Land Rover adds smoothness to Defender 130

The new Land Rover Defender 130 features a squared-off rear end. (Bud Wells)

The new, lengthened 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 First Edition was my drive one day in late January – 50 miles to Denver, then out west almost to Golden for a “visit” with Dr. Tom Pott, dentist. On my return route home, though the feeling in half my face was at ebb, my thought process was near peak in respect for the onroad capability and handling of the Defender.

Land Rover planners, owing their existence to offroading, nevertheless ditched body-on-frame construction in favor of unibody for the revived Defender 130, added fully independent/height-adjustable air suspension for down-the-road, smooth comfort.

With strong acceleration, only a very occasional lag is felt in the performance of the 395-horsepower, 3.0-liter inline-6-cylinder engine with an electric supercharger and a 48-volt hybrid boost. The Land Rover’s 5,900-pound curb weight takes a toll on fuel mileage – 19.8, EPA estimate is 17/21. Also available are 4-cylinder and V-8 engines.

Shifts from the German-built ZF 8-speed automatic transmission are near-imperceptible; the Rover’s all-wheel-drive system kept us moving, as it switched back-and-forth from rear-wheel to four-wheel control through deep snow in the streets all over town. A heated steering wheel was welcomed on 0-degree mornings.

The Defender’s long body, 211.7 inches (same as Cadillac Escalade), sports a tough, sturdy-looking front end. Along the sides, the C pillars at window level are covered with what look almost like white, rectangular stick-ons. A squared-off rear end and large spare wheel cover do little for aesthetics. The body sits high, with optional 22-inch wheels, and has no step rails or running boards. It has 11.5 inches of ground clearance.

The roomy, well-designed, 8-passenger interior for the new Defender. (Land Rover)

The 8-passenger interior is roomy and comfortable for all three rows of seating, with Windsor leather and panoramic roof. In full use, all those headrests and the spare-tire cover hinder vision out the rear windows. The Meridian sound system and an 11.4-inch infotainment screen are user-friendly.

Accessing the 130’s Terrain Response system, like I told two years ago in reviewing the ’21 Defender, requires touching a button on the center stack, pushing in the driver-side heat-temperature control knob and dialing in the preferred setting among normal, snow, mud, rock crawl, etc. It offers a mode for traversing deep water in roadways or small streams.  

We all know Land Rovers are of English heritage, have been for 75 years; don’t spread it around, but this one is built in Nitra, Slovakia. Global expansion is the explanation.

Sticker price for the ’23 Defender 130 reached $92,725 with the 22-inch optional wheels at an added $2,000, a package which boosted tow capacity to 8,200 pounds for $1,850 and heated windshield/washer jets/steering wheel for $1,500.

Land Rover, along with Jaguar, is owned by Tata of India. Its LR lineup includes Range Rover, Range Rover Sport, Range Rover Velar, Range Rover Evoque, Land Rover Defender, Land Rover Discovery and Land Rover Discovery Sport.