05 November 2023
Land Rover Defender 130 HSE Review – Offroading Goliath

Do you want space and the ability to go anywhere? Well, look no further than the Land Rover Defender 130, a goliath ready to take on any adventure.

“Why is this thing so long?” you may ask. Well, it’s a Land Rover Defender 110 with an extra chunk of bodywork plonked on the back, plus some extra seats. 

This is the Defender 130, which was first shown in May this year and arrives as the fourth model in the Defender range. The others are the 90, the 110 and the commercial-spec Hard Top (not sold in Singapore).

“Why does this exist?” Well, Land Rover introduced the Defender 130 for the 2023 model year to cater to a broader audience, especially those with big families or carpooling habits. 

This is now the king of the Defender lineup, and it dwarfs almost everything else in the JLR family. Size is good, but does this added bulk make it an issue in a cityscape like ours?

That’s exactly what we’re here to find out.

I like them big

Admittedly, I expected to like the Defender. I mean, just look at it, what’s not to like?

The 130 model is closest kin to the 110, but there’s that additional 340mm of bodywork aft of the rear wheels and seating for eight inside (compared to the 110’s seven). As a result, this behemoth is colossal – just shy of 2 meters tall, just over 5 meters long (not including the spare wheel), and 2.1 meters wide, with its robust wing mirrors included. The wheelbase? Exactly the same as the 110’s.

The extended Defender retains the familiar charm of its smaller siblings. The same imposing front grille, square taillamps, and that quirky “signature graphic” floating C-pillar. It’s all there.

And why should they change the design? It was already a good balance between rugged boxiness, just what you’d expect from a true off-roader. This design isn’t just for looks either; it maximizes cargo space and gives you a clear sense of where this beast begins and ends, which is essential when navigating tricky terrain.

It’s not a monotonous, flat design. It’s subtly curved, adding a touch of modernity while honouring the legacy of the old Defender – the one that was as robust as a tank but about as comfortable as a bed of nails.

I like them chunky

Settling into the driver’s seat, you might not even notice that you’re piloting a more extended Defender until you glance in the rearview mirror. What catches your eye? An impressive array of eight headrests.

Apart from that, the fantastic Land Rover cabin remains mostly unaltered. Body-coloured sheet metal, exposed hardware, and that rugged steel dash – it all blends seamlessly, giving the Defender a rugged charm that’s anything but cheap.

The cabin exudes strength and practicality, yet it carries an air of luxury. The buttons and switches are large and chunky, designed for gloved or off-road hand use. The dash-mounted gear selector is electronic but feels robust, shifting with a satisfying, purposeful click.

Every cup holder and storage surface is coated with high-quality rubber to keep everything steady while you tackle rough terrain. It’s spacious and airy, with tall, upright windows providing excellent visibility. Some might find the visible rows of exposed torx bolts a bit over the top, but Land Rover makes it work.

The Defender’s infotainment system impressed me – a pleasant twist compared to Jaguar and Land Rover’s prior complaints of slow, clunky touchscreen infotainment systems. The newest system is intuitive, responsive, and free from digging through endless submenus. 

The large touch icons are easy to use while driving, and there’s even a fixed icon for the exterior cameras on the right side of the screen, making parking in tight spots a breeze. While the menu layout can feel a bit overwhelming, you can arrange the most-used functions on the main screen for quick access. Kudos to Land Rover too for keeping physical climate controls.

If you’re planning some serious off-road action, the Defender’s infotainment system comes packed with off-road features, from torque split to steering angle and wade sensing. The Defender 130 can tackle up to 80 centimetres of water depth, in case you were wondering.

Let’s get to the crux of the matter – space. Land Rover boasts that you can comfortably seat eight adults here, and while the third row is best for a maximum of two, there’s no denying the capacious interior.

Each passenger has their designated space, and there’s no need to elbow each other for breathing room. The upright seating and expansive windows alleviate any claustrophobia concerns, while the second-row seat slides and reclines for optimum comfort.

With the seats up, the cargo space is a bit tight, just under 400 litres, which might disappoint camping enthusiasts. And the rear door opens horizontally, not upwards, which can be an issue for certain parking spaces. But, fold down the third row, and you get a generous cargo bay that can swallow camping gear and more, without sacrificing the comfort of the front seats.

It’s utilitarian and brash, practical yet excessive. I just love it.

Where we go, we don’t need roads

The Land Rover Defender 130 might be a touch longer, but it doesn’t compromise its off-road prowess significantly. Sure, the departure and break-over angles are slightly tighter, but it’s a minor difference. And let’s be honest, anyone venturing far off the beaten path isn’t doing so with an eight-seat SUV and a car full of kids. So, the Defender 130’s extra practicality barely impacts its off-road capabilities.

This HSE-spec Defender 130 packs a P400 3.0-litre inline-6 engine, delivering 394bhp and 550Nm of torque. It comes with an eight-speed automatic gearbox and full-time four-wheel drive as standard.

The robust P400 straight-six doesn’t break a sweat hauling around the extra weight, which is about 250kg more than the equivalent 110. Sure, it’s thirstier, but splurging on the bigger engine and road tax is the right choice.

From the moment you slide the gear lever into ‘D’ and get rolling, the Defender oozes an unwavering, indomitable character. While the 130 features adjustable air suspension, it rides with truck-like confidence, making it feel invincible.

The ride is comfortable, not bouncy, and it absorbs bumps with finesse, keeping the towering body in check and maintaining a planted feel. The steering might be slow, as you’d expect in a Defender, but it’s direct and nicely weighted.

Despite its massive roofline and elevated stance, the Defender controls wind and road noise impressively.

However, for this model year, it’s a bit baffling that the 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 doesn’t offer adaptive cruise control as an option, although it will be standard on all models for 2024.

For now, lane-centring technology, automatic emergency braking, and blind-spot monitoring come standard and work effectively to keep the SUV on the right path.

The Defender 130 offers one of the most comfortable rides of any off-road vehicle, thanks to its four-wheel independent suspension and robust body structure. This isn’t surprising, though; the Defender has always been among the planet’s most capable SUVs straight out of the box. What makes the Defender 130 special is that it excels not only off-road but also as a family SUV.

Of course, when you drive something as big as this, fuel consumption will take a big hit. My average across my whole test drive was 6.8km/litre; mighty respectable nonetheless, but prepare to visit your local fuel station more often with this.

Taking the road less travelled

If you’ve wanted an 8-seater offroading capable machine, there just aren’t that many options out there on the market. Why would you need other options anyways, when you have this?

Granted, it’s not perfect. It’s a tad too big for most carparks on our sunny shores, and with the seats up, cargo space is pretty limited. But, if you’re the kind of person who needs a bulky candidate to get the job done, the Defender 130 presents you with not only space to ferry folks around, but also the promise of adventure. I’m almost certain no other people carriers can offer the same visceral experience behind the wheel.

Even if you’re not tackling a mountain ridge or scaling vertical rock climbs, this car offers a driving sensation unlike anything else on the roads. You feel like a true explorer, even if that shovel attachment add-on never saw dirt in its life.

For that reason alone, I absolutely adore the Defender.

Technical Specifications

Land Rover Defender 130 HSE

Engine: 2,996cc 6-cylinder 24-valve Twin-Turbocharged
Power: 394bhp
Torque: 550Nm
Gearbox: 8-Speed (A)
0-100km/h: 6.6 seconds (claimed)
Top Speed: 191km/h
Fuel Economy: 8.1km/L (claimed)
Price: S$402,888 with COE (accurate at the time of this article)
Contact: Wearnes Automotive

Photo Credits: Sean Loo (@auto.driven)

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