Not many Defender owners plan to use their SUVs like this...

According to statistics released by Jaguar Land Rover South Africa, the majority of local buyers select luxury and comfort options, but off-road enhancements get a lot less attention.

The original Land Rover Defender, and the Series models which preceded it, was an extremely agricultural machine which only became fashionable due to its long life, ubiquity and ever-increasing pricetag. This didn’t bother its core customer base much, though, because they still recognised and admired the basic, body-on-frame workhorse in disguise beneath that wafer-thin veneer of civility and prestige, so it remained a favourite among those who appreciated it for what it was.

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Consequently, when the new-generation Defender first broke cover in 2020, traditional Defender admirers were dismayed to find that their favourite off-roader has been transformed into a premium-priced, unibody SUV. Even with its impressive all-terrain capability taken into account, there is no question that the new-generation Land Rover Defender is aimed more upmarket than before, appealing mostly to the image-conscious and fashionable rather than to hard-core overlanders.

On-road duty may be all that many new Land Rover Defenders will ever see.

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From rough and ready to smooth and suave

Sharing its aluminium “D7” platform with the softer-focus fifth-generation Discovery certainly helped the new Defender become more civilised, but that refinement came at the cost of much of the old model’s simplicity and perceived ruggedness. Now, after a few years on sale, the evidence proves that those protesting traditionalists’ opinions don’t really matter, because the Defender has become by far the best-selling model in the Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) range.

The Defender is by far Land Rover's best-selling model.

In fact, the Defender alone outsold the entire Jaguar line-up almost twice over, and accounted for almost one-third of all Land Rovers sold globally in 2023 (including the Range Rover sub-brand). Given this sales success, it should not be surprising that new data, released by JLR South Africa themselves, shows that comfort- and luxury options are much more popular among new-Defender buyers than those options which enhance the Defender’s all-terrain ability.

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Interior upgrades account for the vast majority of selected new Defender options.

Which Defender options were the most popular?

Referring to their sales data from November 2022 to September 2023, JLR South Africa says that a full 89% of all new Defenders were ordered with the “Comfort and Convenience Pack”, which adds configurable cabin lighting with 10 settings, a refrigerator in the front centre console, twin lidded front cupholders and a wireless charging pad, priced at R 10 200.

The “Family Pack” is another popular addition on the Defender 110 at R 29 900. This option pack was present on 40% of all orders (and probably most of the orders for 110 models), and includes third-row seating and three-zone climate control with an air quality sensor and an enhanced air purification system.

Matrix LEDs are a very popular upgrade option for the new Land Rover Defender

Cosmetic upgrades were frequently selected as well, with the body-colour spare wheel cover ordered with 74% of all new Defenders. Matrix LED headlamps were added onto 64% of orders, at an added cost of R 17 300.

The available off-road assistance systems didn’t receive nearly as much attention as the cosmetic- and comfort enhancements received, though. Only 25% of buyers selected the “Off-Road Pack” for R 17 500, which adds an electronically-controlled differential system and a trunk-mounted 220V power outlet, and only 35% of buyers ordered the clever differentials as a standalone option for R 15 000.

While the new Defender is very capable off-road, few owners will ever take it to a mud pit.

One logical conclusion to draw from these statistics is that most Defender buyers are more concerned with comfort and appearance add-ons than capability-enhancing extras, indicating that the new Defender’s fans differ quite radically from the ones who loved the original model over its 67-year run. The latest Defender pays homage to the original, but plays in a different market segment and appeals to a different demographic.

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Painting the Discovery into the corner

Because the new Defender can be optioned with so many premium features and is a fresher design, it poses a serious threat to the closely-related but more mundane-looking Discovery. Even when loaded with extras to bring its equipment up to par with the Discovery’s standard kit, a Defender will still cost less and sport a more appealing appearance than the equivalent Discovery, and buyers clearly know this.

The body-colour spare wheel cover is a sought-after extra for the new Defender.

The ageing Discovery is also not as profitable as the Range Rover Sport, which is essentially the same thing underneath but carries a nicer and more expensive badge. And, because the Defender offers a greater diversity of body styles, engines, and customisation options, it's logical that a greater number of buyers will find something they like in the newer model's line-up.

The Land Rover Discovery brand as a whole is feeling the pinch from other JLR products.

This is really a widespread problem across JLR’s product portfolio, and applies to the smaller Discovery Sport as well. The Range Rover Evoque and Jaguar E-Pace offer much the same package (albeit with fewer seats) in sleeker and more-modern wrappings for similar money. These huge areas of overlap within the various JLR brands result in a lot of in-house competition, and this will only intensify if the rumoured “Defender Sport” (also derived from the same platform) eventually materialises.

Jaguar Land Rover is aware of this issue, and JLR CEO Adrian Mardell is on record with an earlier undertaking to reveal the future of the Discovery by the end of 2024’s first quarter. We’d hazard a guess that Discovery (the vehicle itself as well as the sub-brand) will be reinvented, likely with an EV focus and sharing underpinnings with a possible Jaguar XJ replacement and the upcoming Range Rover Electric.

Martin Pretorius


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