2023 Land Rover Defender 130 First Drive

When Land Rover released the latest Defender back in 2020, I was ecstatic. Debuting as a two-door, stubby SUV with excellent off-roading chops, the Defender 90 was made for kicking trail butt and looking sweet while doing it. The next iteration, the Defender 110, added two more doors but remained a competent off-road vehicle with plenty of payload capabilities and excellent off-road geometry.

Enter the Defender 130. On first glance I thought this three-row behemoth would be good only for Ikea runs and ferrying the kids to school. Turns out I was wrong.

2023 Land Rover Defender 130 group shot

Large and in charge

Yes, the Defender 130 is porkiest of the three models currently available, but all its largesse is in its tail. Behind the rear wheels the 130 extends an extra 13 inches or so over the 110, bringing the total length to over 17 feet. However, the two rigs share a wheelbase just a smidge under 10 feet.

Why is this important? It means the Defender 130 doesn’t give up too much off-road geometry despite being so gosh-darned big. With the standard air suspension in its highest setting resulting in 11.4 inches of ground clearance, the Defender 130 sports a 37.5-degree approach angle and a breakover angle of 27.8 degrees. Both these numbers match the 110 and are pretty darn good for a three-row SUV. Where it suffers, however, is in the departure angle. That extra foot or so scrubs almost 10 degrees of departure angle, leaving it at 28.5 degrees, down from the 40 degrees of the 110 and 90.

Still, those numbers pretty much obliterate those the Defender 130’s closest competitors, the Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer, to say nothing of non-off-road-focused three-row luxury SUVs like the Cadillac Escalade or Lincoln Navigator.

2023 Land Rover Defender 130 profile

Let’s go dune bashing!

Those geometry numbers are in my mind as I hit the sand dunes of the United Arab Emirates. While dunes can be challenging to drive, they are forgiving on the Defender’s departure angle. Sure, the rear can run aground while coming off a steep dune, but the soft sand does no damage. Drivers will have to be more careful when driving in rocks or tackling other solid obstacles, though.

The base Defender 130 is offered with the P300 powertrain, a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine with a mild hybrid component. The powertrain is good for 296 ponies, but my tester is the upgraded P400, which pushes the power up to 395 horses and 406 pound-feet of torque. Power goes down to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission.

This is the powertrain to get. While I’m sure the P300 does just fine, the largest Defender weighs upward of 5,700 pounds. It takes some power to get that mass moving at any kind of satisfying rate. The transmission here does its job in the background, neither frustratingly slow nor auspiciously quick to shift.

2023 Land Rover Defender 130 interior

Stellar drive modes

Making sand conquering possible are the Terrain Response 2 drive modes, specifically the Auto mode. Here the vehicle adjusts its shift points, throttle responsiveness and traction control nannies to suit the current terrain. Essentially it can sense what kind of terrain you’re driving on, and pick and choose features from any setting for the best performance. However, when the dirt hits the undercarriage, there are five other modes to really dial in the parameters. During my time I’m only able to sample Sand mode, which optimizes for driving in soft sand like dunes. Using this mode and airing down the Goodyear Duratrac tires to 25 psi or so, the Defender crests any dune I attempt like it’s nothing. Granted, dune driving takes skill and newbies will likely get stuck a few times, but Sand mode makes it all fairly easy. You’ll be throwing up roosts of sand in no time.

Other drive modes include Rock Crawl, Mud and Ruts, Grass, Gravel and Snow and General Driving. The Defender 130 can also ford 35 inches of water, more than the Jeep Grand Wagoneer. Heck, that’s more than the venerable Jeep Wrangler or most versions of the Ford Bronco can wade into.

Further, the Defender can carry all your people, gear and then some. It’s got room for eight humans inside, although the third row is best for small humans and kids, and can carry a total of 1,700 pounds of payload, 370 pounds of it as a dynamic load on the roof. Once you’ve stopped moving, the roof can handle 661 pounds. Hello, roof top tent!

If you’re looking to purchase your very own Defender 130, you can get started with the base S trim for a smidge under $70,000 including the $1,475 destination fee. However, I would trade up to the SE trim with the larger powerplant for just under $80,000. If you’re just into the Defender for the looks and have no plans on getting dirty, the top Defender X trim might be your bag, if you have six figures to spare.