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2023 Land Rover Defender Review: Suitable for Tough Terrain Testing

Image Source: North Monaco / Shutterstock

The 2023 Land Rover Defender excels in blending its off-road capabilities with on-road performance, all while maintaining a stylish appearance in various situations. This SUV is geared towards off-road adventures with impressive road-handling characteristics. Compare it to the rugged Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco, perhaps even the luxurious Mercedes-Benz G-Class. The Defender effectively combines elements of the past with modern features.

With a mix of off-road prowess, distinctive design, and comfortable on-road driving experience, the Land Rover Defender is a sophisticated plaything for adults. In 2023, the Defender lineup expands with the introduction of a long-wheelbase model called 130, featuring three rows of seats. The two-door 90 and the middle-sized 110 now come standard with an 11.4-inch touchscreen and have received some updates to their optional packages.

While it may not offer the same level of nostalgia as the Ford Bronco, the 2023 Land Rover Defender pays homage to the brand’s legacy without being overly nostalgic. Land Rover offers the Defender in small (90), medium (110), and large (130) sizes, although these numbers don’t directly relate to their wheelbases. The 110 and 130 models share a 110.9-inch wheelbase. Sporting a blocky front end with rectangular headlights that house a circular element, the Defender features checkerboard trim on the hood for aesthetics rather than functionality. With a wide range of paint colors and wheel options, you can customize your Defender to stand out on the streets.

The 2023 Land Rover Defender is a rugged off-roader that still offers comfort for long road trips. From its impressive off-road capabilities to its comfortable ride, the Defender justifies its higher price tag by offering a wide range of features. Equipped with a comfortable ride and exceptional off-road capabilities, Land Rover provides additional features like low range, various off-road modes, and optional upgrades such as knobby tires, an air suspension for increased ground clearance, a locking rear differential, and advanced traction control systems for challenging terrains.

Models powered by a 2.0-liter inline-4 engine deliver 296 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque to the wheels, enabling a 7.7-second sprint from 0 to 60 mph. While these 4-cylinder models perform adequately in urban settings, they might feel strained under a full load, making the turbocharged inline-6 a more appealing choice. With 395 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque, the turbo-6 engine includes a mild-hybrid system that minimizes any lag. These models offer impressive speed and refinement, backed by an efficient 8-speed automatic transmission. The V8 Defender, powered by a 5.0-liter V-8 with a supercharger, produces over 500 horsepower, making it the fastest Defender model that can tow up to 8,200 pounds.

The Land Rover Defender showcases responsive steering and a comfortable yet firm ride. Its fully independent suspension eliminates the side-to-side head movements often experienced in vehicles with solid axles. While the standard coil springs provide a good ride and durability, opting for the air suspension can lower the Defender for easier access and raise it for up to 11.5 inches of ground clearance. Although the independent suspension may not offer as much flexibility as solid axles, Land Rover’s advanced traction control compensates for situations where wheels might be off the ground over obstacles.

Choosing the 6-cylinder engine can offer acceptable fuel efficiency for a rugged vehicle like the Defender, though it’s not known for being economical overall. The mid-level turbo-6 engine achieves a mileage rating of 18 mpg in the city, 23 mpg on the highway, and 20 mpg combined for 90 and 110 body styles (the 130 model gets a combined 19 mpg). The base 4-cylinder lacks the 6’s mild-hybrid technology, obtaining a rating of 18/21/19 mpg or 18 mpg combined in the 110 variant. The powerful supercharged V-8 engine found in the Defender 90 and 110 is less fuel-efficient, delivering just 16 mpg combined while requiring premium unleaded fuel.

The 2023 Land Rover Defender boasts a suite of standard safety features, although it has not undergone testing by the IIHS or the NHTSA due to its limited sales volume compared to models like the Ford Explorer. However, it comes equipped with various safety technologies such as automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, active lane control, parking sensors, a surround-view camera system, and available adaptive cruise control.

Featuring a premium interior with wash-out floors, the 2023 Land Rover Defender exudes luxury. The cabin feels like a sophisticated Lego set with ample storage compartments and panels. While cloth upholstery comes standard, many will opt for full or partial leather finishes. The synthetic leather option is worth considering for those looking to fully utilize their Defender. The materials used throughout the cabin are top-notch, even in the base models equipped with rubber floors and cloth seats. Premium models with high-quality leather and wooden trim exude luxury similar to older Range Rovers. The Defender’s cabin offers a comfortable experience for occupants in the first two rows and a spacious cargo area.

Despite discontinuing the three-across front row option, the cabin of the 2023 Land Rover Defender is filled with character. Front seat occupants enjoy well-padded seats with standard power adjustments. Four-door models provide easy access to a rear bench with ample legroom for rear-seat passengers. While the 5+2 third-row seating option available on the Defender 110 may seem appealing, it lacks practicality. Opting for the Defender 130 with three seatbelts offers suitable space for children or smaller adults in the third row.

Cargo space varies across the different Defender models. The Defender 90 models provide 15.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row, while the 110 models offer 34.0 cubic feet. The Defender 130 offers a mere 13.7 cubic feet behind the third row, extendable to 43.5 cubic feet with the third row folded. Maximum cargo capacity ranges from 58.3 cubic feet in the 90 model, 79 cubic feet in the 110, to nearly 81 cubic feet in the 130 variant.

The 2023 Land Rover Defender offers a wide range of customization options to suit various preferences, but it comes at a premium price. With three distinct body styles and a multitude of features and powertrain options, the Defender provides generous standard equipment, a large touchscreen infotainment system, and abundant customization choices. While a 4-year/50,000-mile warranty is standard in the luxury segment, maintenance is not included.

When selecting your ideal Defender, consider the 18 basic models available based on the number of doors and seats you require. Surprisingly, the most affordable model is the Defender 110 in base S trim, equipped with 18-inch steel wheels, cloth seats with power adjustment, 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, starting at $54,975.

While the base model offers a simplistic look with steel wheels, upgrading to the mid-level S trim unlocks additional options and is available in all three body styles. The S trim adds 19-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, and Meridian-branded audio, with pricing starting at $56,575 for the short-wheelbase Defender 90, $59,475 for the Defender 110, and $69,475 for the larger 130 model.

For off-road enthusiasts, a minimally equipped Defender 110 base model serves as an excellent starting point. By adding features like adaptive cruise control, a locking rear differential, air suspension, and a package including Terrain Response 2, you can enhance the capabilities of your Defender while bringing the price to around $60,075. Opting for the 6-cylinder engine in the SE trim level further enhances performance. The Defender 90 SE starts at $70,775 and offers additional features like cooled seats, wood trim, and more. The range-topping Defender 130, available in the X trim for over $100,000, includes upgraded leather, 20-inch wheels, and a host of premium features. The most expensive variant is the V-8-powered 110 Carpathian Edition, priced at approximately $120,000.

The Land Rover Defender faced a significant challenge in living up to its iconic predecessor. By transitioning from a utilitarian body-on-frame design to a more refined unibody structure, Land Rover has successfully blended modern comfort with its legendary off-road capabilities. The move to a new platform has allowed Land Rover to incorporate a host of modern technological advancements into the 2023 Land Rover Defender, solidifying its status as a capable and technologically advanced SUV that stays true to its roots.

Image Source: North Monaco / Shutterstock

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