2023 Land Rover Defender 130 Review: Reaching For More
The modern Land Rover Defender had some big shoes to fill when it debuted. The legacy that comes with this nameplate is a terrible burden for anything meant to bear it, and a new Defender almost didn’t have a chance in meeting those impossible expectations. Thankfully, it turned out to be an interesting, distinct and a little bit quirky reinterpretation of what came before, and while it might not have been what everyone wanted, it ultimately stuck the landing.
So with that out of the way, what’s next? With the 110 established, it was time to roll out the variants, including the 2-door 90 and the V8-powered iterations of each. This year, the Defender 130 joins the lineup, extending the body and adding an extra row of seats so that even more companions can tag along for the next adventure. As it turns out, extra accommodations come at the cost of what makes the Defender alluring in the first place.
The Defender 130 is the latest addition Land Rover’s lineup of Defender vehicles, joining the 2-door Defender 90 and the standard 4-door, two-row Defender 110. While the wheelbase remains identical to the 110, the 130 extends things behind the C-pillar by an extra 13.3 inches while adding a third passenger row in the back. This model also comes with a new color currently exclusive to this stretched variant, called Sedona Red.
Its powertrain options are limited to the two inline-six engines in the lineup, the 3.0-liter in the P300 model that rustles up 296 horsepower and 347 pound-feet of torque, or the 3.0-liter i6 MHEV, a mild hybrid version of the same engine that brings the output up to 395 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque. Though there isn’t a V8 option here as there is for the other two body styles, that could change if Land Rover felt like there was a demand for it. Either engine sends power to the Defender’s all-wheel drive system by way of an 8-speed automatic gearbox.
To say that the new Defender has very strong and identifiable features would be an understatement, and that’s only made more clear due to how the 130’s design has affected the overall appearance. Like the slinky dog from Toy Story, the Land Rover’s front and rear retain their established styles but the elongating process distorts the distinct silhouette of the SUV when viewed from any other angle. Approaching either end is like observing an optical illusion when the car’s actual length reveals itself.
To that end, the extra surface area washes out the lines that make the Defender look like a Defender, with some of the design elements vanishing within the increased proportions. Probably its most significant change is the increased hangover beyond the rear axle. The Defender’s sharp backside has been key to its design identity and functionality when it comes to off-road departure angles, but the 130 abandons this for a meatier donk. Yes, it’s practical in regards to increased storage and passenger capacity, but it makes the Defender look like a more generic SUV because of it.
Along with the outward embiggening, the Defender 130 gets a few optional tech touches as standard equipment, namely the 11.4-inch touchscreen for its infotainment system. It’s a step up from the two-screened standard interface and while it’s layout is the same — graphics over function — it’s more responsive and easier to use. This unit is also capable of receiving over the air updates to keep the software current. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility is available from the jump, making it even easier to use.
For a car like the Defender, surround-view cameras are a must, particularly with this model, and thankfully the 130 is well equipped in this regard. These combined with proximity sensors are as useful in the urban jungle as they would be while climbing up a boney hill trail, providing an enhanced sense of awareness that’s a huge relief in such a vehicle.
In terms of interactivity, the intent is solid but the execution can sometimes fall a little flat. There is certainly the sense that the interior designers over at Land Rover did what they could to keep things tight, particularly when certain functions are overlaid on top of each other, as when push-down dials hide additional options. Sometimes, it works as intended but then it also sometimes doesn’t and there’s little understanding as to why. A solid example of this is the speed limiter and cruise control functions. In other products by the same manufacturer, these would be simple one-or-to button features but they’ve now become unintuitive and distracting to use while driving.
A lot to handle
The interior of the 130 carries over the refined ruggedness of the Defender lineup. All the surfaces and design elements are bold and chunky, giving off the feeling that it’s dressed up but avoids being delicate. Whenever you climb in, it feels like every bit is designed to be grabbed onto for support.
All of the seating positions feel comfortable, including the new third row, which is a pleasant surprise. It’s still a squeeze, but as far as third rows go, it’s more tolerable than expected. With all of the seats in play, the 130 is left with around 13.7 cubic feet of cargo space, but lay them all down and be the master of the IKEA parking lot while the Defender consumes almost 89 cubic feet of stuff.
As it is with the 110, the 130 P400 and its mild hybrid setup doesn’t let the larger Defender down. Between reliably pulling off the line with reasonable ease and maintaining highway cruising speeds, there’s never a moment where it feels like the V8 available in other models would improve things here. 395 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque is plenty for this kind of SUV’s haulage demands, and it’ll still be able to tow 8,000-ish pounds of extra gear if the 130 somehow isn’t long enough. To that point, the Defender 130 cruises along just fine, but it does feel like a bus.
Through the rear-view mirror, its back end is quite far away, and between that, the ride height and the spare tire adorning the back, it’s nearly impossible to see any vehicle that might be immediately following behind. All of this is certainly felt during any bend or intersection. It almost takes a minute to remember that the 130 is longer than it feels.
With that said, the Defender 130 can surprise you in unexpected ways. Pull into a tight parking lot and its lofty stature will trigger your anxiety to rise, but then it can maneuver around more deftly than anticipated thanks to its shockingly tight turning radius. The same is true when it needs to thread the proverbial needle be it a narrow spot or tight squeeze. Much of this, in a roundabout way, is a testament to the Defender’s utility beyond the road. While the 110 and 90 are more manageable, the 130 still rocks the adaptive air suspension and the various terrain selection modes afforded to its shorter siblings. All of the all-terrain-tackling tech is there, too, from pass-through cameras for the hood to the screens communicating wheel angle and suspension articulation. It would feel like taking a small class on the most ambitious field trip ever, but the Defender 130 could technically function off-road, even if it probably never will.
The long and short of it
The 2023 Defender 130 hammers home that more isn’t necessarily better. Stretching the Defender for additional capacity dilutes the characteristics that distinguish it from the rest of the Land Rover lineup and, indeed, in the utility vehicle landscape as a whole. As a bearer of the Defender legacy that partly defined that whole segment, there are many expectations for it to be outstanding in some regard, if not at least good. What the modern iteration of the Defender brings is a charming look and playful driving dynamics that make it clear that this is not your grandfather’s Land Rover, and this is what the 130 exchanges for the third row.
All in all, the extension washes out the looks and flattens the driving experience, reducing it to yet another people-mover, though at least one that looks out of the ordinary. In that regard, the Defender is fine, though little else elevates it above its contemporaries. Fans of this car and, indeed, Land Rover themselves, like to romanticize the Defender as a dutiful savannah-crossing runabout designed to fulfill the indistinct fantasies of off-road adventure. One could say that the 130 simply allows more people to be brought along on the safari, but going this far to justify the longer Defender which will see more mall action than anything is, ahem, kind of a big stretch.