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Is There Any Way Land Rover Can't Screw Up the Defender?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro January 2017

Roughly a year ago, after decades on the market, the Land Rover Defender finally ceased production. The last one rolled down the assembly line, there was a big party, the Queen was probably involved, and then that was it. The last "real" Land Rover was out of commission.

Fortunately, Land Rover made a promise to Defender loyalists: A new version is on its way.

A year later, we're still no closer to knowing exactly what the follow-up Defender will look like, save for a concept car Land Rover showed off ages ago. So where exactly is the new Defender?

I'm not sure -- but there are two primary reasons why I don't blame Land Rover for not yet revealing it. Number one is, of course, that they've been tremendously busy creating other vehicles, such as a $60,000 convertible SUV that has recorded 11 total sales globally, and also "Sport" versions of new luxury SUVs that look like seven-eighth copies of normal versions. And number two: Whatever they do with the Defender, everyone is going to be really, really, irrationally disappointed and angry.

Indeed, here's the truth about the new Defender: No matter how it looks, no matter what it can do, no matter what it costs, no matter what engines power it, people are going to hate it. In fact, I strongly suggest Defender loyalists should just stop pretending to be hopeful for the new model and instead start voicing their hatred for it right now -- even though they don't know a single thing about it aside from the fact that it will exist.

Here's why everyone will hate the new Defender: Because it's absolutely impossible to completely redesign an icon. Defender people love the way the doors sound, they love the basic interior, they love the no-frills, no-tech, no-electronics mantra, they love the exposed hinges and the visible screws, they love that everything is heavy and durable, and they love the boxy design and inefficient, long-lasting engines. But in today's modern world of car production, most of that simply isn't going to stick around. The simple truth is that modernizing a vehicle like this is completely impossible without upsetting everyone who likes "how it used to be."

For a little proof of this, let's turn to the aforementioned Defender concept car, which Land Rover revealed at the 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show, long before the Defender's actual departure. Response to this concept car -- from people undoubtedly upset at the death of an impending icon -- was so negative that Land Rover actually had to issue a press release assuring people the next-generation Defender wasn't necessarily going to look like this. And then, presumably, they went back to the drawing boards because they had planned to have the next-generation Defender look exactly like this.

But Land Rover, oh Land Rover, it doesn't matter what you create. When a vehicle has been around for decades, its fans are so entrenched and so obsessed that they'll never take kindly to an updated version of their icon -- unless you keep most things the same and simply update as you go, like an old house.

This, I believe, is why Mercedes-Benz still hasn't totally redesigned the G-Wagen. Even though they want to modernize it, and make it more efficient, and less boxy, and roomier, and lighter, they know that too many people still love its ridiculous old design. So after years of announcing they would soon cancel the G-Wagen and debuting various end-of-the-line special editions, Mercedes-Benz finally embraced it. They realized this thing isn't going away. And in 2016, the G-Wagen celebrated its biggest year of production yet.

But Land Rover decided not to do that -- and instead, they're forging a completely new path for the next-generation Defender. And while I don't know a single detail about the upcoming model, I am completely certain of one thing: Every single Defender loyalist is going to accuse Land Rover of screwing it up.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Is There Any Way Land Rover Can't Screw Up the Defender? - Autotrader