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Opinion: New vehicles more likely to be soft-road SUVs than true off-roaders

By Matt Raudonikis, 12 Jan 2020 Opinion

Modern 4x4 reinterpretation opinion feature

Does applying iconic off-road nameplates to non-off-road SUVs dilute the brand?

I was still on a buzz after driving the two-door short wheelbase Wrangler alongside the Suzuki Jimny for the Summer 2020 issue. It was good fun driving these little’uns in the bush, and I queried if there’s a place in the market for other variants of these once-popular vehicles, like the Land Rover Defender 90 and the Mahindra Roxor.

Well, since then stories have been doing the rounds about Jeep, Land Rover and Ford all working on Jimny-sized variants of their respective Wrangler, Defender and Bronco models. While that sounds great to me, the reality is these new vehicles are most likely to be soft-road SUVs and not the off-road vehicles they take their names from. I hope the manufacturers prove me wrong, but I doubt it.

This begs two questions: Does applying these iconic off-road nameplates to non-off-road SUVs dilute the brands? And is the new Defender a true Land Rover and worthy of the nameplate?

When you think that Land Rover has been selling vehicles like the Evoque for a while now and is working on a low-riding station wagon, then you have to say that the once all-4x4 brand is well and truly diluted from its roots. Jeep has the Compass and the Renegade (no longer on sale in Australia), so the American brand isn’t innocent of making city-based SUVs either.

As for the new Defender, we’ll know more about it when we drive the vehicle later this year, but it’s been more than three years since Land Rover built a new vehicle with a live axle and the new Defender will follow this trend. Land Rover is claiming this car is its most capable 4x4 ever and I’m sure that’s true; however, it won’t have the feel and character of the old Land Rover that so many people love.

4x4 news: Here are the new 4x4s coming to Australia in 2020

Which brings me back the Mahindra Roxor; a great little 4x4 with all the ability and character you could ever want. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the safety or necessities to ever make it roadworthy in Australia (or the USA, where it is assembled and sold) but it is a great little off-roader.

I was lucky enough to be with our US-based man Chris Collard as we chased the little Roxor south through Baja in the Mexican 1000 back in May, and I was truly impressed by its ability. It wasn’t the fastest vehicle in the field by a long shot, and driver Ned Bacon knew that, but as reported in the January 2020 issue of 4x4 Australia, it kept on keeping on and finished the gruelling rally ahead of many faster cars that fell by the wayside. Just like so many old Jeeps and Broncos have before it.