There isn’t much that reveals more about a vehicle than a long road trip.
With a brand-new 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 in my possession my partner and I had an opportunity to learn just about all there is to know about this three-row during the drive from Toronto to Destination Defender, a weekend festival celebrating the lifestyle around the brand’s rugged SUV in New York’s Hudson Valley. As an area inhabited and frequented by bougie-but-outdoorsy folks, it was the perfect backdrop for our evaluation of Land Rover’s newest entry, and the nearly 2,000 km we spent driving it was illuminating.
The Defender lineup easily has one the most charming designs in its class. With its cartoony lines and rugged utilitarian details, it serves up retro moon rover vibes. The two-door Defender 90 is arguably the best looking because of its adorable stumpy proportions, but the four-door 110 and this new three-row 130 still have tons of charm.
The 130 rides on the same wheelbase as the 110, but the extra length comes from 340 mm of additional overhang behind the back wheels. It’s no secret that overhang is one of the enemies of automotive design – not to mention off-roading, which is supposed to be the Defender’s specialty – and when viewed in profile, the 130 can look a bit awkward because it skews the SUV’s otherwise impeccable proportions.
The interior reflects the upscale utilitarian vibes, with a durable neoprene-like material covering some surfaces, rubberized trim, exposed hardware, chunky controls, and soft leather. The combination is durable, chic, and easy to clean. The interior looks like it could have been designed to mimic a piece of high-end wearable tech.
The addition of proper third-row seats that provide enough room for eight passengers along with more cargo makes the Defender 130 inherently more practical than the 110, which is also available with a third row but it’s a very tight squeeze. However, the extra set of seats here could have been more cleverly integrated. For example, when you pull the fabric straps to fold them, the headrests don’t fold down automatically, so they get caught on the second row. That means running around to either side of this hulking SUV and pushing and pulling the seats and headrests to make them stow neatly.
Then there’s the issue of how heavy the second row is, which makes entry and exit from the third row cumbersome enough that I don’t think a kid could do it on their own. It should really be a one-touch operation to fold down the seats or access the third row – especially in a luxury SUV. The third row is roomy enough for anyone younger than a pre-teen, but might be a bit tight for anyone older or taller.
The other problem is that when the third row is stowed, the load floor in the cargo area isn’t flat. There’s a significant lip that prevents stuff from being loaded in smoothly, which means you have to lift it higher while reaching further to load items deeper into the trunk.
The 130 offers 290 L of cargo space with all seats upright, 1,015 L behind the second row, and 1,876 L with both back rows folded. That compares to the 110’s 160 / 786 / 1,875 L in the same configurations. While the figures with all seats stowed are strikingly similar, it’s because the 130 third row doesn’t fold right into the floor the way the 110’s does; without the extra seats, the larger Defender has 2,078 L of space behind the front seats.
The Defender 130’s height and size also means that it won’t fit in some parking garages; even with the adjustable air suspension set to its lowest height, it was slightly too tall to fit in my condo’s parking garage. The way its side-hinged trunk opens like a fridge also means you’ll have to park nose-in so you can easily access stuff in the trunk. One of the most helpful features, however, is that the parking sensors and camera system take into account the swing gate-mounted spare tire and show you on the display how much room you’ll need to open the hatch without hitting something.
If those issues won’t affect you, the Defender is hugely practical, especially on the inside with its easy-to-clean surfaces and abundance of cubbies for small item storage. With shelves and large compartments scattered throughout the cabin, having easy access to charging cables, camera equipment, or snacks during our road trip proved to be very useful. I also love that the doors extend beyond the rocker panels so you’ll never get a swipe of mud or salt on your pants when entering or exiting the vehicle. [Phew. She wasn’t kidding about learning all there was to know about this Defender. – Ed.]
The 130 is only available with a 3.0L inline-six-cylinder engine, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Land Rover offered the V8 at some point. There’s really no need for it, however, because the 395 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque provided by the straight-six and its mild hybrid system are more than enough to give this SUV convincing acceleration for highway merging or passing. An eight-speed automatic transmission gets power to all four wheels, and every 130 comes standard with height-adjustable air suspension.
That adjustable air suspension makes the Defender 130 a smooth and confident driver no matter the conditions. Over hours of highway travel, the SUV ironed out rough roads and was easy to navigate through the cute historic towns dotting the Hudson Valley. I’d be a bit nervous to drive it in a tight parking garage, but on the open road, it was comfortable and smooth. The steering could use a bit more feel and feedback and the brakes could be sharper, but in general, I have no major complaints about how the Defender drives – it’s civilized and straightforward.
We didn’t drive the 130 off-road, but at the Destination Defender event we took a 110 model through a surprisingly aggressive course that included a handful of nerve-wracking obstacles including a deep water crossing, a deeply rutted and rocky mud pit, and an extremely slippery and muddy steep uphill climb. The Defender tackled every single obstacle without breaking a sweat. The SUV made it look impossibly easy from the driver’s seat and made me feel extremely confident with all of its off-road features and displays reassuring me that we’d make it to the other side.
The Defender requires no real learning curve to master, and besides the trickier-than-necessary way to move the seats or fold them down, the rest of the cabin is refreshingly straightforward. Big, chunky buttons are clearly labelled, the touchscreen is responsive and quick, the wireless Android Auto loaded up quicker than almost any other vehicle I’ve driven, and the infotainment menus are logical and make it easy to find what you’re looking for. There’s a real gear selector, every function is where you expect it to be, and, in general, it’s a very smart setup.
With different accessories packages available to make the Defender fit into any outdoorsy lifestyle, the possibilities are extremely cool and do a lot to increase the Defender’s practicality. From an available built-in air compressor in the trunk to a fold-down ladder to access a rooftop tent or cargo box, to a water-tight exterior storage compartment, a hand-pump operated portable rinse/shower system, a heavy-duty electric winch, inflatable trunk awning, and more, it makes even a city-loving person like me feel like the outdoors are calling.
Most of the Defender’s features like wade sensing, drive modes, advanced camera systems, and more equip it to live up to its reputation of being one of the most capable off-roaders in the world, but even for folks who won’t ever ford a river, the SUV is packed with all the driver-assistance features and technology expected. It’s got practical stuff like wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, wireless phone charging, a household electrical outlet, walk-away automatic locking and unlocking, an air purification system, head-up display, and more.
One cool highlight is the refrigerated centre console, which has enough room for four water bottles. It seems so extra, but then becomes one of those features you won’t be able to do without once you get used to having it.
All Defender 130s come standard with automatic high-beam control, brake pad wear indicators, hill descent control, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, 3D surround-view parking cameras, lane-keep assist, traffic sign recognition, and more. A camera-based rear-view mirror is available, which helps address the visibility issue due to the rear-mounted spare tire.
The Defender 130 doesn’t have the peekaboo roof window near the C-Pillar that’s a throwback to vintage models, but the third-row occupants do get a large glass roof that makes it feel more airy back there. In a nice surprise, both the second and third rows are available heated, and there are enough charging ports for everyone. Four-zone climate control is also available. A heated steering wheel is also standard, and the heated seats get hot enough to bake some bread.
Fuel Economy: 7/10
The Land Rover Defender 130’s official fuel economy hasn’t been announced yet, but expect its numbers to be slightly higher than the six-cylinder Defender 110’s ratings of 13.5 L/100 km in the city, 10.8 highway, and 12.3 combined. After our nearly 2,000-km journey of mostly highway driving, the Defender 130 returned 13.0 L/100 km.
The 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 starts at $93,000, with my First Edition special model tester starting at $100,850 before the fixed $2,900 destination fee and tax. For all its capability, undeniable swagger and cool factor, and generous features, it does feel worth the money, but unless you’ll be using the third row very regularly, the 110 is much more affordable to start without making significant sacrifices.
The 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 is a road trip champion that makes a lot of sense for families who venture far and wide. While there are some easy fixes that would improve how seamless the experience is, if you are an outdoorsy family with lots of places to adventure to with lots of stuff to bring, the Defender 130 is an easy choice. The SUV’s style and off-road capability are its main calling cards, which the Defender easily nails, but its straightforward operation and smooth driving were two unexpected bonuses.
|Engine Cylinders||MHEV I6|
|Peak Horsepower||395 hp @ 5,500 rpm|
|Peak Torque||406 lb-ft @ 2,000–5,000 rpm|
|Cargo Space||290 / 1,015 / 1,876 L behind 3rd/2nd/1st row|
|Model Tested||2023 Land Rover Defender 130 First Edition|
|Price as Tested||$103,850|