2023 Land Rover Defender Review: The no-compromise off-roader

2023 Land Rover Defender Review: The no-compromise off-roader

Pros: Variety of engine and body styles; excellent ride, handling and interior noise for an off-roader; go-anywhere capability

Cons: Sub-par fuel economy for a luxury SUV; pricey trims not overtly luxurious; definitely not cheap

Big, boxy, off-road-oriented SUVs are all the rage at the moment, especially when glammed up with ritzy, definitely-not-for-off-roading trim and luxury feature content. The 2023 Land Rover Defender definitely fits that bill, and indeed, it’s certainly popular among those who have no intention of ever venturing to the sorts of dirty places this mighty Land Rover is capable of. Yet, whereas other big, boxy, off-road-oriented SUVs make their owners suffer through rough rides, sloppy handling, booming interior noise and/or compromised interior space, the Land Rover Defender does not. It’s practical, refined, comfortable and spacious. OK, so the two-door Defender 90 isn’t that spacious, but the new three-row, eight-passenger Defender 130 certainly is. Basically, the Defender is a no-compromises off-roader and, if money is no object, one of the best SUVs you can buy.

Of course, money typically is an object of concern, and the Defender does not come cheap. The way-cool Defender 110 V8 pictured above cost more than $111,000, and even the most basic Defender starts at nearly $55,000. It doesn’t take many options, including checking the mild-hybrid inline-six engine box, before you’ve zoomed past $70,000. The good news is that you don’t really need that many options. The Defender is very well-equipped in its more basic forms and those pricier versions don’t offer the sort of overt luxury look and materials choices you’d find in a comparably priced Range Rover model. In other words, no shame in getting a lower trim model. But hey, if you’ve got the cash, you probably won’t regret enjoying the decadent, rich rumble of the V8 and the silky, effortless power it provides. It’s hard not to be smitten.

Interior & Technology   |   Passenger & Cargo Space   |   Performance & Fuel Economy

What it’s like to drive   |   Pricing & Trim Levels   |   Crash Ratings & Safety Features

What’s new for 2023?

The Land Rover Defender 130 debuts, pictured above, adding a far more usable third-row seat than the rinky-dink one offered by the 110. Not only is their adult-friendly legroom, but there are three seatbelts across, making the Defender one of the rare eight-passenger luxury SUVs. This extra row is the result of 13.4 inches of length tacked onto the back of the same 119-inch wheelbase. It’s not a difficult difference to spot, and indeed, the 130’s proportions certainly aren’t as tidy as its smaller siblings. The departure angle also suffers considerably, falling to 28.5 degrees from 40. Every 130 comes with the inline-six engine and air suspension, and like its siblings enjoyed, there will be a First Edition model that offers special color configurations and most available features.

What are the Defender interior and in-car technology like?

With its bold horizontal lines, metal trim, rubber flooring, numerous grab handles and bins galore, the Defender’s cabin has an undeniably rugged and functional vibe. Certainly more so than any other Land Rover today. However, it may be rugged in appearance, but the materials used are generally top-notch stuff worthy of commanding its top-notch price tag. Top trim levels can also be spiffed up with open-pore wood trim and fancy two-tone leather choices, but it’s also not enough to create the sort of luxurious look and feel you’d find in other SUVs pushing and passing $100,000.

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Standard on every Defender is Land Rover’s Pivi Pro 10-inch wide touchscreen (above middle) interface, but an optional, taller 11.4-inch touchscreen is available. The 10-inch standard screen is handsomely sandwiched in between the dash’s prominent horizontal cross-members, making it almost appear to be a cool retroactive modification. The larger screen juts out beyond those cross-members for a less elegant, integrated appearance. The user interface provided by those screens isn’t as well sorted as those of rival systems (we’ve found it to be buggy at times and the radio controls can frustrate), but the graphics and overall aesthetic are pleasingly modern. The widescreen also doesn’t take advantage of its super-wide layout with a split screen option. The optional all-digital instruments make a stronger impression, as they offer different design choices that’ll provide as much or as little info as you’d like. That said, we’d also be just fine with the standard analog gauge cluster.

How big is the Defender?

There are now three body sizes, so that answer is a complicated one. The most popular body style is the four-door Defender 110, which is sized comparable to a midsize luxury SUV like a BMW X5. The two-door Defender 90 is then a whopping 17 inches shorter in overall length than the 110 with a 10-inch shorter wheelbase; the new eight-passenger Defender 130 has the same wheelbase as the 110 but is 13.6 inches longer (or about the same as a Lincoln Navigator).

The 90’s small size makes it considerably more maneuverable off-road, but the interior is obviously much smaller and harder to access with two fewer doors. Backseat legroom is actually fine, as its 36.6 inches is only 1.8 less than the notably spacious 110. Cargo space is an entirely different matter. The 90’s tiny 15.6 cubic feet is less than what you get behind the third rows of many midsize SUVs (though apparently it’s still big enough(ish) to hold a Bernese Mountain Dog). In the Defender 90, you’ll definitely need a cargo carrier or will have to leave your friends behind.

That probably won’t be necessary in the Defender 110, which has a big, boxy cargo area (pictured above left) that we found swallows even more than its 35.4 cubic feet would indicate. There’s also plenty of thoughtful storage solutions throughout, plus highly configurable roof rails. Maximum capacity stands at 70.4 cubic feet, and the Defender has a fold-flat load floor. In terms of passenger space, the 110’s tall seating position and boxy shape provide an airy feel and superior visibility to go with ample first- and second-row space. Fitting a rear-facing child seat while maintaining enough front legroom was not problem. There is a third-row seat available (below left), but it’s so tiny and leaves even less cargo space behind it than the D90 that it’s just not worth considering.

If you want a third row, get the new Defender 130. You’ll certainly lose even more off-road maneuverability and capability (especially in regards to departure angle), but you gain a three-across third row where adults can actually fit (below right). Again, that boxy shape is helpful here, too, since it provides a less claustrophobic feel than other three-row luxury SUVs. Cargo space with all three rows up is 13.7 cubic feet (pictured above right), which may be better than the D110, but still is one of the smallest amounts available in three-row vehicles.

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What are the Defender fuel economy and performance specs?

The standard 90 and 110 engine is a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four that produces 296 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. An eight-speed automatic is on board along with a permanent four-wheel-drive system. Fuel economy is 17 miles per gallon city, 20 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined in the 110 (the 90 is 18/21/19), and Land Rover says the 110 will go from 0-60 mph in 7.7 seconds (the 90 does it in 6.7 seconds). This efficiency and performance are unimpressive for a luxury SUV of its size (think a BMW X5), but also not bad for a heavy off-roading SUV.

A 3.0-liter inline-six is optional on the 90 and 110, and standard on the 130. It features a smorgasbord of power-enhancing elements: a turbocharger, an electric supercharger and a mild-hybrid system. Output is a significant step up at 395 horsepower and 406 pound-feet. The 0-60 time falls to 5.8 seconds in the 110, 5.7 for the 90 and 6.3 for the 130. Fuel economy increases slightly to 18 mpg city, 23 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined for the 90 and 110, and 19/17/21 for the 130.

Optional on the 90 and 110 is a 5.0-liter supercharged V8 that produces a stout 518 horsepower and 461 pound-feet of torque. It gets bespoke transmission settings from the eight-speed automatic and is capable of sending the 110 from 0-60 mph in 5.1 seconds, and the 90 from 0-60 mph in just 4.9. Fuel economy suffers, as the 110 V8 is rated at 14 mpg city, 19 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined. The 90 is nearly identical, but its city rating ticks up to 15 mpg. We saw an average of about 16 mpg in a week of testing.

What’s the Defender like to drive?

Like other Land Rovers, the Defender’s air suspension results in a controlled, buttery smooth ride that’s better than the vast majority of other SUVs, let alone rugged off-roaders like the Wrangler, Bronco and 4Runner. Even the 90, with its short wheelbase that brings harsher truck-like responses to potholes, is still more comfortable than competitors. Every Defender’s steering is slow and requires plenty of turning per the off-roading norm, but it’s also incredibly precise and provides impressive feedback for something so capable of climbing rocks. That air suspension also provides shockingly good road-holding, and we were frankly stunned at how well a V8-powered Defender 110 with its chassis in Dynamic managed to capably carve a mountain road. The long-travel brake pedal will definitely take some getting used to if you’re coming from a crossover or car, but the brakes are easily modulated and you get used to them. In total, there’s really no contest when it comes to on-road drivability between the Defender and those other off-roading competitors. Of course, the Land Rover is also a lot more expensive.

Off-road, we found it to be just as impressive thanks to its stiff “D7x” all-aluminum unibody, class-topping approach and departure angles, optional adjustable air suspension, new screen-based Terrain Response system, two-speed transfer case, and with the 3.0-liter engine option, a standard locking center differential and optional active rear-locking diff. Those are joined to systems that — should you choose — take all the guesswork out of four-wheeling, including a water-depth wading sensor and a camera view that essentially makes the hood disappear. This is an invaluable feature when negotiating rocks or cresting a hill without a spotter – is that an equal slope on the other side or a precipice? Of course, opting for the 90 brings its own inherent advantages to off-roading if you’re tackling tight and technical terrain.

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As for the engines, the base inline-four’s 0-60 time won’t wow, but its abundant torque and smart ZF automatic transmission should make it feel quick enough. Perhaps more to the point, the turbocharged, supercharged and mild-hybrid 395-hp inline-six very much seems like overkill. In our 200-plus miles behind the wheel on a trip up and over Oregon’s coastal mountains, we never came close to needing its full potential despite climbing steep grades and passing slower vehicles. It also adds even more complexity to an already complex vehicle from a brand with decades of questionable reliability.

All of that said, we’ve also now driven a Defender with the supercharged V8, and although it certainly provides whatever is more than overkill, holy cow is it easy to fall in love with. Besides the extra, buttery-smooth thrust, the engine flows through four fat tailpipes that deliver a rich, rumble that couldn’t possibly get old. Lay into it and that rumble becomes an angry warble that never strays into silly popping and crackling. The Defender is a proper gentleman.

What other Land Rover Defender reviews can I read?

2021 Land Rover Defender 90 Off-Road Review | No Time to Dry

We take the Defender 90 for a romp through an off-road course to see how Land Rover’s two-door handles the rough stuff.

 

Land Rover Defender 110 Luggage Test | Boxy is better

Taking a close look at all the Defender’s many cargo-related features and design elements, plus how much it can bit behind its back seat (the picture below is a hint).

 

2020 Land Rover Defender Interior Tour

A closer look at the interiors of both the Defender 110 and Defender 90.

 

2021 Land Rover Defender 90 First Drive Review | Turning heads on and off the beaten path

Our first go-round in the two-door Defender where we talk shop and provide initial driving impressions.

 

2020 Land Rover Defender 110 First Drive | As good as you hoped

Our first drive on American soil of the Defender 110, including off-roading driving impressions. 

 

2020 Land Rover Defender British First Drive

British correspondent Andrew English drives the Defender on its home turf.

2021 Land Rover Defender 110 PHEV

 

2021 Land Rover Defender 110 in Colorado

We make the Defender look pretty in this exclusive video of the Defender in beautiful Colorado.

 

What is the 2023 Defender price?

We’ve already covered the differences in the various Defender body styles and powertrains, now it’s time to discuss the various trim levels.

The base and S are the typical trim levels where the upper S one has more equipment. The SE has even more equipment and the standard six-cylinder engine, but largely looks the same inside and out. The X and X-Dynamic also have the standard six-cylinder, but have unique design elements and interior materials (the X’s part-black hood is its giveaway). The Defender V8 has the obvious change under the hood, 22-inch wheels (which are a silly choice for an off-roader, we’d opt for something smaller), a unique upholstery of leather, suedecloth and an usual textile called Robustec, and most of the Defender’s available equipment. There’s also the V8 Carpathian Edition, named after “Ghostbusters II” villain Vigo the Carpathian (probably), that gets unique styling elements, including black wheels.

Defender 90

S: $56575
SE: $60,850
X-Dynamic SE: $70,575
X: $89,875
V8: $109,375
V8 Carpathian: $116,475

Defender 110

Base: 54,975
S: $59,775
SE: $70,775
X-Dynamic SE: $73,775
X: $92,375
V8: $112,775
V8 Carpathian: $119,875

Defender 130

S: $69,475
SE: $79,775
X-Dynamic SE: $82,875
X: $101,375

 

What are the Defender safety ratings and driver assistance features?

Standard on every Defender is forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning, a driver inattention warning system, a 360-degree parking camera and wade sensing (basically a sonar system that can tell you how deep water is). Adaptive cruise control is a stand-alone option.

The Defender had not been crash tested by a third party at the time of this writing.