Withholding judgement, but . . . flying a drone in Iran?

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I hesitate to jump to conclusions until we have more information, but all accounts I’ve seen so far indicate that this Australian couple, Jolie King and Mark Firkin, were arrested in Iran after they were caught flying a drone near Tehran, possibly close to a military base. They’d been traveling in a Toyota Land Cruiser and blogging their journey until communication stopped in July. Details have just emerged, including in the Guardian, here.

Need I comment on the inadvisability of anyone from a Western power flying a drone in a country at odds with Western powers?

Some (positive!) thoughts on the new Defender

The Defender’s “Commercial” configuration shows promise for those wanting a basic overlanding vehicle.

The Defender’s “Commercial” configuration shows promise for those wanting a basic overlanding vehicle.

Now that the wait is over, and Land Rover Design Director Gerry McGovern’s stupefyingly uninspiring introduction at the Frankfurt Auto Show is behind us, and the bile from thousands of defenders of the original Defender is pouring down on the “Pretender” or “Offender,” as it’s been variously dubbed, I thought I would get beyond my own reservations regarding what I think of as the DC100 Version 1.1 styling, and look at the positive side of the new design.

We’ve known for a long time that the new Defender would be an about-face from the original: monocoque construction instead of body-on-frame, all-independent suspension rather than solid axles, efficient aerodynamic design rather than a box on top of a box. So it’s time to let go of those paradigms. The question is, is the new Defender capable of filling the role of a long-distance traveling vehicle, or even a true expedition machine?

Note the lead photos above, which show the 90 and 110 in what Land Rover calls the Commercial configuration. Steel wheels (albeit, at 18 inches, larger diameter than optimum), coil springs, simplified interior, and, in the 110, a cargo capacity of up to 900 kg (1,980 pounds). That is pretty close to the previous 110, and far above, for example, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon—in fact just about double. Also, from a pure looks standpoint, the Commercial’s solid white back quarter looks infinitely more handsome than the regular model’s bizarre body-color square covering the massive C-pillar, a design flub that completely ruins the linear continuity of the greenhouse. (I understand the body-color panel might be an option; if so it should be called the “Uglify package.”)

Look at the cargo area of the 110. The rear seats fold completely flat—three cheers to Land Rover for making that happen.

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There’s a lot of side intrusion into the space due to those C-pillars, which house AC ducts (note how they also bifurcate the alpine windows above them), but it looks long enough to lie down in, one of my personal criteria for a long-wheelbase overlanding vehicle—for those midnight camps after a long drive when you just need to sleep. However, the protruding hinges on the two-thirds split seat look like they’d dig into the back of anyone lying on that side. Still, overall a practical-looking cargo area, with less intrusion than the interior roll cage and speaker housings on the Wrangler Unlimited.

In terms of capability, the Defender should shine. The approach and departure angles on the 110 (38 and 40 degrees, respectively) compare favorably with those of the Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited (44 and 37). The breakover angle is markedly superior at 28º versus 22.6º.

The Defender boasts a world-class fording capability of 900mm (just half an inch under three feet). Not only that, the Wade function on the Terrain Response system will automatically soften throttle response, lock the driveline, switch the ventilations system to recirculate, raise the (air) suspension to its maximum height, display the water depth on the infotainment screen, and drag the brakes slightly for a few meters after exiting the water, to dry them. Astonishing.

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Speaking of Terrain Response—Land Rover’s pioneering and much-copied user-selectable system that alters vehicle dynamics to accommodate varying terrain—the Defender’s system will also be user-programable to suit individual driver preferences and experience.

Land Rover claims an astounding 45º side slope capability and a 45º ascent capability for the new Defender. I seriously doubt any owner will approach either of those limits. And never in any company’s literature have I seen so many quantified references to strength and durability testing as I found in the full-length technical brochure for the Defender. For example, in regards to the vehicle’s double wishbone front suspension and integral-link rear suspension, the brochure says the Defender “withstood repeated 200mm (eight-inch) kerb strikes at 25 mph.” Say what? Also, “the wheels can withstand up to seven tonnes of vertical load into the body.” And, “The monocoque body construction developed for new Defender is the stiffest aluminium body Land Rover has ever produced and able to withstand 6.5 tonnes snatch load through the recovery points. “

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Returning to the interior, I think the dash layout might be my favorite feature of the new Defender. It is simple, elegant, and functional. To me it looks exactly like the 21st-century descendant of the Series II dash. Even the ubiquitous center touch/infotainment screen looks like it belongs there—something I can’t say about several $120,000 luxury sedans. Yes, the steering wheel has too many buttons, but most of them can be ignored anyway. Several features reveal genuine consideration to actual real-world use. Got cargo piled so high in the back it blocks the center rear-view mirror? Flip a switch and the rear camera projects the view into the mirror. Nice.

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And yes, gone forever are the three transmission/transfer case levers and their red and yellow knobs. In fact, given the dash mount of the automatic gear selector, I doubt the Defender is configured to ever accept a manual transmission. Which . . . and I never thought I’d write this . . . is a good thing. Modern automatic transmissions are superior to their manual counterparts in virtually every way, including power delivery and fuel economy, not to mention the ease of driving on slow rough tracks or the magic of hill-descent control. The new Defender is never again going to be a vehicle an owner disassembles to repair or rebuild under a mango tree in Zambia, so the added complexity of an automatic transmission is really not an issue.

One factor in the suitability of a vehicle for long-distance journeys is often overlooked, and that is comfort. To say the new Defender will eclipse the old one in this regard is stating the obvious. At a guess I’d say the new one will double the comfortable daily mileage an owner can expect to cover when transits necessitate a dawn to dusk marathon.

The remaining factor, of course, is reliability, the one area in which Land Rover has long taken a fourth or fifth place to its Toyota, Nissan, Mercedes Benz, and Jeep competition. I can only hope Gerry McGovern and his team fully grasped the critical need to get that part right this time.

I know one thing: After thoroughly studying the detailed specifications and capabilities of the new Defender, I find myself for the first time genuinely excited for an opportunity to drive one.

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The new DC100 . . . I mean Defender . . . is here.

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In 2011 Land Rover unveiled a concept for a new Defender called the DC100. The looks of the prototype were so universally panned that it vanished within weeks and was never seen again.

Until now.

Eight years later Land Rover has unveiled the actual new Defender. And, pardon me if I’m being myopic, but—at least in photos—I’m having a devil of a time distinguishing a revolutionary change in styling from that short-lived concept.

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More soon about the advertised capabilities—which are impressive—and the option packs, some of which border on eye-rolling in their pandering to millennials seeking to appear more rugged than they really are. I don’t think I could stand to tick an option box called the “Adventure Pack.”

Armoured Bentley Bentayga . . . or a 1997 Land Rover Discovery?

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Recently I was reading about the stunning armoured (to use the British spelling) Bentley Bentayga offered by the high-end Canadian security company Inkas. For the nicely rounded sum of $500,000 the company will sell you a formerly-oh-so-ordinary Bentayga fitted with blast- and bullet-resistant armouring, plus a host of other Bond-esque tricks, resulting in possibly the planet’s most opulent terrorist-foiling four-wheel-drive machine.

But as I started reading about some of the options, it hit me: We had already owned a vehicle with a significant portion of those tricks—our 1997 Land Rover Discovery.

One featured option on the Inkas Bentayga is “shocking electric door handles,” which will give a nasty jolt to any would be carjacker as soon as he tries to gain access.

Big deal.

A few months into our ownership of the Disco, a friend who was getting in the passenger side when Roseann was driving leaped back as soon as she touched the door. “It shocked me!” she cried. Roseann got out and tried it, with the same result. Thereafter, at random moments, whomever was trying to get in any door on the vehicle would be nailed with an impressively high-amperage dose of DC current. We never did figure it out—but then we also were never successfully carjacked throughout our ownership period of the Discovery. Coincidence?

The Inkas Bentayga can also be equipped with a genuine smoke screen function to blind tailgating bad guys.

Pause while I roll my eyes. Anyone with a 120,000-mile Land Rover has a built-in smoke screen function. And nowhere on the Inkas option list did I see the classic Aston Martin DB5 oil slick defense, which—need I point this out?—is also standard equipment on any Land Rover.

How about the “fire suppression system for the engine bay?” That’s easy if you simply employ your 50/50 antifreeze mix for double duty, as we frequently did with leaky hoses and gaskets. (Not to mention the fact that, on the regular days when the engine would simply not start, there was very little likelihood of it catching on fire.)

How about “signal jamming?” Given the reception we got on the Disco’s AM/FM, I’m strongly tempted to think there was one of those hooked up somewhere too.

So, yeah, our Disco might not have had the level of interior craftsmanship enjoyed by the buyer of an Inkas Bentayga.

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But then, we saved $498,000 on our four-wheel-drive British-made anti-terrorist machine.

Simply brilliant: Rennstands

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If you have ever done repair or maintenance work under a vehicle, you’ve run into this problem: You need to jack up the vehicle at the appropriate spot on its chassis or axles—but, quite frequently, that same spot is the best or even the only place to subsequently support the vehicle safely on jack stands. 

On a vehicle with solid axles, such as my FJ40, this isn’t much of an issue as there is generally enough leeway to jack in one spot under the axle tube and place a jack stand adjacent to it. But on trucks with independent suspension it’s different, and if working on a unibody sedan there are often very specific spots under the pinch weld that are the only recommended spots to put either a jack or a jack stand.

Problem solved, thanks to Richard Bogert of Bogert Engineering, the same people who make the excellent Safe Jack systems. The Rennstand allows you to jack up your vehicle at the correct point and then secure it in the same spot on a three-ton stand, all in one operation.

Operation is simple. Position the Rennstand’s crossbeam on your floor jack’s pad (it will also work with a bottle jack with an adapter) and insert the appropriate cradle for your vehicle, whether a model-specific pinch-weld bracket, a flat plate, or a dished cradle. Jack up the vehicle at the appropriate spot.

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Insert the Rennstand’s adjustable legs into the crossbeam’s sockets and insert the locking pins, then pull the locking pins on the lower section ot the legs, adjust them to length, and re-insert the pins. Lower the jack and you’re finished.

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The crossbeam adds just under two inches to the lowest height of your floor jack, which could present issues with some sedans or sports cars if you don’t have a low-profile jack. The Rennstand is also wider than many “normal” jack stands, which I suppose might be an issue in certain situations, but not one I’ve run into. The upside of that width is that it is reassuringly stable. The three-ton working load limit (WLL) means that a pair of Rennstands will easily support the front end of a very heavy vehicle indeed (They’ve been tested to 150 percent of that according to ASME standards). The lowest setting on its legs is 11.5 inches, the tallest is 16.5. Bogert plans to introduce taller models for lifted vehicles.

Using the Rennstands on our Tacoma was eye-opening, as I’d always struggled to fit both a floor jack and standard jack stands under suitable sections of the front chassis. Not any more. In fact it made the job easier even on the FJ40. In the past I had to place the jack fairly far inboard on the axle in order to leave room for the stand. This made jacking more difficult since I was lifting more of the vehicle, and undoubtedly put more stress on the axle (not that Land Cruiser axle tubes are exactly weak). 

Of course, it should be obvious that the Rennstands can be employed as standard jack stands as well.

I remember testing Richard’s early products, especially the original Safe Jack for Hi-Lift jacks, and being impressed with his imagination and ability to engineer seemingly simple solutions to problems no one seemed to be able to solve before. The Rennstand (which is patented), is yet another great idea. 

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You can find Rennstands here. Note that production is currently running about two weeks behind demand. If you order you’ll be placed in the queue and the stands will be shipped as soon as they’re made.

Slogans: good, bad, and otherwise.

A good one . . .

A good one . . .

Henry Ford once said, “If you have a really good thing, it will advertise itself.”

Lest you think this is mere hyperbole, note that between 1917 and 1923, when demand for the company’s seminal Model T was at its height, Ford ran no ads. Zero. Not as much competition back then, you might still argue? Actually a U.S. car buyer in 1920 could choose from over 120 brands.

It’s been a while since a manufacturer could dominate a market without any advertising, although sometimes I think Rolex could save a whole bunch of money. But in today’s fast-paced and overwhelmingly input-heavy world, I suppose product makers need to keep frantically stroking toward the surface of an ocean of products to make sure they’re noticed.

The easiest, grabbiest way to do so is with a really good slogan—a line of no more than a few words that encapsulates to maker’s philosophy or passion in a way that excites the consumer’s passion as well. You’d think this would be an easy thing to come up with, and there have been many legendary slogans that have become embedded in our collective consciousness: “Just do it” from Nike, certainly (even though it’s really a rather banal phrase). But it’s astonishing how many duds there are.

I got to thinking about the slogans of various brands with which I’m familiar, or have actually purchased, when I passed a Land Rover LR4 with a conspicuous “One Life, Live It” banner across the back window. I have to admit this slogan has always given me a vague icky feeling. It’s just way too precious, like the people who would be susceptible to it would be into indoor rock climbing and Soulcycle and Bikram yoga but never actually do anything out of doors. I’m positive that’s grossly unfair, but it’s just my gut reaction. And it got me to thinking of other slogans I like, and yet others that make me wonder that someone actually got paid to come up with them.

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Compare Porsche’s incomparable and oh-so-Germanic “There is no substitute” with Snap-on’s lame “There is a difference.” The former sneeringly dismisses the competition; the latter is defensive and whiny about that competition. Porsche is telling you, “You can buy a Corvette for half the money. It might even be faster around a race course. But it’s still just a Chevrolet.” Snap-on is saying, “You can buy Craftsman tools for a fifth the price, but ours are better. Really. We promise.” Lame.

(Honorable close second to Porsche goes to Ferrari and its “We are the competition.” I wonder if they hired a German PR agent for that one?)

The automotive world has seen its share of winner and loser slogans. Perhaps the most bold was Volkswagen’s simple “Think small” campaign, launched in the teeth of America’s craze for ever-larger land yachts in the late 1950s. But it worked, attracting hundreds of thousands of owners who either were unimpressed by or simply couldn’t afford the tail-finned barges of the era. (And of course there was National Lampoon’s own later Volkswagen “ad,” showing a Beetle floating in water—an actual Volkswagen boast at the time—with the line, “If Ted Kennedy drove a Volkswagen, he’d be president now.” Ouch.)

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Chevrolet, perhaps surprisingly, has had several slogans perfectly tuned to its market. “See the USA in a Chevrolet” and “The heartbeat of America” conjured both road-trip adventure and patriotism. Contrast with Toyota’s bland “Oh what a feeling!” “Get the feeling,” the inexplicably inexplicable “Moving forward,” or the just plain stupid “Everyday.” Really, Toyota? Mercury’s “Live life in your own lane” sounds like the kind of admonishment so many lane hogs could use these days, whereas Mitsubishi’s “Wake up and drive” seems to be aimed at Tesla owners who play video games on the freeway.

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At the other end of the spectrum are such brilliant slogans as Jaguar’s original “Grace . . Space . . Pace,” Bentley’s “The silent sports car,” and, much later, from Lexus, “The relentless pursuit of perfection.” BMW’s excellent “The ultimate driving machine” was followed by the so-so “Sheer driving pleasure.” Audi’s “Vorsprung durch technik” sounded awesomely über-something-or-other in German, even though its literal translation is simply “Advancement through technology.” Meh.

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Perhaps my favorite automotive slogans of all time were completely fictional. A few years back some clever soul imagined the reintroduction of the infamous Trabant 601, and came up with a campaign of fanciful yet oh-so-perceptive slogans, such as “Just like stainless steel. But made from plastic,” or “Just like a gym. But with a steering wheel.” Truth in advertising, even if it was fake. 

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The latest Defender teaser video . . .

While it’s tempting to try to infer more technical or performance details than we already know for certain, I’m not going to. Why? Because this is a teaser—a promotional video produced by Land Rover. It should be obvious that it’s not going to show us the vehicle in anything but the very best light. So of course the performance in this carefully edited sequence is going to look excellent.

Sure, there are certain things anyone who’s paying attention can see. The new Defender—particularly the two-door 90 version—appears to have class-leading approach and departure angles. Suspension compliance looks to be excellent, as we would expect. The wheel diameter seems to be larger than I would have preferred—certainly larger than the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon’s 17-inch versions—but the glimpses of brake discs indicate there might be room for smaller-diameter wheels to allow more tire sidewall. Impossible to say.

The point that struck me most forcefully was the marketing approach taken by Land Rover. Ads for the original Series vehicles stressed their utility, their strength, their versatility. Not any more. This time it’s all about a pseudo-Paris-Dakar, high-performance, high-environmental-impact attitude. More than half the tracking shots of the vehicle show it at various degrees of side slip, and there’s a whole lot of sand being spewed and snow being flung. That indicates clearly where the company believes its sales lie, even if it actually tells us very little about the vehicle’s everyday utility, strength, or versatility.

The new Defender will be a unibody vehicle with all-independent suspension and a high degree of reliance on electronic traction aids to gain what the company promises will be a new high in all-terrain capability for a Land Rover.

It will be an entirely different vehicle than its predecessors.

I suspect most of its customers will also be entirely different.