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2023 Land Rover Defender Review: Can Be Tested On Any Rough Road

The 2023 Land Rover Defender masterfully blends off-road ability with on-road prowess, all while looking the part in just about any situation. The Defender is an off-road-oriented SUV with impressive road manners. Shop it against the less-plush Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco, plus maybe the Mercedes-Benz G-Class. The Defender successfully blends old with new.

Blending off-road ability with chunky, distinctive styling and decent on-road comfort, the Land Rover Defender is a refined toy for grown-ups. For 2023, the Defender lineup grows, literally, with the addition of a long-wheelbase model with three rows of seats called 130. Otherwise, the two-door 90 and middle-child 110 gain a standard 11.4-inch touchscreen and see a few tweaks to their option packages.

It’s not as fun or decidedly retro as the Ford Bronco, but the 2023 Land Rover Defender nods to the brand’s heritage without any kitsch. Land Rover builds the Defender in small (90), medium (110), and large (130) lengths, though those numbers don’t correspond to its wheelbases. The 110 and 130 share a 110.9-inch wheelbase, in fact. All wear similar clothes, including a blocky front end with rectangular headlights containing a round element. Checkerboard trim on the hood looks like it should provide great grip, though in reality it’s plastic and is decidedly “no-step” in function. Land Rover offers a bunch of paint colors including contrasting roof panels, and its wheel lineup is extensive. Shop carefully to get the coolest Defender on your block.

The 2023 Land Rover Defender is a formidable off-roader that’s comfy enough for road trips. The Defender earns its hefty price tag when you consider the sheer breadth of its capabilities. It maintains its hallmarks of a comfortable ride and impressive off-road ability. Of course, and Land Rover fits a low range plus a host of off-road modes. You’ll have to pay extra for knobby tires, an air suspension that increases running ground clearance, a locking rear differential, additional traction control modes, and the automaker’s off-road cruise control-like system that lopes along ultra-low speeds when the going gets truly rough.

Base models with the 2.0-liter inline-4 send 296 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque to the wheels, which is enough for a 7.7-second dawdle to 60 mph. These 4-cylinder models are adequate in town but can be labored with a full load. They’re a good selling point for the turbocharged inline-6. That engine pushes 395 hp and 406 lb-ft to the ground, and it includes a mild-hybrid system that ensures virtually no lag. These models are downright quick and they’re quite refined, too. The 8-speed automatic transmission is a winner, with quick downshifts and smooth upshifts. The V8 Defender comes with the 5.0-liter V-8, which uses a supercharger to put out over 500 hp making it the quickest Defender. The Defender can tow as much as 8,200 pounds.
Defenders have nice steering heft and a firm but comfortable ride. The fully independent suspension means none of the side-to-side head bob you might experience in vehicles with solid axles. The standard coil springs provide a good ride and should be durable, though the optional air suspension plunks the Defender down for easier ingress and egress and then raises it up high for as much as 11.5 inches of ground clearance. Sure, those independent corners don’t provide as much droop as solid axles, but Land Rover’s trick traction control mitigates the fact that one or two wheels may be dangling in the air over bigger obstacles.

Opt for the 6-cylinder engine and the Defender 90 can be somewhat frugal for a box on four wheels. Generally speaking, no, it is not a thrifty choice. The mid-level turbo-6 is rated at 18 mpg city, 23 highway, 20 combined in 90 and 110 body styles (the 130 checks in at 19 mpg combined). The base 4-cylinder lacks the 6’s mild-hybrid tech. It’s rated at 18/21/19 mpg, or 18 mpg combined in 110 form. The big supercharged V-8 offered on the Defender 90 and 110 is a guzzler. Expect just 16 mpg combined. All Defenders need premium unleaded.

The 2023 Land Rover Defender comes standard with a lot of crash-avoidance tech but it hasn’t been tested by the IIHS or the NHTSA. Given its relatively low-volume sales against, say, the Ford Explorer, the 2023 Defender may never be evaluated. It does come with a good array of safety tech, though. You’ll find automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, active lane control, parking sensors, and a surround-view camera system on all versions, while adaptive cruise control is widely available.

Even with its wash-out floors, the 2023 Land Rover Defender imparts an upscale feel inside. It’s like a high-end Lego set, with plenty of storage bins and panels. Cloth comes standard, but most will be outfitted in full or partial leather. Synthetic leather is a new option worth considering if you plan to make the most of your Defender. Materials are great all around, even with the rubber floors and cloth seats standard on the cheapest versions. Upscale models with nicer leather and open-pore wood are as swanky as an older Range Rover. The Defender’s cabin is a delight, with good comfort for occupants in the first two rows plus a big cargo area.

Even though Land Rover has canned the three-across front row option, this cabin brims with character. Front-seat occupants have nicely padded thrones with standard power adjustment. Rear-seat riders have good access in four-door models to a bench with excellent leg room. The 5+2 third row available on the Defender 110 isn’t worth it, though. Opt instead for the Defender 130, which has three seatbelts and adequate third-row space for kids or smaller adults.

Cargo space varies. Defender 90s have just 15.6 cubic feet behind the second row, while the 110 grows that to 34.0 cubes. The Defender 130 offers up a mere 13.7 cubes behind row three, which expands to a hefty 43.5 cubic feet with the third row tumbled away. Maximum cargo capacity ranges from 58.3 cubic feet in the 90 and 79 cubes in the 110 to nearly 81 cubic feet in the 130.

The 2023 Land Rover Defender can be tailored to a wide range of tastes and desires, but it’s never cheap. Land Rover now offers three Defender body styles, each with myriad available features and powertrains with good standard equipment, a big and sophisticated touchscreen infotainment system, and seemingly endless options. A 4-year/50,000-mile warranty is par for the luxury segment, but doesn’t include free maintenance.

Start your Defender hunt by whittling down the lineup of 18 basic models based on how many doors and seats you want. The least-expensive model is actually the middle child, a Defender 110 in base S trim with 18-inch steel wheels, cloth seats with power adjustment up front, a 10.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, active lane control, and a surround-view camera system for $54,975.

While we like the idea of the base model’s back-to-basics look with steel wheels, the mid-level S opens up more options and can be configured in all three body styles. The S adds 19-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, and Meridian-branded audio. It costs $56,575 as a short-wheelbase Defender 90, $59,475 as a Defender 110, or $69,475 in big-boy 130 guise.

A lightly-equipped Defender 110 base model serves as a good platform for off-roaders. Add adaptive cruise control, a locking rear differential, the air suspension, and a package containing Terrain Response 2 and you’ll nudge the price to $60,075. It takes the 6-cylinder to unleash the more performance, so you’ll have to step up to the SE trim. A Defender 90 SE runs $70,775 to start, and you can add cooled seats, wood trim, a mini fridge, and a few other niceties. While the Defender 130 can be outfitted in $100,000-plus X trim with upgraded leather, 20-inch wheels, and a host of additional features, the costliest version is the V-8-powered 110 Carpathian Edition at about $120,000.

The Land Rover Defender had some incredibly large shoes to fill. By changing course from a utilitarian body-on-frame to a much more refined unibody design, Land Rover has imbued modern day comfort while still maintaining its off-road prowess. Plus, by moving to a new platform, Land Rover was able to bake it all the modern technological goodies we’ve become accustomed to. In the end the 2023 Land Rover Defender lives up to its nameplate, and then some. It works, admirably.

Image Source: North Monaco / Shutterstock

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