– Canyon Country, California
Since its return to the US market a couple years ago, the Land Rover Defender has become a familiar sight on both overlanding forums and fancy shopping districts nationwide. Keen to enhance its appeal – particularly among carpoolers and families, Land Rover introduced the Defender 130 for the 2023 model year, giving the SUV an extra 14 inches of length and a standard third row that brings seating capacity up to eight.
But thanks to a nimble wheelbase that matches the nominally smaller 110, the extended-length Defender doesn’t lose much off-road capability in its transition to family carrier, and it maintains the rugged-but-appealing interior and smooth mild-hybrid inline-six of other Land Rover SUVs. What it does miss out on is any semblance of affordability, with a starting price of $68,000 plus $1,350 destination – about $9,000 more than a comparably spec’d Defender 110. And its church-van rear styling may not be for everyone, though I personally loved it.
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|2023 Land Rover Defender 130
|Turbocharged 3.0-Liter I6
|395 Horsepower / 406 Pound-Feet
|Price As Tested
Gallery: 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 Review
The biggest design change to the Defender 130 happens aft of the rear wheels, where the body gets a 14-inch stretch. Beyond that significant alteration, the extended-length Rover is all but indistinguishable from its smaller siblings, with the same glowering front clip, rounded-square taillamps, and odd “signature graphic” floating C-pillar. The extended length reduces the Defender 130’s departure angle, from the 90 and 110’s stellar 40 degrees to a still impressive 28.5 degrees – the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk only boasts a 22.8-degree measurement, for example.
The only clue from the driver’s seat that this is a more expansive Defender is the redwood forest of eight head restraints seen through the rearview mirror. Otherwise, Land Rover’s excellent cabin carries over mostly unchanged, with body-color sheet metal on the doors, exposed hardware on the console, and a powder-coated swath of structural steel on the dashboard. Its finish matches that of the steering wheel spokes and door pulls, giving the Defender a robust appeal that doesn’t look or feel cheap.
As with Defenders 90 and 110, the 130 offers some of the most ride comfort of any off-road vehicle on the market today, thanks to a four-wheel independent suspension and rigid body structure. The 130 comes standard with air suspension, optimizing off-road clearance and on-road comfort, and as a result, it handles pavement imperfections with wafting, Lincoln-like smoothness. And in spite of its brick-like roofline and elevated stance, the Defender controls wind and road noise very well.
Comfort for the first two rows is excellent, with standard seat heating and ventilation for the driver and front passenger and more than enough room for five to ride in comfort. The way-back is less commodious, obviously, but the space is wider than on the 110 model’s optional third row, making room for a middle seating position. That added width makes seating for two adults possible for moderate distances. Upright chairs and large windows ease claustrophobia for all passengers, and the second-row seat slides and reclines to optimize room for all on board.
- Center Display: 11.4-Inch Touchscreen
- Instrument Cluster Display: 12.3 Inches
- Wireless Apple CarPlay / Android Auto: Yes / Yes
Running the Pivi Pro infotainment system on an 11.4-inch touchscreen display, the Land Rover Defender offers excellent touch response and nicely rendered graphics. The menu layout can get a little overwhelming, but it’s possible to rearrange the most frequently used functions on the main home screen, making it easier to parse important info at a glance.
The Defender gets a number of useful off-road features baked into its infotainment, with the 4x4i menu offering everything from torque split and steering angle to wade sensing that tells you if you’re about to drive into water that’s too deep (this Defender can handle up to 35.4 inches of slow-moving water, by the way).
The base Defender 130 comes not with its siblings’ P300 turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, but with a P300 version 3.0-liter inline-six producing 296 horsepower and 347 pound-feet of torque. My P400 tester had the same six-cylinder under the hood, tuned to make a more impressive 395 hp and 406 lb-ft. An eight-speed automatic gearbox and full-time four-wheel drive are standard.
The grunty P400 straight-six does an adequate job of hustling the D130’s extra 500 pounds of weight relative to an equivalent 110, but I can’t imagine the base P300 feeling anything but lethargic at speed. Splurge on the bigger engine, especially if you plan on any off-road hillclimbs. That’s just what I did the moment I had some spare time, taking the Defender 130 to the nearby Rowher Flat OHV Area. Scrambling up a steep hill littered with loose shale, the Defender has plenty of low-speed grunt thanks to the mild-hybrid powertrain, allowing me to hold the accelerator at part throttle and trust the low-end torque to help me over obstacles.
The standard air suspension can give the Defender between 8.5 and 11.4 inches of ground clearance, though articulation and ride quality at maximum, “Off-Road 2” height suffer. Even in its on-road and Off-Road 1 settings, the Defender doesn’t have much trouble getting through ruts thanks to an optional, sophisticated terrain management system and standard low-range transfer case gearing. The Defender’s narrow stance should also make it more maneuverable than other eight-seat off-roaders like the Chevrolet Tahoe Z71.
Curiously, the 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 doesn’t even offer adaptive cruise control as an option, though it will be standard on all models for 2024. For this model year, lane centering technology, automatic emergency braking, and blind spot monitoring are standard and work well to keep the SUV on the straight and narrow.
|EPA Fuel Economy
|2023 Land Rover Defender 130 P400
|17 City / 21 Highway / 19 Combined MPG
|2023 Chevrolet Tahoe Z71
|16 City / 20 Highway / 18 Combined
|2023 Ford Expedition Timberline
|15 City / 19 Highway / 17 Combined
The Defender’s combination of a premium interior, excellent ride comfort, and rugged off-road credentials come at a price. Starting at $69,475 for a P300 S model, my P400 SE carried a starting price of $79,775. The biggest ticket on the Monroney was a $1,700 premium interior with full leather and power adjustments for the seat and steering column – ditch it if you can make do with the standard leather and textile mix. A $750 off-road package brings Terrain Response (including a configurable drive mode) and low-speed cruise control. The $1,300 20-inch wheels and $1,000 black contrast roof seem unnecessary to me.
But even if you trim the fat, you’re still left with an $82,000 SUV, a heady sum in a world where the less sophisticated but more spacious Chevrolet Tahoe Z71 or its GMC Yukon AT4 cousin come loaded at under $80,000. That would be the more logical choice for an off-road family hauler. But then again, the Defender is an altogether more interesting vehicle, with expressive styling, a cabin that’s neither poser-posh nor tacky and chintzy, a turbine-smooth inline-six, and a world-beating reputation for off-road performance. It may not be the smart buy, but it’s definitely the stylish one – whether you’re pairing it with stilettos or safari boots.
2023 Land Rover Defender 130