Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Mud, Leather, Harmon Kardon and Dung

In the (not especially good) 1995 flick Judge Dredd, it was mooted that the only surviving car brand in the year 20XX would be Land Rover. This was based on the reputation the cars had for robustness and longevity. No-nonsense engineering. Today, look at any of the range, apart from the specialist and due to be replaced worryingly soon Defender, and it has become hard to remember how they used to be before the SUV phenomenon took hold.

Give me a heavily de-contented Range Rover, omit the sat-nav, the beautifully laquered slabs of rainforest, the Albert Hall on wheels Hi-Fi and countless other fripperies. Take out the wilton and throw in a rubber mat and then drill a couple of drain holes in the footwells. Throw on some 17” Steel rims with high-profile BFGs and we might end up with something like the 1971 original. Of course, the undoing of my idea is that they’d be unable to sell it at a profit.

Let us not forget that the original Range Rover, with its vinyl seats and optional radio, was still seen as a luxury vehicle. It was comfortable, fast and incredibly capable off-road, the three core values that the company have managed not to stray too far from. It is, however, no longer a utility vehicle. It would be a brave or extremely well-heeled farmer who would let his Border Collie jump onto the back seat of his Vogue HSE and start nibbling on the Conolly. 

I yearn for a day where you can once again buy a proper utilitarian Range Rover. Yes, there are various technologies that have become unlivewithoutable, aircon for starters, but there is now such a long list of hidden refinements a motorist doesn’t go near on a daily basis, I wonder how many could disappear from the Range Rover spec-list without causing a panic? I suppose it’s forgivable, market forces are such that you lose face if you don’t follow the herd to at least some extent, and if the millions require heated steering wheels then so be it.

But it’s a shame that the Land Rover discovery has fallen into this trap as well. Conceived as something to bridge the gap ‘twixt the masochistic Defender and the increasingly plush Range Rover, and also to fend off an increasingly competitive raft of Japanese 4x4s, the original Discovery was a reassuringly utilitarian device. There was enough comfort to soothe you on the motorway but mechanically there was enough Defender that it could stand in for a tractor should a little luxury ploughing be called for. Farmers, though suspicious of it at first, grew to love it.

Today there is really nothing on the market to take its place, sadly not even the current Discovery. This is a terrific car but it weighs in at over two tonnes, is gigantic and has long been chasing the Range Rover in terms of market positioning. Were I looking for a comfortable utility vehicle on which to spend my EU farming subsidy, it wouldn’t even make my shortlist. Chances are I would be forced to go Korean.

Ironically, TATA, who currently own Land Rover, used to offer a fairly unpleasant Discovery clone called the Safari, which failed in the UK due to dismal build and cataclysmic depreciation and therefore running costs. But if it wasn’t for these factors it might have made an awful lot of sense to those who a Discovery has become too posh for.

Unless Farmers these days have traded their wellies for Ugg boots.