Often, you can over-think design. Look at four automotive icons that have been relaunched this century; the Mini, FIAT 500, two versions of the Ford Mustang, and now the Land Rover Defender. The 500 and Mustangs are exactly what ‘retro’ cars should look like; the original shape ‘sharpened-up’ and reproduced using modern materials and techniques. There’s a cleanness and confidence about their lines, combined with – despite being thoroughly modern – a faithfulness to the originals. The Mini and Defender, though, lack much of that assuredness, looking quite fussy in places. Yet, in many ways, the new Defender should almost design itself. Far from being a difficult job, it should actually be a relatively straightforward exercise.
When the original new Mini was being developed by Rover and BMW, the project was tossed between the Midlands and Munich like a hot potato. Rover believed that the new model’s ‘Mini-ness’ should come, like the 1959 original, from a cleverness in its packaging, whereas BMW, who won the battle, preferred a lazier pastiche that has become increasingly cartoon-like over the years (you can only hope that the current version’s ridiculously oversized rear lights are a visual trick to make the rest of the car look less big). But that lack of clarity means that the Mini of 2001, which set the design language for future BMW Minis, never looked quite right. And, with its similarly stop-start development, it’s the same with this Defender. .
McGovern seems to suffer from a common design industry problem, namely, not using one word if he thinks he can get away with using 50. If his approach to design is similarly long-winded, it’s probably no surprise that it took eight years to get from the very similar-looking DC100 concept of 2011 to the new Defender today. It’s not a bad-looking car – it’s profile is half-decent – but it could have been so much better.
It’s probably the car the Discovery should have become, instead of the ungainly current model with its silly offset rear number plate. Land Rover Design Director Gerry McGovern seems to enjoy this ‘style over substance’ frivolity; the exposed screws in the rear lights on the original Freelander, and on this new Defender, the curios square panel that can sit in the rear window. Part of good design is knowing when to stop – stripping back a design and knowing which parts should stay on the sketchpad, rather than making it into production.