In the time before “sport utility” was a vehicle category, there were vehicles like the Land Rover. We in America had the Willy’s Jeep, the British had the Land Rover. The Rover eventually morphed into various models of the same bent, some being larger, some being pickup trucks, and so forth. The Defender sprouted from that in the 1980s.
The 2023 Land Rover Defender 90, 110 and 130 are models which came from that 1980s series of storied off-road machines. The 2023 model is far more luxurious and refined, of course, but retains most of that capability in its DNA.
The Defender 90 and 110, which we discussed in February last year, are a two-door model and a four-door, respectively. What’s new in 2023 that warrants a follow-up? The new Defender 130 appears a long wheelbase option with three rows of seating. Plus a new synthetic leather option is introduced and the trim lineup is simplified to make it easier to order options.
There are three engine options for the 2023 Land Rover Defender. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder base engine (called the P300) produces 296 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. That’s pretty impressive for a little four-banger. An eight-speed automatic transmission with full-time four-wheel drive is standard. As is a two-speed transfer case for low gearing when needed.
A 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder engine with a mild hybrid system is the next options for the Defender. This is what we drove and what we’d recommend. The 3.0 produces 395 hp and 406 lb-ft and uses the same transmission and transfer case.
For those who want more power, though, Land Rover also offers a V8-powered option that displaces 5.0 liters to make 518 hp and 461 lb-ft of torque. Because fuel economy schmuel economy.
The 2023 Defender 130 has the same front and second row as the other, smaller models, but lengthens its wheelbase to accommodate a third row of seating that is commensurate with other large three-row options on the market. It’s adult-capable, but not really adult-friendly. Usable in a pinch, but really useful for children.
The longer wheelbase of the 130 also means it’s a little less capable off-road. That wheelbase reduces center clearance (breakover angle), but not enough that most people who use a modern Land Rover off the pavement will notice. The Land Rover Defender 130 is still a rugged, capable machine when it comes to getting to the middle of nowhere or finding the cabin at the end of a long, unmaintained road. It’s also comfortable while doing all of that.
Nitpicks for the 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 are few, but could be deal breakers for some buyers. Chip shortages have meant that infotainment in the Land Rover doesn’t come on a screen larger than about 10 inches. The bigger 13-inch screen promised was discontinued for 2023. Buttons can also be confusing and a bit quirky, thanks to their similar appearance in and around the dash.
Climate control dials, for example, look exactly like the drive mode selector and the seat heating or ventilation dials. Because they are literally the same dials. You have to know to push or touch first before turning in order to get the adjustment you’re after. Otherwise, you might turn up the heat instead of changing to off-road mode.
Several little touches, however, make the 2023 Defender more comfortable than many in this category. The height-adjusting air suspension and easy-to-locate grab handles are examples. Same with the wide-opening doors and ample storage spaces throughout. Seat adjustments are good, even in the second row, and materials quality is top shelf everywhere in the Land Rover’s cabin.
Fuel economy is a weak point for most SUVs and the Defender is no different. The EPA rates it at 22 mpg on the highway with the 3.0L engine, but most drivers will probably get closer to 20 as a norm. That’s on par with most adventure-ready off-road offerings in the Defender’s class.
The 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 is a great addition to the Land Rover lineup, offering a three-row option for those who need it while retaining the great looks and strong heritage of the Land Rover series.