As we were surrendering the keys to the 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 we tested recently, a thought occurred to us: we have now driven every flavour of Defender ranging from the two door 90, the four door 110 and now circle closing stretched 130. With this wealth of Defender body style knowledge, we have also sampled the range of powertrains offered, bookended by the 2.0 turbocharged four-cylinder to the wild 5.0 supercharged V8 with the 3.0 litre turbocharged (and supercharged) inline six slotting neatly in the middle. With all bases of the Defender experience covered, we hereby decree ourselves as experts on Land Rover’s best-selling line of SUVs.
It doesn’t take an expert to see what’s different about the Defender 130 relative to its stablemates- it’s that big booty that looks tacked onto a vehicle with a wheelbase that is no different from the middle child 110. We have to admit that when we first saw the 130 in pictures when Land Rover announced its creation, we did a double take- and not in a good way. We’ll go the charitable route in describing our first reaction to its looks as ungainly, but some of us in the Carpages Garage who find tact in short supply called it “fugly.” While its exterior styling may not be to everyone’s tastes, we have to admit that beholding the 130 in person somehow lessens the offensive index by a large margin. In fact, over the course of the week we spent with the lengthy Defender, its styling grew on us to some degree.
So was the emphasized caboose worth it? We say absolutely, if carrying passengers in comfort and having more room for cargo are at the top of your wish lists. Fold the third row of seats down and there is a generous area for those trips to Costco where restraint is left in parking lot. Perhaps the best part of that third row is that it is actually enjoyable for adult sized humans to use. Short of a full-sized family bus like the Ford Expedition we drove last summer, the Defender 130 has the most commodious third row we have encountered save for the Volkswagen Atlas. We should note that the Defender 110 offers a third row, but we would say that only kids- smallish kids- should ever be seated back there.
Our first time experiencing the 3.0 litre inline six led us to dub it the Goldilocks of Defender powerplants. The turbo four-cylinder, while surprisingly potent, will not be to everyone’s taste and the supercharged V8 is delicious overkill, catering to a subset of horsepower junkies like ourselves. The six seems to hit the sweet spot of power and efficiency, but that too is a relative concept- netting 14.2 L/100km over a week of mixed driving could hardly be called frugal, but we felt that its 395 horsepower was more than enough to get its bulk easily up to speed. The engine features an interesting bit of tech, wherein an electrically driven supercharger (thanks to the 48-volt mild hybrid system) helps to fill in the gaps in the powerband if the turbo is caught snoozing. It may sound obscenely complex, but it all works imperceptibly in the real world. Handling transmission duties is the gold standard ZF 8-speed automatic which shuffles through gears without calling attention to itself. Put your foot down with enthusiasm and the snarl emitted from the engine room will perk up your ears in appreciation.
The inspiring soundtrack, good as it is, should not lead drivers into thinking the Defender 130 is an ideal tool to unwind a twisty bit of tarmac. Even the raciest Defender 90 with that stonking V8 is just not cut out for corner carving, and with the added weight of truck’s extension it becomes less of a device for shenanigans. This SUV is huge, and it never lets you forget that; and it’s the same story when you factor in its fuel economy. Our 14.2L/100km result in mixed driving which was not too far a cry from the powerful V8 version we tested.
Other than less favourable approach and departure angles, the Defender 130 should be just as adept off the beaten path as its smaller counterparts. We didn’t venture off tarmac at all and late winter/early fall seasonal weather conditions meant that we didn’t scratch the surface of this truck’s capability. There are all kinds of tech on board to get you further off the grid like locking differentials and off-road drive modes depending on of you’re rock crawling or navigating a mucky singletrack, but the bit that made the biggest impression on us was the standard air suspension. Not only does it allow the Defender to impressively increase its ground clearance, but it takes the edge off the nastiest curbs, speed bumps and generally awful late winter road conditions, complete with potholes big enough to bathe your Golden Retriever in. For something with such impressive off-road resume, it rides beautifully.
While the Defender 130 may not win first place in a beauty contest, its increased people shuttling game coupled to its go-anywhere-in-any-kind-of-weather capability will be a compelling mix for those shopping in this premium segment of the market. If Land Rover has another flavor of Defender (plug-in hybrid, anyone?) you can bet that we will be first in line to tell you about it.
2023 Land Rover Defender 130 – Specifications
- Price as tested: $107,380
- Body Type: 4-door, 7 passenger SUV
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/four-wheel drive
- Engine: 3.0-litre Turbocharged and Supercharged inline-six, DOHC, 24 valves
- Horsepower: 395 @ 6,500 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 406 @ 2,000 rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Curb weight: 2,690 kg (5,931 lbs)
- Observed Fuel Economy: 14.2L/100km (17 mpg)