2023 Land Rover Defender 130 Review: A Charmingly Rugged Family Hauler
If you can get past its odd proportions, the Defender 130 is hard to not love.
As car enthusiasts, we often make excuses for old-school Land Rovers. Their high price tags, poor reliability, subpar technology, and relative lack of features were always seen as quirks rather than flaws, overlooked due to their charm, off-road capability, and good looks. I expected the same from the 2023 Land Rover Defender 130. However, I’m happy to report that not only did the new longboi Defender impress me with its technology, build quality, and feature-packed cabin, but none of the brand’s classic charm was lost along the way.
The 130 is the newest entry to the Land Rover Defender family and it’s also the biggest. The Defender 90 is the smaller three-door model, the Defender 110 is the mid-size five-door model, and the new 130 is the full-size, eight-passenger big boy. When you think of family haulers, the Land Rover Defender might not come to mind but the new 130 is the brand’s attempt to be just that.
Admittedly, I expected to like the Defender. I mean, just look at it, what’s not to like? However, what I didn’t expect was just how well-rounded it was going to be. At $79,775 to start, the Defender 130 SE is expensive but it’s also more truck than most people will ever need and brings a charm and character that’s hard to put a price on.
2023 Land Rover Defender 130 Specs
- Base price (SE as tested): $69,475 ($87,375)
- Powertrain: 3.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged straight-six | 8-speed automatic | all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 395 @ 6,500 rpm
- Torque: 406 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
- Seating capacity: 8
- Curb weight: 5,570 pounds
- Towing capacity: 8,201 pounds
- Cargo volume: 13.7 cubic feet behind third row | 43.5 cubic feet behind second row | 80.9 cubic feet behind first row
- Ground clearance: 11.4 inches
- 0-60 mph: 6.3 seconds
- Top speed: 119 mph
- Off-road angles: 37.5° approach | 27.8° break-over | 28.5° departure
- EPA fuel economy: 17 mpg city | 21 highway | 19 combined
- Quick take: A rugged, do-it-all family SUV that trades some practicality for tons of character.
- Score: 8/10
The Land Rover Defender 130 is mostly the same truck as its Defender 90 and 110 siblings, just with extra length at the rear and a few extra seats. That extra length does slightly reduce its off-road capability with tighter departure and break-over angles, but it’s an admittedly small difference. And anyone going far enough off the beaten path for such things to matter isn’t doing so in an eight-seat SUV with five children onboard. So, in reality, little is lost by the Defender 130’s added practicality.
Criticizing its design is a different story entirely, though. While the current Defender lineup has received near-universal praise for its perfectly rugged and retro-yet-modern design, the Defender 130 wasn’t quite as loved when it first launched. To add an extra row of seats, Land Rover seemingly just extended the body behind the rear wheels, which throws off its original proportions. At first, I didn’t like it, either. However, after spending a week with it, I got used to its new proportions and actually grew to enjoy it. Now, the two-row Defender 110 looks stubby and odd to my eye. I also loved the Sedona Red paint of my test car. It’s mature enough to make the Defender seem expensive but still gives off a rugged vibe.
Land Rover pulls off an interesting trick inside the Defender. The cabin feels both tough and utilitarian but expensive at the same time. Most buttons and switches are big and chunky, so you can easily use them with gloves on or over rough terrain. The dash-mounted gear selector is electronic, but it feels solid and moves with a satisfying, purposeful action. Every cup holder and storage surface is coated in a high-quality-feeling rubber so nothing slides around while driving. It’s open, airy, and spacious, too, with tall upright windows that offer excellent outward visibility. Some of it can admittedly be seen as a bit kitschy—especially the endless rows of exposed torx bolts—but Land Rover pulls it off somehow.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the quality of the Defender’s infotainment system. Jaguar and Land Rover products have been criticized in recent years for slow, clumsy touchscreen infotainment systems but Land Rover’s newest system is great. It’s intuitive, responsive, doesn’t require digging through many submenus, and most of its touch icons are large enough that they’re easy to use while driving. I love that there’s a fixed icon on the right side of the screen to pull up the exterior cameras, which makes parking in tight spaces a breeze. Also, Land Rover deserves credit for keeping physical climate controls.
Three powertrains are on offer for the Defender 130: the P300, P400, and P500. The base P300 uses a 296-horsepower, 3.0-liter inline-six while the top P500 packs a 493-hp, 5.0-liter V8. My test car, however, was the midrange P400, which is a supercharged and turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six with 395 hp, 406 lb-ft of torque, and a 48-volt mild-hybrid system. It’s paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. The twin-charged straight-six packs plenty of punch to move the 2.5-ton Defender 130 with ease and it feels quicker than its 6.3 second 0-60 time suggests. It’s a bit coarse as the revs climb but that’s easily forgiven and actually almost expected in a truck that’s supposed to be as rugged as the Defender is. Shifts are quick and smooth enough from the eight-speed ‘box, which sort of disappears into the background. That’s probably the best compliment an automatic can get in this sort of application, as I never noticed it put a foot wrong.
Driving the Land Rover Defender 130
From the moment you pull the chunky gear lever into ‘D’ and set off, the Defender exudes an unflappable, unstoppable character. The Defender 130 rides on adjustable air suspension as standard, but it isn’t plush. Instead, it rides with a firm, truck-like sure-footedness that makes it feel invincible. However, it’s never uncomfortable or bouncy. It deals with bumps in one vertical motion, keeps its tall body in check, and always feels planted. Its steering is slow, which is expected in something like the Defender, but it’s direct enough and nicely weighted.
There’s also an intangible coolness to the way the Defender 130 cruises around. In isolation, all of its specific attributes—steering, ride, handling—are impressive but none are particularly extraordinary. However, the way the Defender drives is somehow more than the sum of its parts.
Since it’s a Land Rover Defender, I had to take it off-road, as much as my skill (or lack thereof) would allow at least. I took it to a local off-road trail and it handled everything I threw at it with a yawn. It had rained hard for days prior to my off-road adventure, so the Defender had to crawl through sticky mud, wade through a foot or two of water, and traverse some uneven, wet, sandy terrain. It handled everything as if it was bored and made me feel dumb for even thinking such terrain would be a challenge.
That’s no surprise, though. The Defender has always been one of the most capable SUVs on the planet, right out of the box. What makes the Defender 130 interesting is that it’s also good at being a family SUV. I used it to shuttle kids around, had my dog in the trunk, and was able to fill the trunk with bags of mulch with the whole family on board. However, with all three rows of seats up, trunk space is quite small. This means the Defender 130 can either carry an extra two to three passengers or a bunch of cargo, but not both.
The Highs and Lows
There’s a lot to love from the Defender 130. However, there are a few highlights that stand out. Its interior is among its strongest attributes because it manages to be durable, useful, and also premium feeling at the same time. It isn’t exactly luxurious, but it feels expensive. Its suspension is a standout, too, as it not only adjusts to three different levels to help the Defender conquer anything and everything but also provides a feeling of unflappability on the road. I also loved the off-road/vehicle information screens, which provide all the geeky mechanical info that nerds like myself love.
I struggled to come up with many genuine lows. Nothing is perfect, of course, but none of the Defender's flaws seem like dealbreakers. The small trunk is an issue, as the third row heavily eats into its cargo space when upright, leaving it barely more commodious than that of a Volkswagen Golf. But when the second row is down, the 130 is very practical. Its biggest issue is its price. With a starting price of $69,475, the Defender 130 is more expensive than a top-spec three-row Jeep Grand Cherokee L. My test car’s $87,375 sticker price encroaches on high-end luxury SUVs with similar seating, like the Cadillac Escalade ESV. Its looks are also an acquired taste. The Defender 90 and 110 are both incredible looking but the 130 does take some time to get used to, and I acknowledge that not everyone will, even if I did.
Land Rover Defender 130 Features, Options, and Competition
The base Defender 130 S comes about as well-equipped as most people will need, with features like air suspension, a two-speed transfer case, heated 12-way power seats, three-zone climate control, and a 3D surround-view camera. It also gets lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking, and a wade depth sensor standard. Stepping up to the SE model like my test car gets you heated and cooled seats, 20-inch wheels, and a Meridian surround sound system.
In addition to the SE’s standard equipment, you’ll find some rugged off-roading options, like the Advanced Off-Road Capability package (All Terrain Progress Control and a configurable Terrain Response 2 system), which my test car had. My test car also had the optional Cold Weather Pack, which gives the Defender a heated windshield, heated washer jets, and a heated steering wheel.
The competition for the Defender 130 is pretty steep, though. The Jeep Grand Cherokee L is about the same size and comes in quite a bit cheaper while also being good off-road in its own right. The absolute tippy-top spec Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve starts at $71,985, which is still cheaper than my mid-spec Defender 130 test car. There’s also the new Toyota Sequoia, which has almost as much off-road capability, just as many seats, and is significantly cheaper to start, though can get into Defender pricing with higher trim levels.
If it were my Land Rover Defender 130, I’d stick with the cheaper P300 S model because its magic isn’t in its options and features. It comes standard with all the things a Defender needs and I’m OK with having less power. I’d also spend the $710 on Sedona Red and I’d pick the same Off-Road and Cold Weather packages that came with this tester.
Naturally, being a 2.5-ton SUV with a twin-charged six-cylinder engine, eight seats, all-wheel drive, and a two-speed transfer case, the Defender 130 doesn’t exactly sip fuel. With an EPA-rated combined fuel economy of 19 mpg, it isn’t a gas guzzler either, though. It has a big fuel tank, at 23.8 gallons, which meant I was able to drive around 200 miles and barely use half a tank. However, it isn’t quite as fuel efficient as its aforementioned rivals.
Value and Verdict
It’s hard to determine the Defender 130’s value because, on the one hand, it is very expensive. On the other, though, there’s a lot to love. It seats a family of eight, there’s no reasonable place it can’t go, and it has an intangible desirability that’s hard to put a price tag on.
Arguably, you have to look beyond its spec sheet to justify its price tag. Sitting behind the wheel, its price suddenly seems to make sense. Everything from the punchy engine to its unflappable air suspension, to its fantastic interior makes the Defender feel worthy of its price. I felt like I could take on the world from behind the wheel and I was excited to drive it every time I stepped out my front door. It’s more than just a capable family hauler, something to take the kids to school with and tow your trailer. Its inherent desirability elevates the Defender 130 from just a competent, functional SUV into something special.
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