The verdict: Smooth, sure-footed, comfortable and upscale, the longer Land Rover Defender 130’s extra room makes an already desirable luxury SUV even more so.
Versus the competition: Even though it’s unlikely to see more than a dirty gravel road, the Defender’s off-road abilities are greater than larger, comparably priced competitors including the BMW X7, Jeep Grand Wagoneer and Mercedes-Benz GLS, yet its passenger-carrying ability places it a class lower.
Land Rover has expanded its new Defender range by one with the new 130 version. For this version, Land Rover extended the length of its iconic off-road SUV and added a true three-seat third row. The new 2023 Defender 130 rides on the same wheelbase as the Defender 110, but it’s a full 13.5 inches longer than that four-door model and more than 30 inches longer than the two-door Defender 90.
The move is meant to create a more rounded set of offerings for the Defender range, and with the inclusion of three standard seats in the third row, the 130 indeed becomes the Land Rover that can transport the most people; models like the Discovery, Discovery Sport and Range Rover can seat seven at most. But does the stretched Defender’s extra weight — in what was already a rather portly off-roader — take away from its go-anywhere mission? Or was that mission not all that important to begin with? We spent a week with a new Defender 130 First Edition to find out.
Related: 2023 Land Rover Defender 130: Off-Road Party of Eight, No V-8
Y’know, That Looks Better
Looks are subjective, sure, but the new Defender was a controversial vehicle to begin with. Land Rover hadn’t really changed how this vehicle looked since its debut in the early 1980s, and this latest version represents only the second major update to the vehicle since its split from the line of Land Rover Series vehicles that were first sold in the late 1940s (as the original “Land Rover).
For my money, this version might be the best-looking Land Rover product out there; I really like what the extra length does to the Defender’s shape. It gives it better proportions and balances out the look of the SUV’s overhangs. Sure, all that extra length hanging aft of the rear axle reduces your departure angle rather significantly, but given the Defender 130 will almost certainly navigate posh London and Los Angeles shopping districts far more than the unkempt wilderness, I honestly don’t think that matters in the slightest.
The clean lines Land Rover adopted for its models have done an amazing job bringing this storied brand into the 21st century, and the Defender is no exception. There are obvious styling homages to the original model, including round-style headlights nestled behind aerodynamic clear lenses. The taillight treatment of multiple little lights is another neat nostalgia-inspired touch.
A Posh Pantheon of Land Rovers
The original Defender was notorious for being … let’s say simplistically rugged (or, alternatively, primitive and uncomfortable). Despite being a lifestyle vehicle and family truckster since the 1980s, the Defender was never really the posh runabout that the more expensive, more luxurious Range Rover was — it certainly couldn’t hold a candle to vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz G-Class or many other newer, more modern luxury SUVs. That all changed with the introduction of the latest, fully modern Defender, which is now every bit the luxury SUV every other Land Rover is — but with a slightly bigger splash of off-road readiness than most of those vehicles, which are more on-road-oriented.
This becomes evident on the inside. The interior can be optioned up to the nines with fine leather, wood and top-notch metal trim, all in a number of different color combinations. But it also includes some rugged trim, tons of storage cubbies and optional rubberized floor trim for easier mud cleanup. The interior looks fantastic, and it works far better than previous Defenders thanks to some smart thinking about its controls. Some knobs do double duty, but they manage to maintain easy functionality. The touchscreen is an excellent example of how to do a luxury multimedia system right. It has plenty of functions and lots of features, but it’s easy to use, quick to work, and nothing is buried layers deep in menus. Thankfully, Land Rover has also kept hard buttons, as well, rather than going entirely touch-sensitive as some other luxury brands have done under the guise of style. (It’s really due to cost-cutting; they ain’t fooling anybody).
Limited Power Options
Under the 130’s hood is one available engine — a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder — though there is a choice of two outputs: The standard mild-hybrid P300 version found in the entry-level S trim makes 296 horsepower and 347 pounds-feet of torque; every other trim is upgraded to 395 hp and 406 pounds-feet of torque. Power is routed through a standard ZF eight-speed automatic transmission and two-speed transfer case to the standard all-wheel-drive system. Both versions of the Defender 130’s engine can tow up to 8,200 pounds, no small potatoes for an SUV this size.
In everyday driving, the Defender 130 feels decently peppy. My test vehicle’s higher-output mild-hybrid engine easily launched the SUV in every situation. Smoothness, however, is not its best trait; the powertrain felt like it was experiencing some arguments between the electric hybrid components and the transmission itself. There were plenty of times when a press of the gas pedal was met with a half-second delay, as if the system were deciding just how much of the acceleration should come from the engine and how much should come from the mild-hybrid system. It led to some jerkiness and hesitation in some situations, and it happened enough that I eventually got used to it and adapted my driving style, but it was never pleasant. The trick is you simply can’t pussyfoot with the accelerator pedal; just give it the beans whenever you want to move.
Of course, this won’t help the Defender’s already unfortunate fuel economy. Its official EPA rating is 17/21/19 mpg city/highway/combined with either version of the engine. My week with the truck saw it net 17 mpg combined, but I did tend to have a heavier foot than normal as I compensated for the Defender’s often awkward acceleration behavior.
Extra Space to Go With That Pace
The feature that will lead people to consider the Defender 130 is its standard third row. It has three seat belts, ostensibly to accommodate three passengers in the wayback space, but that may be ambitious thinking — the Defender’s interior width is, frankly, narrow for two people in the first and second rows. Legroom is also tight in the third row, but given the second row slides fore and aft, the first two rows can theoretically be adjusted to give everyone a little bit of room. But if it’s true eight-person comfort you’re seeking, this isn’t going to cut it; you’ll need a bigger boat.