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Test Drive Review: The 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 is a Plus-Size, 3-Row Off-Road Warrior

Automakers love to cram categories together like they're the candy bar wizards running the machine at the Reeses' factory. While sometimes the end result meshes like a smooth blend of peanut butter and chocolate, other times it’s not quite as clear as to how delicious the overall experiment has been.

2023 Land Rover Defender 130 driver side profile

Such is the case with modern off-road machines tasked with also tackling full-time family duty. While at first it might make sense to embiggen a full-size hauler with a flavor-explosion of extra seating that can swallow kids and in-laws for the occasional jaunt around town, that choice comes with a very real calculus that must take into account what's lost on the trail versus what's gained on the street.

2023 Land Rover Defender 130 First Edition badge

The three-row 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 isn't afraid of doing a little math in its quest to convince potential customers to upgrade from the Defender 110 (which can be had with a tiny, vestigial set of rear seats). At the same time, it makes a similar case for Bronco fans whose brood has grown past what Ford's hardcore 4x4 can comfortably accommodate. To be sure, choosing to go bigger and bolder once you leave the pavement behind requires making more than a few compromises, but Land Rover has made sure to include an equally hefty spoonful of sugar to help sweeten the deal.

All Aboard The Off-Road Bus

Although trucks like the Chevrolet Tahoe and the Ford Expedition provide a full-frame, four-wheel drive (up to) eight passenger option for tackling tough terrain, it would be a stretch to call either of those models dedicated off-roaders. Their mammoth proportions quickly push to the edge of what's acceptable when negotiating tight passes, and the added wheelbase wreaks havoc with approach and departure angles in a way that a more modest sport-utility vehicle never has to worry about.

2023 Land Rover Defender 130 front 3/4 photo

The Land Rover Defender 130 finds itself in a similar situation, but at the very least it starts from a more capable foundation. The 130 rides on an identical platform to the 110, which brings with it low-range four-wheel drive and a full set of Terrain Response modes for tweaking the vehicle's various electronic aides to better parse with the ground under its wheels. Throw in gear such as an air suspension (with full ride height control), a locking differential, and of course crawl control and hill start capability, and the Defender is a platform aimed more at matching the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited than the Chevrolet Suburban.

2023 Land Rover Defender 130 rear 3/4

The just-over 13 inches grafted onto the rear of the Defender 130 is, of course, an equalizer when comparing the Land Rover to any Wrangler rival. That's serious acreage in an off-road setting, and it's enough to slice the truck's departure angle from 40 degrees to 28.5 degrees. Dragging bumper up the trail is an unfortunate side effect of seeking out extra passenger space, but approach (37.5 degrees) and breakover (27.8 degrees) angles remain a match for the shorter Defender 110. At full extension, its air springs provide a respectable 35.4 inches of wading across streams and rivers that would likely send a lesser SUV for a swim, alongside a total of 11.5 inches of ground clearance.

2023 Land Rover Defender 130 hood

It's extremely unlikely that the intentions of Defender 130 buyers are to take the full fam with them on the next rock run, so it's worth a mention of how the Land Rover's 'extra extra' impacts daily driving, too. There's a quarter-ton of extra weight to haul around here, combined of course with the parking problems tied in to a pachyderm-like posterior.

2023 Land Rover Defender 130 front view

The big-boned 130 does require a deft hand when threading the needle through traffic, but the overall impression from behind the wheel is one of stability and smoothness, even when dealing with the abruptly changing pavement conditions that are endemic to Montreal's streets. Under full throttle, the 3.0L turbocharged straight-six under the Defender's hood works up a sweat just to keep pace. Passing on the highway is fine, if just this side of rapid, and there's no upgrade to be had past the 395 hp and 406 lb-ft on tap from the six-cylinder (both the two-door D90 and the four-door D110 get a supercharged V8 option).

Bringing Civilization With You, Wherever You Might Go

All of the above gotchas are bearable for the simple fact that the Defender 130 very much delivers on its promise of a roomy third row. Unlike the ultra-cramped quarters found with the 110's available fold-up back seat, the 130 is truly capable of hauling three adults at the very back of its voluminous cargo compartment without slamming their knees to the floor or jamming their heads against the roofline. There's also the fact that the 130 is slightly more capacious when it comes to cargo than the Defender 110, attenuated somewhat by the lack of a flat load floor and the in-the-way ridge erected by its back row when folded forward.

2023 Land Rover Defender 130 interior seating plan

As an upgrade over the Defender 110's abbreviated seating, the 130 is a no-brainer, and with its starting price of $68,000 it'll cost you well under $10k to step up into its stretch-out (compared to a six-cylinder 110). Eagle eyes will note that this pricing also places it in the same ballpark, roughly as a high-trim Bronco, but the gap between these models is much higher than the pricing would indicate.

2023 Land Rover Defender 130 seats folded flat

Simply put, there's no way for the Bronco to match the Defender's calm and collected driving experience, especially when comparing the quiet of its sealed steel roof with the cacophony generated by the Ford's flapping soft-top or booming fiberglass shell.

2023 Land Rover Defender 130 dashboard

Land Rover might not have gone full-lux on the 130's interior—there are many areas of the cabin that feel practical rather than premium, to the touch—but it's an overall higher level of fit and finish that adds further polish to the additional practicality of its eight-passenger seating.

2023 Land Rover Defender 130 rear view

It's hard to think of a direct competitor to the Defender 130's balance of four-wheel drive toughness and genteel daily drive. The much more expensive Lexus LX 600 suffers from small-seat syndrome in its rearmost row and can't keep up with the 130 on a trail, while the Jeep Wagoneer is big inside but lacks the brand's famous 'trail rated' badge due to its sheer bulk. Being an outlier is nothing new to Land Rover, but this time it appears as though the Defender 130 has found a sweet spot to stake out in the super-competitive SUV sweepstakes. 

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