2023 Land Rover Defender: The Ultimate SUV Experience

When the Land Rover Defender initially hit the market, I found myself less than enamored. I had taken it for a test drive years ago, but without much context or experience with its competitors, the experience left me underwhelmed. Plus, the driving experience didn’t leave a lasting impression. With a winter setting in Colorado, I wasn’t able to truly put its legendary off-road capabilities to the test.

Fast forward to the present, and I find myself seeking redemption with the Defender. It’s akin to returning for a rematch in dodgeball during gym class — a chance to get things right this time. Armed with a Defender 130 (equipped with winter tires in August, no less), I’m ready to tackle the trails and finally uncover the magic hidden within this iconic SUV.

Design and Visual Appeal

Let’s start by dissecting the visual aesthetic of the Defender 130. The nomenclature signifies its extended length, providing more room in the rear for cargo and the additional third row commonly found in Defenders beyond the 110 model. The design, however, raises some concerns. The elongated rear end gives the Defender 130 a peculiar sense of perpetual motion in the wrong direction, as if it’s about to tip backward. Thankfully, the rest of the design is more tasteful, adhering to Land Rover’s signature understated elegance.

The front fascia prominently nods to the Defender’s heritage, with its classic lighting and grille elements. The squared-off rear, high beltlines, and rectangular rear window (due to the elongation) evoke a sense of nostalgia. Overall, the design is cohesive, and the wheels, characterized by their simplicity, avoid being overly ostentatious.

The First Edition model, as seen here, exudes a refined demeanor compared to more flamboyant configurations. Land Rover now offers a V8 variant with sportier cues, while various off-road-oriented options and material selections cater to different tastes.

Interior Comfort and Technology

Inside, the story remains consistent across the Defender lineup. While you’ll encounter luxurious leather and wood accents, along with comfortable seats, you’ll also find robust (read: rugged) plastics and exposed rivets that underline its off-road pedigree. These rivets, while appearing performative, actually contribute to a tactile experience that has grown on me over time.

Land Rover’s interface has evolved significantly. Once deemed fiddly, slow, and cumbersome, it now integrates touch and physical controls harmoniously. The intuitive push-and-rotate dial for seat adjustments is a standout, fostering muscle memory rather than menu navigation.

The Defender 130 shines in its role as a people and cargo hauler. It competes admirably with vehicles like the Grand Wagoneer in terms of cargo capacity, even extending creature comforts to third-row passengers. As someone of average height, I find the third-row seating quite accommodating. Heated seats and a panoramic skylight ensure a pleasant experience, and the inclusion of USB-C ports acknowledges the needs of modern travelers.

Beyond the capacious trunk, the Defender offers numerous storage solutions. I particularly appreciate the shelf at the front of the cabin, which secures items effectively even during off-road excursions.

On-Road and Off-Road Performance

Taking the Defender off-road is where it truly shines. Equipped with air suspension (an option in my First Edition test model), the ride quality on trails is unparalleled. Even Ford’s Raptor models would envy the degree of comfort offered by the air suspension. For consistent off-road use, traditional springs might be preferred due to their reliability, but the air suspension delivers unmatched poise and adaptability.

The air suspension offers additional advantages. It adjusts itself dynamically, particularly in 4x4i mode, Land Rover’s intelligent drive mode setting. This system excels at analyzing terrain, ensuring a smooth ride and preventing damage to the vehicle’s exterior. The self-leveling feature proves useful for camping and cargo loading, enhancing convenience further.

Off-road prowess translates into on-road stability, with the air suspension playing a pivotal role. While the ride is more cushioned on asphalt, it remains impressive, befitting a vehicle with a price tag of $92,725 (inclusive of options and delivery).

Under the hood of my tester was a mild-hybrid 6-cylinder turbo engine, producing 395 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque. These figures grant the Defender ample power, making it feel unruffled in various scenarios. The Meridian sound system complements the driving experience with its neutral sound profile and decent adjustability.

Final Verdict

While the Defender is a well-rounded vehicle, it stands out as a true multi-purpose solution. This modern take on a legendary off-roader remains relevant and compelling years after its reimagining. Unlike its British roots, the Defender doesn’t rely on nostalgic narratives of conquering treacherous terrains. It lets its performance speak for itself, far removed from Land Rover’s UK origins.


  • Exceptional off-road capabilities
  • On-road luxury that rivals German competitors
  • Versatile space for both occupants and cargo


  • Polarizing aesthetics, especially in longer versions
  • Comfortable but unsupportive seats
  • Inconsistent adaptive cruise control

In a landscape of capable SUVs, the 2023 Land Rover Defender stands as a paragon of versatility and performance, embodying the spirit of an automotive icon.


2023 Land Rover Defender 130 – A Spacious and Capable Off-Road Vehicle

Land Rover offers a wide range of luxurious and capable SUVs, catering to various segments, from the entry-level Defender Sport to the opulent Range Rover designed for billionaires. However, it’s the classic Defender, rooted in Land Rover’s history since 1948 and popularized after World War II, that holds a special place in the hearts of off-road enthusiasts. Originally introduced as Britain’s answer to the Jeep, the Defender boasted an aluminum body and ruggedness that allowed it to conquer trails with ease. After a few redesigns, we now have the current generation, available in the two-door 90 series, the four-door 110 series, and the large three-row 2023 Defender 130.

The design of the new Defender 130 pays homage to the original Land Rover, featuring an aluminum body with strong and muscular lines. However, this iteration exhibits sleeker and more aerodynamic styling, with smoothly tapered flanks that gracefully cut through the air. The front end exudes a tough look, accentuated by satin silver trim and round LED headlamps. The wide hood, complete with non-slip pads, hints at the vehicle’s adventurous nature. On the side profile, you’ll notice lower body cladding, 19-inch wheels fitted with off-road tires, and a distinctive square accent among the rear windows. At the rear, the Defender 130 boasts classy square flush-set taillamps and an externally mounted spare tire.

Step inside, and you’ll find that the interior of the Defender 130 strikes a balance between seriousness and upscale comfort. While it no longer resembles the old Defenders that could be hosed out, it still retains a rugged charm. The cabin features heated leather seats, a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, and padded dash materials. The interior is designed to be practical, making it easy to clean up after muddy off-road adventures or messy kids.

The instrument cluster consists of a flatscreen display, and the wide touchscreen infotainment system looks as though it could be found in a Range Rover. Connectivity options include Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Bluetooth, allowing devices to seamlessly integrate with the cherubic 400-watt Meridian audio system. Additionally, the center console provides a wireless charging pad. Safety features are also abundant, with lane keep assist, blind spot warning, and rear cross path detection systems enhancing overall safety.

Under the hood of the Defender 130 lies a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine, generating 296 horsepower and 347 lb-ft of torque. This power is sent to the four-wheel-drive system via an eight-speed automatic transmission. The vehicle incorporates a mild hybrid system for improved torque and smooth acceleration. While 296 horsepower may not seem overly impressive for a vehicle of this size, the Defender 130 can still accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds and tow up to 8,000 lbs. Whether you’re hauling a mini-yacht or a mobile mansion, this Defender has you covered. Keep in mind, however, that fuel economy is rated at a modest 17 MPG in the city and 21 MPG on the highway.

Behind the wheel, the Defender 130 exudes a sense of refinement akin to its Range Rover siblings. Its air suspension allows for an impressive 11.5 inches of ground clearance, providing excellent off-road capability, while also delivering a serene and comfortable ride at high speeds on the highway. The Terrain Response system, a hallmark of Land Rover, enables the chassis and powertrain to adapt to various driving conditions. Notably, the system includes a Wade mode that adjusts throttle response, heating/ventilation settings, driveline locking, and ride height, making it ideal for water fording with a maximum depth of 35.4 inches. Few vehicles can match the Defender 130’s versatility and performance, whether on paved roads or off the beaten path.

However, the Defender 130 does have a few drawbacks. While it offers seating for eight occupants, the legroom in the third row is limited, making it best suited for children or smaller passengers. Additionally, if you require ample cargo space, you’ll need to fold down the third-row seats, as they significantly impede luggage capacity. With both the second and third rows folded, the Defender 130 offers a generous cargo area capable of accommodating bicycles, backpacks, and other gear without any issues.

As for pricing, the Defender 130 leans more toward the Range Rover range than the Land Rover lineup. Even the base Defender 90 starts at a price of $56,400, while our tested Defender 130 comes with a considerably higher price tag of $74,175. However, this places it in direct competition with other full-size SUVs such as the Chevy Suburban, Ford Expedition, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Toyota Land Cruiser, which offer similar capabilities. If you’re willing to invest in a capable and spacious off-road vehicle, the Defender 130 proves to be a worthy contender.

In conclusion, the 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 stands as a big, comfortable, and highly capable trail wagon. With its aluminum body, advanced off-road systems, and luxurious interior, it offers a blend of ruggedness and refinement. While it may not excel in terms of fuel economy and third-row legroom, its overall performance, ride comfort, and off-road prowess make it a compelling choice for those seeking a capable SUV that can tackle any terrain with ease.