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Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Out With The Old, In With The New

Land Rover Defender Heritage Edition and Ariel Nomad
Welcome to 2015. We're now half way through the 202nd decade since calendars began to be positive, and while I try to work on pulling the same trick, here's a simultaneous goodbye and hello from the world of British off-road vehicles, with one iconic name beginning its farewell, and another entering the fray looking to shake things up a bit.

Let's start with the end. 67 years ago, the first pre-production model of a car originally drawn in the sand by Spencer Wilkes (General Manager at the Rover car company) after being dissatisfied with his Willis Jeep, was assembled, registered "HUE 166" and put on the road... or rather, off it. That car was the Land Rover. From then to now, the name has become synonymous with crossing terrain, landscapes and even countries previously untouched by the motor car or the level of civilisation that could've created it. Equipped with a willing four-cylinder engine, an innovative transfer gearbox with a set of "low-range" gears for getting up steep hills and four-wheel-drive, the otherwise extremely basic millitary green box on wheels - few other colours were available at the time - evolved into the Series II, Series III, Ninety & One Ten and in 1991 gained the now-iconic name "Defender." It's been used to fight wars, cross deserts, put out fires, climb every mountain, ford every stream and wander through jungles, to name but a few uses for what is now a British icon. From the very start it's been driven thousands of miles on expeditions across the world, subsequently holding the unique honour of being the first vehicle some parts of the world had ever seen.

While other, more luxurious models like the Range Rover and Discovery have subsequently broadened the company's appeal beyond farmers and mud-pluggers, the Defender has stayed alive from 1948, right up until they switch off the lights in December 2015. It's been fighting for survival for a few years now, as Land Rover's moves upmarket continue to render it an antiquated irrelevance. We would've seen the end by now were it not for its passionate fans appealing to keep it alive, and thus keep it up to date mechanically. However, with the imminent next round of European emission regulations and falling sales, even fan appeals are no longer enough. However, Land Rover, now a powerhouse partnered with Jaguar rather than two brothers with an idea, have given the cult following three little presents to say thank you and that will be all.

Autobiography, Heritage and Adventure
There will be not one, but three run-out special editions for the venerable Defender on sale in August, referred to as the Celebration Series. In the middle is the Heritage edition, which pays direct tribute to HUE 166, even carrying a sticker behind the front wheels of that very number plate. It also has "Grasmere Green" paint with a white roof, silver bumpers, big mudflaps and heavy duty steel wheels painted the same hue as... HUE. Other retro touches include a special grille which recalls that of the original without actually putting the headlights inside it. It's a Defender like everyone pictures it. Only less muddy. Prices start at £27,800 and it can be had with either a 90" or 110" wheelbase (the original Land Rover had an 80" wheelbase, if you wanted to know), or in other words, either three or five doors. They will build 400 of them and not a Landie more.

On the right of the above picture is the Adventure edition, painted a vibrant "Phoenix Orange" as a reference to the orange paint on Land Rover's G4 Challenge cars, which take on the toughest trails that mother nature has to offer. To suit, it has a snorkel to help it breathe underwater, a big sump guard and sill protectors, a ladder on the back so you can reach the firewood, spare wheels, tins of beans and Argentinian Car Football trophy you're storing on the roof, and special "sawtooth" two-tone alloy wheels shod in big knobbly Goodyear MT/R tyres, along with comfortable leather seats, a shiny dashboard clock and its own special stickers. If you don't fancy orange, you can also have it in "Corris Grey" and "Yulong White." Prices start at £43,495 and it can again be had in either wheelbase, with the longer 110 [pictured] gaining a pair of doors over the 90. As well as costing more than the Heritage, there will be more of them at 600 units.

So if the Heritage edition is 400 units and the Adventure is 600, how many do you suppose they'll build of the Autobiography edition? Nope, you're ten times higher than the answer. They'll build 80. That's because the Autobiography is about exclusivity and other such posh-ness that Land Rover are about these days. To pander further to the very type of people who are arguably responsible for the Defender's demise, it features a full leather interior, aluminium highlights inside and out, the same "Sawtooth" wheels but in all-black, many fancy black-on-grey paint options and many fancy badges everywhere. Oh, and it has a fancy price, too, of £61,845. The most desirable Defender ever? They say so, and it bloody well better had be at that price! All 80 units of this version will be the shorter '90' variant.

All three are powered by the Defender's only remaining engine, a 2.2 four-cylinder turbo diesel attached to a 6-speed manual gearbox with the requisite low-range gears as well. This engine produces 122bhp and 266lb/ft of torque, modest for a roughly-1650kg car, but if you want more power, then the Autobiography and Adventure (90 only) come with 150bhp and 295lb/ft. Because I like purposeful cars with some history, I'd actually want the cheapest edition out of the three. Or maybe the Adventure version if I felt like driving around the world. There are precious few better cars to do it in.

And with that, Land Rover draws a line in the sand. Literally.


Goodbye Defender. Let's hope any replacement is a better recreation/continuation of the name than the new Mini......

But it's OK! If you're worried that there won't be any purposeful off-road cars left in this world flooded with "soccer-mom" crossovers that only pretend to tackle hills with electric don't-stall-on-a-hill buttons and semi-autotragic gearboxes without low-range and child seats with iPad attachments on them and idiotic focus group model names and brands that should never have been seen making such vehicles desperately shilling them while they're trendy to gullible empty-headed people who think they're safer cars than the cheaper more economical hatchbacks on which they're based... UGH...... then here is the antithesis to all of that bullshit:

The windscreen is an optional extra. Seriously. It actually is.
This is the Ariel Nomad. The Ariel Nomad is your friend. The Ariel Nomad is the off-road car your children only wish you'd bought instead of a front-drive Mercedes-Benz General Lighthouse Authority 200 CDI Fakesport SE Auto, despite this car having no back seats. And no doors. And no boot. And no driven front wheels. But look how cool it is!! Fans of TopGear will already recognise the brand. The Ariel Atom started off as a (really good) university project, but it became a reality because it was just too cool not to. Originally starting off with just seven employees, Ariel have now got their own fair share of the market in face-rippling trackday toys. As well as making such a minimalist car, they revealed at last summer's Goodwood FOS that they're to start making half of a car and calling it the Ace motorbike. Early reviews are saying that as motorbikes go, it's ace! So why not try another new thing, too?

The flags, spot lights and bull bar are also optional... but COOL.
Looking every bit the life-size R/C buggy, the Nomad can be considered as an Atom for all terrains. The trademark tube-frame exoskeleton now includes the outline of a roof, as well as space for inserting a human on each side, while the suspension is an all new outboard set-up alien to anyone who owns the pushrod-equipped Atom. Said suspension has highly adjustable Bilstein dampers and gives the car 300mm of ground clearance, while the shortest front overhang possible gives it an approach angle of 71°. Ought to be enough for it to climb over a speed bump or two! Sitting on the rear axle is a 2.4-litre Honda petrol engine producing 235bhp and 220lb/ft, which Ariel says has been tuned to deliver its power and torque in a way best-suited to off-road driving. That means lots of low- and mid-range thrust, I suspect (the Atom's manic high-revving 2.0 supercharged Civic Type-R engine wouldn't be much help for getting over rocks). The naturally-aspirated engine is connected to a 6-speed manual gearbox and a choice of differentials depending on what you'll use it for, including a mechanical LSD. Unlike the trusty Defender, this doesn't have all-wheel-drive, so all the partying happens at the back, but Ariel says that's no problem. Not only does being rear-wheel-drive make it less complex and mean there are no driveshafts running under the length of the car, but the Nomad is so light that it'll perform just fine without AWD. How light? 670kg. That's the weight of an original Austin Mini, or about half the weight of a new Porsche Cayman. Because it's geared and tuned for high climbs rather than high speeds, it tops out at "only" 125mph, but 0-60mph is over with in just 3.5 seconds or so, so it's a quick little buggy.

What's more, Ariel have tested it on rally stages, rock falls and dirt race tracks to make sure it's just as serious a performer as the Atom with which they made their name. Here's a short clip of a pre-production car in action:


How much do you want one now?! You'll be pleased to know that it's both practical (for a two-seat buggy) and adaptable for whatever driving you fancy doing in it. The interior hoses down after you're done mud slingin', the structure and what body panels there are have been made "virtually unbreakable," you can order a windscreen with complimentary wiper and there's even a zip-up weather cover for when it rains. Fitting it is probably like putting up a tent, but it makes the car look like it's wearing a raincoat, which is oddly appealing somehow.

As for adaptability, those adjustable dampers have been designed to accommodate on-road comfort as well as off-road functionality, while you can also have as many as five different sets of tyres - wrapping around wheels ranging from 15" to 18" in diameter - to tackle everything from tarmac, mud and gravel/forest rally stages to desert sand dunes, or just throw on the "all terrain" tyres if you're undecided or driving on mixed surfaces. You could tear through the woods on your way to a track day if you really wanted. As if this wasn't already the coolest damn thing in the world, Ariel also want to race it in "as many forms of motorsport as possible, from club racing to an international level," which would include rallying, autocross and rallycross. Maybe the Baja 1000 some day? Or to be topical, how about Dakar? That would be awesome. Certainly more awesome than anything that will ever be done, devised, driven to or otherwise achieved involving a Ford EcoSport. A Ford EcoSport isn't involving. This is. Grab it by the scruff of the neck, get your ski goggles on and get muddy!

Watch out for that front-mounted cooling fan, though. I wouldn't want to bump into anything with that exposed... but then I suppose that's what the optional front crash bar is for.

Ariel says the basic price is £27,500 plus VAT, which if VAT's still 20% would put it at £33,000. Not bad for a sand-spraying, mud-wrestling real-life Lego Technic car with a power-to-weight ratio of 350bhp/tonne. You can even have the tube frame painted any colour you want! I'll take it in yellow.

Full specs here. More images (now with more video!) below:









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