Caraganza First Drive Review 2023 Land Rover Defender 130: A breath of fresh, muddy air

It had been a while since I had a week with a British vehicle. That changed recently when I was finally sent something made across the pond. And it turned out to be something I had never been behind the wheel of before: a Land Rover.

Now I have had great weeks in the past with British vehicles. The mini-Cooper comes to mind and Jaguar vehicles: the F-Type and F-Type R (be still my beating heart), the F-Pace and the XE. Jaguar owns the iconic Land Rover brand. But honestly when I hear ‘Land Rover’ I picture a British explorer like Sir Ranulph Fiennes cutting through the Amazon jungle hunting for a lost treasure in a boxy old Land Rover in a film narrated by fellow ‘Sir” David Attenborough.

And that’s not far off reality. Land Rover has a long history first as a product line from the Rover Company starting in 1948 and as its own entity in 1978. It’s been seen all over the world, rarely on the streets, but driving across a sand dune in Africa, or crawling through the aforementioned Amazon jungle.

In modern times the Land Rover has become a glorious beast that’s part off-roader, part luxury cruise liner, and all British bulldog with a fancy suit.

The Defender is the most glorious hardcore all-terrain beast in the entire Land Rover lineup.

For 2023 they introduced the Land Rover Defender 130 First Edition which it turns out is the biggest one in the lineup, more about that in a moment. I had a week with one recently, and I was curious how that week would go.

Somewhat unsurprisingly the Land Rover Defender is offered in a variety of trims, models, and configurations. There are two-door and four-door models, three engines, and three body styles. The Defender 90 is the shorter two-door model, the Defender 110 has four doors and two rows, while the Defender 130 has a longer wheelbase and three rows of seating.

Trims for 2023 include the Standard (110 only), S, SE, X-Dynamic SE, X, V8 and First Edition (130 only).

Like the name reveals, the Defender 130 First Edition is just that. The largest in the lineup, and the 130 was introduced for this model year, hence the First Edition.

The Defender comes loaded with standard advanced safety features like forward collision mitigation, lane keeping system, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, a 360-degree camera system, and a passenger safe-exit system. There are also quirky bits like a water depth sensor (displays the depth of water being forded and on the First Edition you get things such as   adaptive air suspension that can improve ride comfort and handling stability and can raise or lower the ride height of the vehicle, a panoramic sunroof, 14-way power-adjustable heated and cooled front seats with memory functions,  a 15-speaker Meridian audio system, and an 11.4-inch touchscreen.

There’s also a digital rearview mirror that allows you to see out the back even with a fully loaded cargo area, and adaptive cruise control. My tester had a package that added a heated steering wheel, heated windshield, a heated washer jet, and a refrigerated front console bin.

Now let’s talk about the look. The Land Rover Defender 130 First Edition is a bit like a fine single malt whiskey – it’s acquired a taste, but once you get it, you’re hooked. It’s square, rugged, and boxy, like it was carved from a solid block of British determination. But as its history suggests, this thing is all about utility and purpose; it screams, “I’m here to get the job done.” This isn’t your average soccer mom’s SUV. This is a hulking, menacing machine that looks like it could take on the apocalypse and win with a polite “excuse me” along the way. It’s got a presence that makes other cars look like mere insects on the road.

Stepping inside, you’re greeted with a blend of utilitarianism and luxury that would make an English butler raise an eyebrow. The materials are top-notch, and it’s clear Land Rover hasn’t sacrificed quality in the name of Americanization. The infotainment system is snazzy, but don’t let that fool you – this car is designed for off-road escapades, not Netflix binging. It feels like you’re sitting in a gentleman’s club that just so happens to have the capability to tackle the wildest terrains on Earth.

On the road? Well, under that rugged hood, you’ll find a choice of engines, but if you’re going for the 130 First Edition, you’re treated to a thumping mildly hybrid 3.0-liter inline-six that’s been turbocharged, electrically boosted and delivers 395 horsepower and 406 lb-ft pounds of torque, enough to make the Earth spin backwards, through an 8-speed automatic transmission. And while it can go from 0 to 60 in a respectable time, let’s be honest, the Defender is more about crawling up mountains than drag racing.

Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to actually go off road, in fact was told “sorry, no.” But there is little doubt that the Defender would be up for the challenge.  It has a Terrain Response system that lets you fine-tune your off-road prowess, it’s like having a Swiss Army knife for conquering the wilderness. This SUV is ready to tackle anything you throw at it, whether it’s a rocky slope, a muddy trail, or a river that’s more like a small lake.

There is, however, a catch and it’s a big one. While the American Defender is true to its British heritage in many ways, it’s also been modernized to meet U.S. regulations and consumer preferences. That means it’s bigger, heavier, and arguably less nimble than its European counterpart. It’s like taking a thoroughbred racehorse and turning it into a plow horse – it’s still impressive, but it’s lost a bit of its wild spirit.

It’s as capable, if not more, than say a Ford Bronco or Jeep Wrangler, but here in the U.S. the Defender isn’t cheap. In fact, you could buy a small house for the price of a well-equipped one. But, if you’re willing to drop that kind of cash, you’re getting a unique and capable off-roader that’s bound to turn heads wherever you go.

Even the American version of the 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 First Edition makes you want to slap on a pith helmet and explore uncharted jungles. It’s a British icon that’s evolved while staying true to its roots. In a world of crossovers and off-roaders, it’s a breath of fresh, muddy air; like a British rockstar who’s gone to Las Vegas – it’s still got the talent, but it’s picked up some glitz and glamour along the way.

So, old chap, if you want adventure, style, and a healthy dose of British charm, the Defender 130 First Edition is the only way to go. And when you are done searching for lost treasure, you’ll have the added bonus of sipping a cup of tea from a massive Texas mug in comfort afterward. And you know what? It still tastes darn good.

The Outbound trim removes the third row of seats opening up a great deal more cargo space.

2024 UPDATE: For 2024 Land Rover added a new Outbound trim and debuted a County Exterior appearance package. They also made a new V8 engine available for the 130 and 110. I got to spend a week with the new Outbound, and while it didn’t have the new 518-hp supercharged V-8 under the hood, it was in my opinion a game changer. You see, the biggest change with the Outbound is the removal of the third row of seats opening up more cargo space. I have to admit that for my needs, and I suspect many others, the improved cargo space is much better to have than extra seats. Unless you are family is the Brady Bunch, the Defender would be much more practical with the ability to carry more stuff, and fewer people.

The 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 First Edition
MSRP: $84,700
MSRP (as tested): $$92,725
Engine: 3.0 Liter Inline MHEV 395 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 406 lb-ft torque @ 2,000 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed shiftable automatic
Fuel Mileage (EPA) 17 city, 21 highway, 19 combined
Fuel Mileage (as tested, mixed conditions): 22 mpg
Curb weight: 5,570 lbs.

Exterior Dimensions
Length 211.7 in.
Overall width with mirrors: 82.9 in.
Height: 77.6 in.
Wheelbase: 119.0 in.
Ground clearance: 11.4 in. (max when raised)
Maximum towing capacity: 8,201 lbs.

Interior Dimensions
Total Seating: 8
Front head room: 40.6 in.
Front leg room: 39.0 in.
Front shoulder room: 60.8 in.
Rear headroom: 40.4 in.
Rear leg room: 36.6 in.
Cargo capacity, all seats in place 13.7 cu.ft.

Basic: 4 yr./ 50,000 mi.
Drivetrain: 4 yr./ 50,000 mi.
Rust: 6 yr./ unlimited mi.
Roadside assistance4 yr./ 50,000 mi.

Greg Engle