The Land Rover Defender has always been a British approach to creating a Jeep-like vehicle that can conquer questionable terrain. In its traditionally boxy form, the Defender didn’t exactly fit well into the American lifestyle like the vast lineup of Range Rover vehicles has done for many generations. However, after a few decades, the Defender has made an appearance on our American shores introducing several variations and sizes this year, bringing us the bigger variation for the 2023 model year, a 3-row seater beast, the Defender 130.
The new Land Rover Defender 130, at first glance, may appear to be an oddly shaped vehicle to some due to its elongated and boxy body structure. However, for enthusiasts and those inclined to recognize a vehicle with lots of hidden potential, the Defender 130 finds a proper place among Rodeo Drive cruisers and fit nicely for the select few who are actually adventurous enough to test the capabilities of the Defender 130 with a load of seven addition passengers. As a relatively large 8-seater SUV, the Defender 130 breaks into a space where it may just be the king of off-roading in its particular class, looking the part but retaining some luxury elegance when you look at the big picture – and it is a very big picture, literally, I may add.
The new Land Rover Defender 130 touts a choice of two 3.0-liter inline-6-cylinder engines, either a turbocharged 296 horsepower P300 variant or the electrically-turbocharged 395 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque P400 variation found in my Defender First Edition test vehicle. The electrically-powered turbocharger in my P400 First Edition Defender 130 has a 48-volt mild hybrid system helping to power the turbocharger, adding quick boost to limit turbo lag. However, in my time driving the Defender 130, it tends to have a lax overall driving feel in the way it accelerates initially to its basic-feeling handling characteristics. In that, I mean that everything about the way the Defender 130 feels is soft and subdued, mostly on the side of being somewhat luxurious but never in a rush to do anything. Still, you have decent power at your beckon, allowing you to hit 60 mph from a standstill in about 6.2 seconds. Also, you can tow up to 8,200 pounds.
As the engine roars with somewhat of a course feeling under heavy acceleration, there’s an act of the Defender 130 progressively picking up speed as the AF-sourced 8-speed automatic transmission fires through shifts pretty fast with a direct feeling and continues such a path in being decisive to land in the proper gear during downshifts. There’s a standard all-wheel-drive system with a two-speed transfer case and center lockable differential if equipped with the off-road package.
The Defender 130 gets an air suspension system that is coupled with several off-roading programs of Land Rover’s Adaptive Dynamics and Terrain Response system. In the proper mode, raising the suspension system’s height, the Defender 130 can ford 35.4 inches of water. Though, having a much longer body than the other Defenders at 210.9-inches, the 130 is at a disadvantage of its departure angle being much shallower, something to keep in mind when navigating steep terrain. Still, the methodical driving feel and approach of the Defender 130 combined with its several Terrain Response modes, there’s not much that will put a stop to the adventures of this heavy 5,931-pound British luxury beast.
The Land Rover 130 with the P400 powertrain gets the fuel mileage that I would have expected it to get matching its EPA estimates of 17 mpg city, 21 mpg highway, and 19 mpg combined. There were rare occasions I saw a little north of 22 mpg on the highway driving just over 60 mph over a decent stretch of flat Florida highway roads.
The overall design of the interior exposes a few structural elements that prove to be useful for grab handles and extra storage spaces. Some of those design elements harken back to Defenders of the past, making its modern utilitarian side useful and present but doesn’t diminish much of its luxury appeal and aesthetic.
The cabin of the Defender 130 is just as big as its exterior proportions would indicate. There’s a surprising amount of seating room in each row, including the third row where you can fit three adults without much of a complaint. However, getting to the third row is somewhat of a challenge as the access is not the best with the pneumatic folding action of the second-row seats. There’s just a sliver of space to squeeze through, but once you get back there, you find ample space to enjoy with the pleasure of heated outboard seats.
Up front, the heated and ventilated seats are comfy and high riding as you feel you have stadium seating out on the road. The tall roofline giving way to a good amount of headroom makes the space inviting for most, no matter how tall you are. The second-row bench seats, the only configuration offered in the Defender 130, feature access to two automatic climate zones and outboard seat heating, which also have good room for three adults. The only downfalls for the spacious seating areas is a limitation of cargo room behind the third-row in addition to constraints for the somewhat protruding understructure of the seats. Cargo space is limited to just 15.3 cubic feet with all seats in place. Folding down the two rear rows of seats will give you as much as 81 cubic feet, which is only 2 cubic feet more than a three-row-configured Defender 110.
In the area of technology, Land Rover kept things mostly simple in an 11.4-inch touchscreen, which brings us the latest in the brand’s infotainment unit that’s rather user-friendly after a short learning curve. I found that the customization of icons for core system features is what makes or breaks the system in making it user-friendly where you can drag and drop feature icons for quick access. Otherwise, the system is very responsive, and I didn’t find much fault in its operation other than having many of the climate and Terrain Response system functions grouped to use the same two turn knobs that default for changing the temperature.
The integration of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both via USB only, but there is a wireless charging pad just in front of the armrest that can also be equipped with a refrigerated console bin box found in my Defender 130 First Edition test vehicle.
Land Rover’s tradition of having a front windshield with integrated defrosting elements continues as a nifty feature but sometimes looks a bit off if the light hits the glass at certain angles – you get to see the countless heating elements zigzagging through the windshield glass.
The Land Rover Defender 130 gets the expected active safety features (adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning/lane keep assist, forward collision warning/emergency braking, rear-cross path detection), but I found them to be almost as lax as the driving character of the big three-row SUV but still very effective. The 360-degree camera system is a major necessity in the Defender 130 despite it having good visibility all around. The advanced camera system allows you to bring up the forward camera to navigate terrain and get a decent forward view when you must crest steep inclines where you can’t see over the hood.
A surprising area that Land Rover can pride itself on is the base price of the Land Rover 130, starting at $68,000 before any fees or options, which isn’t bad for a large 3-row luxury SUV considering the premium paid for the Range Rover siblings. Having four trim levels, the Defender 130 offers a variety of option levels and packages. The top trim, my Defender 130 First Edition test vehicle, includes the availability of all options and packages, and nicely equipped comes to a price of $92,725 including a destination and delivery charge of $1,475.