2023 Land Rover Defender 130 SUV Review

Ethel Walsh

For those days when you need to get yourself and an entire hockey team up a rock face

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Have you ever considered a future in which you might need to get most of a baseball team through the desert? A work crew up a rock face? A truck full of screaming children across nearly a metre of water?

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Hey, it could happen. And if it does, then Land Rover has the truck for you.

Three years into the life cycle for the new Land Rover Defender, the Defender 130 returns to the line-up for the 2023 model year. It joins the Defender 90 and Defender 110 and makes the nameplate’s legendary off-roading capability available for up to eight occupants at a time.

Pricing for the 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 starts at $93,000 in Canada. This includes a standard air suspension, cabin air purifier, and four-zone climate control. The Sedona Red exterior colour is exclusive to this largest model and is what you see on our test vehicle, which is equipped in First Edition trim (from $100,850). Our test unit rings up at $107,380 as tested, which includes a towing package; a cold climate package that adds a heated windscreen, heated washer jets, and headlight power wash; an Extra Duty Pack with electronic active differential with brake-based torque vectoring, off-road tires, and domestic plug sockets; and a $1,950 delivery charge.

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To be honest, we drove this unit for a couple of days before looking at the price and assumed it was going to be higher. As it stands, this truck comes across as well-equipped for the price point. You can spend a fair bit more, of course, by selecting the more expensive Defender X top trim, or by digging into the extensive accessory catalogue. The same four accessory packs found on the Defender 90 and 110 — Explorer, Adventure, Country and Urban — are offered for the 130, along with a long list of individual add-ons. In other words, the main limitation to customizing a Defender 130 to your very liking is your budget.

There’s no getting around this fact: the Defender 130 is enormous. It measures just over two metres wide, 197 cm tall, and exactly 5,358 millimetres long, which is 340 millimetres longer than the Defender 110. The good news about this extension is that it allows the Defender 130 to have a functional and spacious third row that fits three adults, unlike the smaller 110’s optional third row that offers only tight seating for two. The bad news is adding this space requires giving the 130 a 149-centimetre rear overhang, which means compromising on departure angle: the 130’s is 27.8 degrees, as opposed to the Defender 110’s 40 degrees. This will matter much more to you if you actually plan to take eight people deep into the wilderness than it will if you’ll mostly be taking your kid’s soccer teammates to practice.

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All Defender 130s come equipped with the same engine, Land Rover’s P400, which is a 3.0-litre inline-six-cylinder engine that creates 395 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque available between 2,000 and 5,000 rpm. This powertrain is equipped with a 48-volt mild hybrid system to introduce torque earlier in the rev band. A ZF eight-speed automatic transmission is standard, as are all-wheel drive and Land Rover’s Terrain Response system that configures the powertrain and standard air suspension to handle a variety of surfaces and conditions.

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Land Rover says the Defender 130 can get from zero to 100 km/h in 6.6 seconds, and we believe it: this truck motors, and that’s in spite of its curb weight of more than 5,500 pounds (2,500 kilograms). The truck gets up to speed surprisingly quickly, the ZF transmission sifts ably through its gears, and the combination feels capable enough to inspire confidence.

Handling is a different conversation. The Defender 130’s off-road ability is remarkable on paper: ground clearance of 29 centimetres, suspension articulation of up to 43 cm, water fording of up to 90 cm, and 7.15 cm of additional front lift and 7.35 cm rear lift available for clearing obstacles. This is fantastic for those who will use this capability. On suburban roads and highways, though, you’ll need to live with body roll and top-heaviness that will demand your awareness more than other trucks of this size. Such are the trade-offs we make in life.

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You may also find yourself paying attention to your fuel bill, though we were pleasantly surprised here, too. Official estimates haven’t yet been released, but our combined average sat at 12.4 litres per 100 kilometres over our 500 kilometres of testing, roughly 70 per cent of which was on highways.

The biggest concern from a driving perspective is rearward visibility. A digital rear view mirror is included with the First Edition. Some drivers enjoy them, but we find it hard on the eyes to shift focus when looking at the mirror and then at the road ahead. Parents also understand the need to use the mirror to keep an eye on kids at the back. But with both rear rows in use and six headrests in the way — not to mention the very helpful exterior-mounted full-size spare tire — this is one case where having a digital camera that gives you a view straight past all that and out into the road behind becomes almost necessary. We wouldn’t spec a Defender 130 without one, but we wouldn’t be very happy about it, either.

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The interior retains the same Defender character with exposed rivets, body-colour interior accents, and ambient lighting that highlights details such as the Defender name that’s etched into the dashboard shelf. The seats are very comfortable and supportive, and in the First Edition the front row is both heated and ventilated as standard equipment along with a heated steering wheel. The cubby that opens up into an undertray storage space at the front of the centre console is unusual, but it happens to be a great place to stow a small clutch purse easily.

Our First Edition also comes with a wireless phone charger, which is a great pairing with the wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto built into Land Rover’s Pivi Pro infotainment system. An 11.4-inch screen is standard on the 130, and its more traditional 4:3 dimension is a pleasant departure from the widescreen layouts that are becoming more common in today’s vehicles. One of its cooler features is its ability to navigate to precise locations using the What3Words system, which it can do even without a data connection (and this gets more useful the further you go off the beaten path). Land Rover electronics don’t always have the greatest reputation for reliability, but we had great experiences with the system in this vehicle and experienced no problems during our testing.

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2023 Land Rover Defender 130
2023 Land Rover Defender 130 Photo by Jay Kana

Our primary complaint about the infotainment system mostly doesn’t involve the system at all. The screen has a digital button bar active at all times on the left side of the screen so that it’s easy to access the car’s built-in functions when smartphone apps are running. However, this bar’s home button and the CarPlay home screen button are positioned right next to each other, and both reside directly behind the shifter that protrudes at an angle from the centre stack. It’s easy to hit the wrong button, awkward getting around the shifter to reach, and even harder to press CarPlay pop-ups at the bottom of the screen for text messages and the like.

The second row is spacious enough to seat three adults, and the outboard seats here are also heated and ventilated in the First Edition. In the third row, space is nearly as generous, provided the second-row passengers play nice with sharing legroom via the sliding seats. LATCH anchors are present in all three of the third-row positions and the two outboard positions in the second row, while a seatback anchor in the second-row middle position means you could get up to six car seats into this truck provided they’re designed for that purpose. Both rows are divided in a 40-20-40 split, which means six adults and all their ski gear could fit inside with ease.

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It’s an unusual luxury to find heated outboard third row seats, and the third row in the 130 also has a dedicated sunroof of its own in addition to the standard panoramic sunroof at the front of the cabin. Our rear-seat reviewer — this writer’s preteen daughter — was particularly impressed by the size of the third row’s windows, which offer great visibility. On the downside, she found the second-row seats too heavy to slide out of the way to get herself into the third row, and she also couldn’t get herself out using the toggle at the top of the second-row seatbacks as she found it too stiff to operate. (The latter problem might resolve itself with time and frequent use.)

2023 Land Rover Defender 130
2023 Land Rover Defender 130 Photo by Jay Kana

A button in the cargo area lowers the suspension in the rear to provide easier access for loading your gear. Cargo space is 389 litres with rear-most seats up, while folding them down results in 1,232 litres of room. Drop the second-row seats and you’ll find a total of 2,291 litres of storage behind the first row.

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Smaller Defenders have plenty of competition to measure them up against, but where the Land Rover Defender 130 is concerned, its specific mix of functionality puts it in a class nearly of its own. If you truly do need a vehicle this large, you could consider cross-shopping it against the new Jeep Wagoneer family of large SUVs. If the third row is more of an occasional need, you might be able to get away with a Defender 110 and retain some more visibility and maneuverability.

The 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 is well-equipped, fairly priced, highly customizable… and all-around downright massive. For the right buyer, it’s a sorely needed mix of space and go-anywhere capability; for everyone else, it’s a fascinating study in automotive extremes.

Stephanie Wallcraft picture

Stephanie Wallcraft


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