I was never a fan of SUV's, mostly because I use to think they are ugly and unnecessary for a bloke like me who spends most of his life in town. As a lifetime long petrolhead though, all I always liked in a car was design, power and manoeuvrability, exactly in that order. Design because I am a craftsman of arts and I always lived by it, power because I am addicted to speed, and manoeuvrability because I always knew it is not fun to go fast just in a straight line.
Therefore, I always thought if I’d have to consider an SUV, I'll go for the proper thing, the proper brand, for at least, even if it will not satisfy me in all three directions, I will at least get something we can fully use when we need it.
Popular SUV Brands
Living in Europe, American brands were never a choice. Firstly because they are ugly, secondly because their big engines although don't lack power, are not fast, and thirdly because those trucks are thirsty and in Europe we always had to pay more on gas. Japanese trucks have a good history in reliability and performance but again, design wise they're not my cup of tea.
Therefore whenever I was imagining myself driving a truck, the Land Rover Defender always came into my mind. I loved its looks, I knew it was somehow a reliable car, it lacked speed, but that didn’t matter much, because I knew you really couldn’t go fast in a truck like that mostly because of its centre of gravity. In fact, even today I believe that the Defender is the best looking truck in the world, and I say truck because it is definitely not an SUV, taking into consideration it is good off road but it really lacks in comfort.
Land Rover Defender
Brands? Yes, and I know is not just me. You see, growing up in the Eastern Europe, back in communist times, put a mark on me just as it did on most Eastern Europeans, and although most Westerners consider us to be snobs in that matter, they are not short on that snobbery themselves either, because most of the big brands cars are still sold in the west. But I don't blame them, because luxury is what we all dream at after all (well, all except the millennials), otherwise what would the meaning of "good life" be?
For us though, the Eastern Bloc fellas, truly there’s not really much of that involved. For most of us, the normal people, the ones who don’t want to show off, it is just a safety measure, as back in the rough times, if we got our hands on something foreign, we either got a cheap and unreliable thin, or a very expensive... better built thing... which was usualy a trusted brand. It is true, we never really had the money to spend, but we saved and were safe, in a world were warranty was a mystery and returning the items was virtually impossible, especially if you purchased it from abroad, where from it hardly made its way in illegaly.
Back then, printed magazines which landed on our shores, brought in by those who had access to the western countries, advertised brands, and even if it sounds strange, this is where we got our information from, like all the rest of the world. Brands were brands these days though, they were solid things, made beautifully and if you were careful not to break it, those things could have lasted a lifetime.
Now, I know all that might seem weird now, in a consumer’s age, when nothing is reliable anymore, but guess what kids, there were better times for the consumer before, as one could've buy a fridge and kept it almost his entire life, because fridges do the same thing since they were invented, or one could've buy a cheap Chinese stereo, which sounded like crap, or dig deeper in the pockets and buy a more expensive analogue rack which sounded even better than the most expensive digital combos of today, and yes, keep it all your life...
Home Stereo Rack 1990's
Cars? Oh, yes… Back then, the British and the Italian were pretty, the German brands were forever, and the others, if you mastered a little mechanics, you could've make them last forever. Strangely though, that didn’t change much, except that they all have gone up in price, technology and pollution standards. You can buy now a comfortable, powerful car, ranged somewhere in between 50.000 and 100.000€ from the west, or a former Eastern European brand like Dacia for 15.000€ with top specs, skip on comfort and power and it won’t hurt your budget, but you will always drool when ever you'll get taken over by one of those better engineered ones on the motorway and it won't help your back either on the long trips, because if you're paying less is just because you're still buying 1990's technology in different clothes. Stating the price tag matter, other wise, nationality standards are still the same.
Now, one might notice I didn't mention the Japanese cars in this section, because even if they seem more affordable, once you go for the full spec, you land in the same courtyard with the expensive ones, price wise, and still don't get the power and the quality of those. On top of it, they'll kill you at spare parts later and they don't hold their second hand value.
Dacia Duster 2019
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not nostalgic after those long gone times, or maybe I am, but just a little bit, mostly when it comes to... cleaner air, less racism... fridges and... music... and those stereo racks, which... God, they were awesome! ...but when it comes to technology and computers, I can’t say these didn’t made our life easier, ...and cars? I do enjoy the increase in power and the lower consumption in the new rides, although design wise… that’s still a matter for debate.
Note for the millennials: Just imagine that when we were kids, we all thought that in the new millennium we willl be flying our cars.
A couple of years back, we had to move temporarily to Albania, a country deep in the Balkans, of which I'm sure the millennials know almost nothing about, so considering the location, we got to the point where we needed to get an SUV, mostly because air travelling towards home is not an option for us, as in not having a direct flight, the trip kinda' takes the same 11 to 12 hours, as much as it would take driving, time of which we mostly would have to spend in transit.
Well, I didn’t really had to move… my wife did, she being a diplomat and being posted here, I just took a break from my life (thus time to reflect on my rides and write here) and like any radicalised free European, full of preconceptions, as I became, once with our own EU integration, I came along, afraid that these savages will be dangerous. Little did I knew, and I should have known, that there is no danger whatsoever and civilisation has landed on the Adriatic shores just when it did in the rest of the world, because, there was not long ago, when just before every other EU parliamentary election, my own country was suffering from the same bad propaganda spred by the western nationalists . And even though history deprived them of economic development so far, they only have something against those who made them suffer. :)
Albania on the map
I therefore started my research and we first glanced at the most obvious choices for our new ride, but once we were refused the loan on a Dacia Duster, we did what any sane Eastern European would do and got a Range Rover Sport L494.
Hold your horses! We didn't buy it new, we got it 2nd hand from an authorised Land Rover dealer in Germany, again, like any sane Eastern European finding himself in this situation would do, and it just costed a little over 2 new full specs Dacia Dusters. And guess what? Now with the mighty internet and some 2 months of research, even at this price, you can choose what ever spec you want, as in my saved list on the specialised sites, I had at one point, 45 cars, each of every spec combination possible, and even though it sounds like it still costed a lot of money... it was still under half of the price of a new one with almost the same specs.
I wouldn't have bought the new one anyway because I don't like its facelift's design, which, as a man trained in the craft, I really don't get. Now, I know some will say it is a matter of taste, but as a professional I am telling you, it is not, that is just something, people with bad taste, will say. The taste you have, has been cultivated by people like me who were trained to do these things. Considering all the design laws, the original L494 as a first hand desing on the model, has lines that flow constantly and those lines give to the whole, the harmony that triggers ones brain to see its beauty.
On the Adriatic shore
Another thing that makes your brain understand aesthetics is quantities, as in how much of each shape, colour or texture is used one next to the other on the same canvas. Those things when put together, create a composition, which if it is balanced right, it triggers the senses that makes your brain understand and see the beauty in things. Those laws are used in all art forms, being a painting, a design, a melody, a film, and even God used them when he created everything, up to the symmetry in the human face.
Surprisingly, the L494 original bumper, and not the Autobiography one with the lower skirts painted, fits better the laws of composition, spliting the face in perfect balanced quantities, balance which flows around the car, when looking at it from the any angle.
Near the port of Durres
This not only brings the right symmetry to the whole canvas, but together with the right colour and textures, gives the car the look of a true SUV.
I mentioned textures, because there is another important detail Land Rover had for the 2015-2016 L494 and that is the Stealth Pack, which consisted in all trim, mirrors caps, front and back shields and 21" alloy wheels in matte black. Those wheels disappeared from the option list throughout 2017-2018, and made a come back with the facelift later in 2018, but only in gloss black, which in my opinion is again a bad design choice. The Stealth Pack gives the car a rougher look, taking it out of the pimp spectre the standard one and the facelift are swimming in.
21" Black Matte Alloys and Brembo Callipers
Taking into consideration all matters, I came to the conclusion that the 2015 L494 is not only the best choice when talking about a serious SUV, but it is also the most stylish one, with the biggest chance to become a classic like the 1st generation Range Rover did. Engine wise, I had to choose from the range of options JLR fitted on these cars and the one which made most sense considering both economy and power was the SDV6 HSE.
3.0 Diesel 306hp 700nm
As we decided to purchase it, I asked myself: Why would anyone want an SVR? Because is more powerful? Well, the SDV6 has 306hp and 700nm, which in my book is more than enough. I mean, not that I wouldn’t like more power, for "in the words of Jeremy Clarkson" power is never enough, but come on, this is a truck, and with an SVR except of going fast from the traffic lights you’ll never get to enjoy that power, because as far as I know physics don’t change with three letters on the back.
Because it looks better? No way! I already stated my opinion on the front bumper and those side vents grills are as ugly as the Porsche 996’s front lights.
RRS SVR side vents
Those two tone leather seats don’t do much right to the SVR either, as they lack in comfort and the black and white, sorry “ivory and ebony” choice, is really making it look more clownish than sportish, again because quantities do not balance. It is very much the same as when you chose tan leather, black carpets and you get stingy with the headlining and leave it in ivory.
RRS SVR Two Tone Interior
RRS 2015 Tan Interior with contrast stitching
RRS 2015 Extended leather pack
Colour wise, we chose Kaikoura Stone and I am glad we did because this colour is not anymore available on the newer RRS' as you can only order it now on the Velar. After doing my research, I realised that most of their iconic models have had earthly colours. I'm imagining it has to do something with being an utility vehicle which has to somehow blend with nature and because it is a big car it takes a lot of space. Black or white was not an option for us, yet because of the pimp like spectre, those colours seem as they are reserved for panders who bring such a bad reputation to this car. Coris Grey would've been too dull, Carpathian wouldn't've been bad, but way too dark, British Racing Green would've work fine if I was a whisky brewer in the Highlands and Firenze Red would've just make us look too Albanian... So the Kaikoura Stone was the perfect choice from the 2015 range, and as it seem they are rare as well, perhaps mostly because it is a difficult colour, which only works with the Stealth Pack. Put any chrome or gloss black on the car and it will totally ruin the canvas.
RRS HSE SDV6 2015 (Shine on the wheels due to fresh wash)
For the interior we've got the Tan leather, which complements the exterior perfectly, and we were lucky that the previous owner didn't get stingy with the headlining and got it in Morzine black to match the rest of the interior's black floor and upper dash board. Also, set on the idea that this is going to be a classic one day, we chose one with the classic dials, which once again, I think it plays better with the rest of the design lines of the whole car.
RRS HSE SDV6 interior
Back to the facelift… Okay, I understand the better technology on its front lights, laser and all, but "design wise" they don't work with the lines of the car, they break the original curves. And those are nicked from the Velar anyway. The back lights don't even matter, as Glohh nailed it much better there, and the bumpers were again just nicked from the older SVR. On the interior they fitted too many screens for no other purpose other than just to keep up with the trend. I'm not a fan of those either, they just make me think that those designers skipped the ergonomic classes. Altogether, I think the 2018 facelift is a beauty in drag. No SUV needs air vents in the front bumper and exhaust pipes like a Lamborghini because they are not hypercars, they are SUVs and they should show they serve a different purpose. I don't want to brag, but as I mentioned I am a visual artist, trained as a designer, and although I am all into performance and technology, I am very much interested in design lines as well, and when I look at them, I can't help not feeling like Andy Warhol has painted red lips over Mona Lisa's portrait.
RRS 2018 Facelift
In 2020 JLR will release a new version of the Defender and by the spy pictures already released on the web, even though there's not much to say about its details, it seems it will be the "only" Land Rover with the boxy shape and, technically wise, one can be sure there's not going to be anything out of this world as it will definitely borough most of its technology from the models already on the market.
2020 Land Rover Defender
Now even though I can't wait to see the whole of the new truck, I still think the L494, in this choice of specs, whether some will like it or not, is the best homage to the old Defender, especially once it gets dirty.
RRS HSE SDV6 2015
I know this is just a phase, as JLR has made other bad design choices over the past years (just look at the door handles on the L320 and where they fit them, as football stars would've had short hands back in those times), but guess which one of these Rovers will make it as a classic as years will pass by.
Updated 10 September 2019
The New Land Rover Defender was launched: I guess its top model, the X, although it sports the same black pack and the Kaikoura Stone colour (now called Gondwana Stone), it still doesn't match the 2015 RRS "mean bussines" charm. Firstly, because although the grey alloy look cool enough, I miss the black matte wheels, which will complement it better... and where are the 21"? And secondly, because the X's torque is only 550nm, comparing with the SDV6's 700nm, which I guess, means better towing on the older luxury SUV... or not, as both cars figure same towing numbers on the spec sheet: 750kg unbreaked and 3500kg breaked. Thirdly, no way the X is as comfortable as a RRS... or at least it shouldn't be... and finaly, because I want one X so badly and I wouldn't like to part with my RRS... :)
LR Defender 2020 - photo courtesy of:https://www.motor1.com/news/369788/2020-land-rover-defender-debut-new-frankfurt/
Well... share your oppinion in the comments...
LL Defender render courtesy of landrover.com/ RRS pic © THN 2018