BRAKING NEWS: Land Rover bringing back beloved boxy Defender

A biweekly roundup of automotive news, good, bad and just plain weird:

Land Rover Defender returns

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This week is the Frankfurt Motor show, a biennial event that usually skews toward product launches from the German marques. However, the one reveal that’s making headlines this time is a British classic.

To say the new Land Rover Defender is much anticipated is something of an understatement. When the beloved box exited production a couple of years ago, dealers in the U.K. actually started stockpiling them. Now, it’s back, and it’s slightly rounder.

I grew up driving Land Rovers, and the experience may be described as piloting a tractor with a garden shed attached to it. They’re very agricultural, and slow, and uncomfortable, but you love them anyway. Until they inevitably break down.

Then you hit them with a rock and they start working again, and the relationship is renewed. Land Rover makes fancier vehicles of late, but to love an original boxy one, you have to be a bit derange-rovered.

This new one is much less agricultural, and aims to be a sort of better-appointed Jeep Wrangler. Two lengths are available, the chassis is all-aluminium, and there are a host of efficient engines available, including a four-cylinder turbo and a hybrid six.

The new Defender does look rugged and fun. What it does not look like is simple, and that’s a bit worrying. However, I’m sure you’ll see one parked on a curb at Whole Foods shortly.

Fiat 500 bids arrivederci

When Fiat arrived back in North America with the cheerful little 500 hatchback, expectations were high. It wasn’t a particularly good car, being somewhat roly-poly, and a bit cheap feeling. However, it did have plenty of personality, and was much less expensive than buying a Mini.

We had the hotter Abarth versions, and the cabriolets, and then the larger 500L and 500X crossover. Fiat offered a brightly coloured selection of happy city cars in their dealerships, and then sat back and waited. And waited.

In the Lower Mainland, Fiat probably had better success than elsewhere, since our traffic suits a city car. However, as an overall market, North America collectively shrugged at the little Fiats, and went and bought mid-sized crossovers or pickups. Now, Fiat is throwing in the towel and cancelling the 500 for North America.

That’s a bit of a shame, as Canadians never officially got the Fiat 500 EV, which was a bit of an interesting car – even more interesting in these days of $1.50/litre fuel. And the odds are that the 500 was a little ahead of the curve. We’re due for a swing back to small cars.

However, it’s not completely curtains. The 500 is also overdue for an overhaul, so while there are no plans for a replacement yet, Fiat may still hang on long enough to bring back a fresher small car to our shores again. Let’s not say goodbye, but rather see you later.

Porsche Taycan enters production

The all-electric Porsche Taycan entered production this week, right on schedule as you’d expect from a German marque. The first cars will be bound for European customers, but Porsche is ready to start rolling out their new car to this side of the Atlantic later this year.

Built in a brand-new line in Zuffenhausen, the Taycan has been vaunted as a “Tesla-fighter,” which has led to all sorts of comparisons between it and the Model S, Tesla’s most-powerful car. Really, the cars are quite different, as are their customers.

The Model S is more a Mercedes-Benz AMG competitor: a performance sedan with all-electric muscle. The Taycan, on the other hand, is a sports sedan, built with typical Porsche attention to braking, cooling, and generally being able to handle repeated lapping.

Which is better? That’s not important at all. The fact is, having a mainstream marque like Porsche beginning to focus on electric vehicles is great for the market. The Taycan is really expensive, but the technology that Porsche is using now and currently developing will eventually trickle down to an electrified version of something like the Golf R.

In the meantime, there’s already a less expensive Taycan S on the way. If the adoption of electrification by North Shore residents – especially in West Vancouver – is anything to go by, expect to see a lot of Taycans on Lions Gate Bridge some Monday morning a few months hence.

BMW goes grille crazy

Over at BMW, there’s a new 4 Series concept that shows the design language for the company. The good news is that 90 per cent of the car is pretty good. The bad news is up front.

Looking like a teleporter accident involving a mole rat and an electric shaver, the concept previews an absolutely colossal grille that’s a total eyesore. Where are the BMWs of the early 2000s, with their subtle elegance and understated performance? This thing looks like it’s built to trim Godzilla’s nostril hairs.

As we move towards a world of greater electrification and similar chassis engineering, differentiating cars is going to get harder. We already have Mercedes that are very sporty, Audis that are very luxurious, and BMWs that are good off-road.

Exterior design is going to become more and more important to swaying buyers. Frankly, BMW needs to get their act together. It might be the ultimate driving machine, but you ideally should be able to look directly at it without cringing.

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