By Derek Price
Imagine a luxurious school bus designed to take wealthy kids on an African safari, and you’ll have some idea what it’s like to drive a Land Rover Defender 130.
New for 2023, the 130 is an extended-length version of the Defender that comes with a third-row seat and extra room for cargo behind it. It follows on the heels of the two-door Defender 90 and four-door
Defender 110, sharing their square-shouldered look and extensive off-road capability.
Even more than the pricier Range Rover, the Defender line carries the classic Land Rover look that seems like it belongs on Saharan dunes or in Amazonian rainforests. And it’s a lot more than skin deep.
Every 130 comes with an electronic air suspension that, as I see it, is the No. 1 reason to consider a
Land Rover product. No other SUV brand in the world combines extreme capability with sublime comfort like this one, and a lot of those accolades boil down to its magic suspension system.
The suspension allows for 16.9 inches of articulation, letting it glide over ruts and rocks with aplomb.
It also can lift the vehicle almost three inches higher for getting over obstacles or crossing water nearly three feet deep — 35.4 inches, to be exact.
It can play truck games, too, like towing up to 8,200 pounds on a trailer or carrying 1,760 pounds of payload in back. The roof is rated to carry up to 661 pounds when standing still or 360 pounds when moving.
What makes the Defender special, though, isn’t just the capability. It’s how serene it feels in the process.
Most off-road vehicles with this level of capability — purpose built machines like the Jeep Wrangler or Ford Bronco — force you to make some noticeable tradeoffs in comfort. They’re bumpier and noisier than ordinary cars, but buyers happily make that sacrifice to have extreme ability on the trails.
With the Defender, you don’t have to lose any comfort. It feels as quiet and smooth as a luxury sedan on pavement, yet it has serious engineering and gear to take you far off the trail at the same time. The new Defender is about having it all, not compromising.
The Defender is pricey, for one thing, so you may have to compromise on your budget. And in that grand luxury-car tradition, Land Rover’s upgrades are also famously expensive, enough to push the price of my SE tester up to $88,025 after nearly $10,000 in options.
Its interior is also not as plush as one might expect for that price. If you want the fanciest interior, the Range Rover does a much better job of making you feel surrounded by supple leather and luxurious wood, albeit with a $106,500 starting price.
The Defender’s cabin is more about functionality, with exposed hardware and washable surfaces that make it easy to clean off any muck. It still seems solid and well built, just not sumptuous enough inside to match its luxury-sedan ride quality.
It’s also, no surprise, not a fuel miser, even with the help of a mild hybrid system that recovers energy when braking and slowing down. My tester was rated for 17 mpg in city driving and 21 on the highway.
On the upside, the performance from its turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine is phenomenal. With 395 horsepower available, it makes the big, heavy safari bus move with gusto.
Pricing for the Defender 130 starts at $68,000 for the S trim and tops out at $99,900 for the stylish and full-featured X model.
At A Glance
What was tested? 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 SE ($78,300). Options: Advanced off-road capability pack ($760), premium upgrade interior pack ($1,700), cold climate pack ($700), 20-inch wheels ($1,300), black contrast roof ($1,000), ebony Windsor leather ($750), tow hitch receiver ($700), black exterior pack ($650), four-zone climate control ($400), solar attenuating windscreen ($300). Price as tested (including $1,475 destination charge): $88,025
Wheelbase: 119 in.
Length: 211 in.
Width: 79 in.
Height: 77.6 in.
Engine: 3.0-liter six cylinder (395 hp, 406 lbs. ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 17 city, 21 highway
Why buy it?
A third row and added cargo volume makes this luxurious off-roader even more family friendly.