is by far our most capable vehicle," McCullough says. Its buyers have "an adventurous spirit."

As part of that dual role – grocery hauler on weekdays, rock crawler on weekends – Defender will have elements that no explorer would have dreamed of. Clear plastic film can be applied to the sides to protect its precious paint job from being scratched by bushes along the trail. Families will want to know the weight limit on the roof as they are expected to mount gear or tents up there. Rooftop tents are among the 170 accessory items that will be available, McCullough says.

"What our old car didn't have is fantastic on-road capability," says Andy Vine, dealer principal at Jaguar Land Rover in Louisville, Kentucky. Buyers of the new one "might have to commute during the week and now they don't have to have a different vehicle to do that."

As such, the new Defender could appeal to millennials, says John Russell, who has owned up to 13 Land Rovers and has been active in the Rover Owners Association of Michigan.

He says used Defenders have been commanding high prices at auction. A 1995 model, for instance, went for $67,000, he says.

That could portend well for sales of the new model.

"There's no question about a mystique," Russell says.

 

 

By: www.usatoday.com

Categories: Auto News

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