The 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 is a compromised addition to the line

So what if the 2023 Land Rover Defender’s identifying model numbers correspond less to their wheelbase lengths than they did in the original model? From the 90 to the 110 to the 130, there’s a spread offered for your taking. Should your usage case dictate that the two-door 90 is too tiny and even the full-size 110 isn’t roomy enough, Land Rover has even more space in its new-for-2023 Defender 130. Is it as good as the shorter versions?

There’s nothing like the Defender

The L663 Land Rover Defender is nothing if not polarizing. The styling alone has created a divide. The vehicle has almost nothing in common with the old iron Series I-III models to which it owes its existence, short of maybe some styling cues and a badge. And yet, it’s been a hit.

Land Rover sold 19,080 Defenders in 2021 and 15,733 in 2022. For reference, the brand sold 17,285 Range Rovers in 2021 and 12,999 in 2022. The Defender’s sales numbers won’t light the automotive world on fire (consider that Jeep moved 204,610 Wranglers in 2021 and 181,410 in 2022) but they’re strong nonetheless. That’s especially so for a luxury 4×4 that compromises comfort in the sake of style and capability.

To boost sales, Land Rover turned to ‘ol faithful: In America, bigger is still better. At least when it comes to SUVs, that is. Capitalizing on our love for space meant launching the Defender 130 for the 2023 model year. Bigger number, bigger rig: It’s 13.5 inches longer than the 110 and 30-ish inches longer than the two-door 90. But who’s counting?

Down on wheeling cred…

Those of us concerned with off-roading, that’s who. There are three important vehicular measurements for off-roading (center of gravity and ground clearance notwithstanding): Approach, breakover, and departure angles. The 90, 110, and 130 share the same approach angle; the 110 and 130 share a breakover angle. The 90 handily beats them, though. Its shorter wheelbase makes for a better breakover which pays dividends in not getting hung up, plus in maneuverability. You can usually account for a poor breakover by taking a different line or with carefully placed rocks. Or a winch, should it come to that.

Unlike breakover, a bad approach or departure angle is a non-starter in some wheeling situations, and that’s where the 130 falters. The 90 and 110 share the same maximum 40 degree departure angle (the number varies based on air or coil suspension). Yet the 130’s school bus-like rear overhang means it suffers with a 28.5 degree breakover angle. 11.5 degrees may not sound like a massive difference but in the off-road world it’s an enormous gap. It could simply mean dragging the rear of the vehicle attempting to climb an obstacle (or when coming down a ledge) and not. Translation: The extra length subjects the 130’s rear end to more body damage or not conquering an obstacle. Trade-off, indeed.

…and worse on our eyes

The 130’s other major downside is in the way it looks. Don’t just rely on my eyes: Defender 110 owner, YouTuber extraordinaire, and Off the Road Again Podcast friend/guest Doug DeMuro agrees. Why is the 130 so visually awkward? Land Rover kept the 110’s wheelbase when making the 130, so all of the latter’s extra length is aft of the back axle. Nobody has called the 110 pretty but at least it’s proportionally sound. The 130, well, isn’t.

At least it’s space well-used. Though the 130 only has a maximum of 81 cubic feet of cargo space to the 110’s ~79, the real benefit is in the 130’s standard third row seat. While the 110 squeezes its third row in between the rear wheelwells, the 130’s extra length means the back seats aren’t constrained to those quarters. Whereas the 110’s optional 5+2 configuration’s third row is exclusively for smaller individuals, the 130’s is usable for adults and comfortably spacious for kids. Getting there didn’t make for a pretty profile on the outside, but it works on the inside.

And yet, it’s still fantastic

The best part about the new 130 is that it retains the Defender line’s inimitable charm. The exterior styling and interior design make it unlike anything else on the road. There’s excellent, unique forward visibility and retro-inspired exposed bolts that give it an aurora all its own. It’s a great dichotomy to the brand’s other, luxury-first vehicles. And yet, the 130’s accouterments are still plenty opulent. It drives just like the 110, too, which is a good thing. Parking takes a little more caution but that’s where the driving-related differences end. It’s simply an enjoyable vehicle to drive and spend time in.

The Defender excels at living in the portion of Venn Diagram where the Range Rover and the Jeep Wrangler overlap. The D130 helps it hold its ground, albeit with more space for more people. It’s as happy to do the mall or school run as it is on the trail. It succeeds at this post-meets-outdoorsy dance perhaps better than the G-Wagen, the pinnacle of rich-meets-rugged, and In some ways embodies what the GX460 and other luxo-wheelers aspire to. The 130 will unquestionably be a homerun for the Defender brand despite its worse off-road cred and unsightly rump. Now, where’s the V8 version?

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One response to “The 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 is a compromised addition to the line”

  1. backrooms Avatar

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