Automotive News: September 2017 Edition

This is the time of year in the automotive world when we start to see hopeful teases become official announcements and anticipated concepts reduced to crowd-groaning flubs. September is, of course, the launch of the auto-show season with the Frankfurt event in Germany the belle of the ball. Vehicles worthy of the public’s attention don’t even have to roll onto the exhibition floor to get their fair share of press. This year’s show revealed some interesting releases and headlines like the Ford Black Edition Ranger, Land Rover Discovery SVX, and updated 2018 Toyota Land Cruiser.

Ford Ranger Black Edition

Before my fellow Americans get their hopes up, no, we won’t get this truck here, or any version of it until the 2019 model year. The murdered-out Black Edition, primarily a cosmetic treatment within the successful mid-sized Ranger lineup, will only be produced for select markets with a limited 2,500-unit run. Replete with top-tier options inside and out, the Black Edition appears to be Ford’s attempt to further promote the pickup as an upmarket alternative to the waning SUV, a segment where the Explorer seems to still lag behind the competition—if only measured by public opinion.

2018 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado

Although it’s exciting to see the iconic off-road legend from Japan get a refresh, I have to admit I’ve probably seen more unicorns than I have current model year Cruisers. Great as they are, they sell in abysmal numbers in the United States. The updated Cruiser didn’t change much in concept, but the new model has enough enhancements to hopefully steal sales from the growing contingent of offerings in the $60,000 and up market. To better compete in that range Toyota fitted their new pinnacle SUV with more creature comforts and technical features than ever before.

Whereas other brands struggle to cling to their roots, Toyota did well to retain much of the current Land Cruiser’s off-road chops. The external updates not only give the vehicle more lines and angles to keep it aesthetically contemporary, those angles have been sculpted to raise the headlights for better efficiency, and the hood sloped to improve visibility. Approach and departure angels have been retained for off-road driving, and the underpinnings are still as brawny as ever. For those inclined to use the 2018 Cruiser Prado as an off-road travel platform, it will certainly get the job done, but you’ll pay dearly to own it. Nothing new there.

Land Rover Discovery SVX

As adept as they are in the arts of off-roading, someone should have reminded Land Rover the cherry goes on top—not on the bottom. Their otherwise awesome SVX might have received nothing but high praise had they not made a winch an option—but only for the rear bumper. It sends an unspoken message. A winch on the front declares a sense of undaunted forward progress, but positioned only on the rear it concedes defeat and retreat before line is ever unfurled. I suppose it matters not as most forward mounted winches on any vehicle seldom see genuine use.

Aside from the aft-end puller, the rest of the SVX looks fun and capable. Fitted with a powerful 518hp V8 engine it has more than enough get-up-and-go to make getting to the dirt an exciting drive in itself. Once off the tarmac, the SVX promises to be the highest performing model in the Discovery family with extra lift and the most enhanced suspension system in the lineup. Their new Hydraulic Active Roll Control suspension technology was engineered to improve overall travel and articulation while mitigating body roll on and off the highway. These are the advancements we might see move further down the line in the Rover chain. Also bolstering its utility as a 4×4 is a bevy of Land Rover’s electronic features engaged with a pistol-gripped lever instead of the standard electronic dial.

While many purists furrow brows at the mere mention of electronic driver aids,  they absolutely work. To those who say they suck the fun and skill out of driving, I suppose there is an element of truth to that, but they do make an otherwise unworthy vehicle fit for a trip into the bush. As much as Land Rover did to make the Discovery SVX a proficient off-highway performer, chances are most owners won’t push it beyond curb-lined lanes. To that end, the added brawniness is not just hidden away but announced with clever little orange accents calling out tow points and of course the curiously placed winch shackle. Not to dismiss the prowess of the Discovery in its standard form, the SVX will be an equally solid overland rig for those daring enough to use it as such. As a production of Land Rover’s Special Vehicle Operations division, it’s likely the SVX will ring in at $20,000 to $35,000 over a stock Disco, putting it in the $75,000 category.

For the naysayers prone to decry how Land Rover is ruining the brand, you’re right, but they’re ruining it all the way to the bank. Land Rover may have forgotten on which end the winch-thingy goes, but they definitely know their customer.

The bulk of the automotive news coming out of Germany this week centered around developments in electric and autonomous driving cars. There have been a few more concepts released in the crossover segment, a category already super saturated and woefully uninspired. The shoe yet to drop, and the news we all expect to hear at the next big auto show in Los Angeles, is word on the next-generation Jeep Wrangler. I bet my last buck Jeep knows where the winch goes. – CN

Christophe Noel is a journalist from Prescott, Arizona. Born into a family of backcountry enthusiasts, Christophe grew up backpacking the mountains and deserts of the American West. An avid cyclist and bikepacker, he also has a passion for motorcycles, travel, food and overlanding.

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