Review: The 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 SUV is an elongated utility vehicle
Goldilocks, your SUV is here.
The Land Rover Defender is now available in three sizes: small, medium and large.
Joining the two-door Defender 90 and four-door, two-row Defender 110 in 2023 is the three-row Defender 130.
The numerical names are a throwback to the system used for the classic Defender, when they roughly referred to the length of the wheelbase of SUVs.
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Today they’re not so precise, and the Defender 110 and Defender 130 actually share the same wheelbase, with the extra size of the larger model added behind the rear wheels.
It allows the midsize SUV to seat eight passengers in relative comfort, though it’s squeezed through the back door and into the third row.
There’s plenty of legroom, as long as second-row passengers use their sliding seats to share it, and even its own sunroof.
The cargo area is deep enough for a few small bags, but you’ll want to get a roof rack if you plan to go deep into the wilderness or for a long trip to Disneyland with all eight seats filled. That said, the center seats in both rear rows fold down, making it easy to load a long cargo with four people on board, as I discovered while picking up a Christmas tree.
The Defender 130 starts at $69,475 for a model powered by a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six engine. Upgrade to a $79,775 SE trade-in in a 395-hp hybrid version. It can be loaded with options up to over $100,000, but most of the good mechanicals come standard.
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This includes a fully independent suspension with adjustable air springs that can adjust its ground clearance from 8.6 inches to 11.5 inches and a permanent all-wheel-drive system with a two-speed transfer case.
Even though the stereotype is that many of them never see a dirt road, let alone rocks, the Defender 130 is a very capable off-road machine that has traction management settings for every surface imaginable, including mud, rocks and even water.
There’s an ultrasonic water depth gauge that shows you exactly how high the water is on the vehicle, which is rated to go through up to 35 inches. On dry land, a 360-degree camera system can virtually show you the terrain directly below the vehicle with a transparent outline of the vehicle. It does this by collecting images as the vehicle approaches it and then moving them within a delay.
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Another screen also keeps track of approach, rollover and departure angles, depending on the suspension setting. It’s a useful reminder that you have a little more junk in the trunk compared to the Defender 110, because it otherwise drives exactly the same. and feels much smaller than it is thanks to the short wheelbase. Also pay attention to the spare tire mounted on the tailgate.
On or off pavement, you’d be hard-pressed to find an SUV that rides better than the Defender 130. It’s so smooth, you might as well be driving through sand all the time. Power is strong thanks to the extra kick from the electric motor, but that doesn’t help fuel economy much, which is a combined 19 mpg.
That’s not much better than some larger, more powerful eight-passenger SUVs and actually less than the Toyota Sequoia’s 20-mpg rating. The tidier size makes it easier to ride on trails and around town, though, and its tall, expansive greenhouse provides good visibility as you do.
The Defender 130 is really a closer competitor to the Jeep Grand Cherokee L, just a little roomier and more refined. My tester had all-season tires, so I didn’t venture too far off-road with it, but having done so in other Defenders, I think I can vouch for its capabilities, which is pretty serious.
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If you’re a very serious off-roader, you’ll probably want to go with one of the smaller models, but if you need to haul people and things where the bears live, the Defender 130 won’t disappoint.
Land Rover Defender 130 2023
Base price: $69,475
Type: 4-door, 8-passenger AWD SUV
Engine: 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six with hybrid assist
Power: 395 hp, 406 lb-ft
Gearbox: 8-speed automatic
MPG: 17 city/21 highway