Land Rover brings back off-road Defender model, will compete with Jeep, Bronco

Dave Kunz Image
Friday, October 16, 2020
Land Rover brings back Defender to compete with Jeep, Bronco
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As the pandemic continues, many people are looking for ways to get off the beaten path. A rugged SUV may be just the thing you need.

Ford made quite a splash this year by announcing the return of the Bronco. But it won't just be one model; Bronco will be a sub-brand of rugged SUVs. A "pure SUV" brand if you will.

That's been Jeep's playbook for decades, and the Jeep brand is the obvious target of the Bronco. It's got a pretty good uninterrupted head start.

"Since the 1940s, Jeep is universally recognized, all over the world," said Brandon Germus, brand manager at Jeep.

MORE: Nissan revamps Rogue SUV to be more competitive in hot crossover market

For many years, Jeep has had no trouble selling every Wrangler it could build. And recently, a pickup truck version, the Gladiator, was added to the lineup. And again, Jeep is selling every one it can build. Now added to the mix, a diesel engine option.

"As soon as we unveiled the Gladiator, our enthusiasts who've been begging for a new Jeep pickup for 20-odd years, they immediately said 'OK, I love this truck, but when can I get a diesel engine in it?'" noted Germus, who is part of the team that developed and launched the Gladiator.

Jeep let me take the Gladiator EcoDiesel on some really rugged trails, and the torque of the diesel engine made quick work of them.

The other benefit to the diesel engine is good fuel economy, to go with the impressive torque. Another win-win for Jeep's pickup in the eyes of those who crave diesel power.

If you have a brand that's only made off-road vehicles and SUVs for decades, you have a bit of a leg up. Because a lot of people see that brand, and they think of the off-road capability.

MORE: New 2020 SUVs are road trip ready, thanks to features, good fuel economy

And if we're talking long-time SUV brands with heritage, Land Rover is right up there. Yes, we see a lot of their upscale Range Rover models on the paved roads, but now Land Rover is showing off its off-road chops by re-introducing the Defender. We get the 4-door Defender 110 first, and a 2-door Defender 90 will follow early next year. The Defender 110 starts at just over $50,000.

Brawny looks? Check. The Defender has those in droves. But this isn't just a poseur. Like the previous Defender models, and scores of Land Rovers going back decades, the new Defender can handle almost any rough stuff you might throw at it. And its tough exterior arguably looks even better with a layer of dirt on it after the off-road fun.

As we head into 2021, local auto malls will further be a sea of SUVs. They've become the dominant vehicle type in the U.S. For buyers who seek out the most rugged among SUVs, brands with a rugged history and rugged attributes will stand out. Whether buyers actually plan to make use of that ruggedness or not.