2023 Land Rover Defender 130 Review

PROS:

  • Sophisticated style
  • Endless power
  • Pampering comfort

CONS:

  • Pricey
  • Limited legroom in SWB
  • Thirsty

EDITOR’S QUOTE:

There aren’t many SUVs out there with true pedigree, and among all else that’s what the Range Rover delivers in spades.

It’s hard to put a price on poise, on stateliness and presence. I can quantify cargo space and performance figures until I’m blue in the face, but some vehicles offer something a little bit more, something a lot less substantial though no less important.

The Range Rover is absolutely one of those vehicles. Though it has evolved incredibly over the generations, the position it has earned as a posh all-roader has remained strong over the last few generations. What you see here is the latest, fifth generation installment, the most refined and luxurious Range Rover yet and, under the skin at least, the most advanced.

Understated elegance

Take a passing glance and you might not even notice that anything has changed, but closer examination shows that this new Range Rover is quite radically evolved, controversially so. Everything here is smooth to an extreme, winged eyeliner on those now narrower headlights extending mid-way back over the front fenders while the rest of the nose details have been minimized.

The nose is smooth, as is much of the rest of the car, with very little detailing applied to break up the giant swaths of bodywork that cover this 17-foot-long, six-foot-tall SUV. Many have called it too understated, but to my eye at least it looks far from boring.

About the only highlight on that long, gentle journey from nose to tail is the vertical slat detailing on both front doors, a seeming reference to the fender vents on the third-generation L322 Range Rover. Beyond that, even the flares over the giant 23-inch rear wheels are slim.

Above the belt-line, the Range Rover is entirely blacked out, dark tint paired with black paint on roof and pillars creating a simple, clean look. In fact, much of the brightwork on this First Edition Range Rover is darkened, part of a $1,000 options package.

The SUV terminates with a set of taillights that are Lilliputian in comparison to the rest of the Range Rover’s proportions, curiously sized and positioned. It’s a bit odd, much like the new Defender’s tails seem mis-sized, but again like on the Defender somehow it all works. The whole package is stately and sophisticated, especially in the Champagne-like matte Sunset Gold Satin hue here. Even covered in winter road salt it looked good, and that’s not something you can say for most cars.

Interior appointments abound

I’m not convinced that the interior would look so good with similar amounts of muck and grime. The warm, white leather that extends from headliner to floor definitely defines this particular Range Rover as more of a limousine than a proper utility vehicle, but given the extent of the comfort appointments here, that’s appropriate.

This Rover has the Executive Class Comfort package, offering proper executive seating in the rear with massaging for both second-row passengers and even an extending footrest for the right-rear. Shame, though, that there just doesn’t seem to be quite enough legroom to really enjoy it in this short wheelbase model. With the seatback-mounted display units, which can stream media from HDMI, sitting in the back can feel just a little bit claustrophobic despite the generous headroom.

The seats pose another problem should you actually want to carry anything in your Range Rover: they don’t fold flat. Yes, they do fold, automatically even, going through a carefully choreographed sequence of motions and clicks as various latches engage and disengage, but at best they only fold to about a 30-degree angle. Worse, with those seatback displays protruding, they won’t fold without awkwardly pushing front seat occupants forward. Yet more evidence that this particular Range Rover configuration is designed for hauling people.

Up front, driver and passenger have similarly appointed thrones, with five separate massaging routines, each with customizable direction and intensity. Seat heaters are likewise intense and the heated armrests a nice touch on cold days. There are physical, tactile controls for seat heating and cooling, Lang Rover’s dual-purpose knobs that also control HVAC settings, but to fiddle with the massage settings or any of the other hundreds of options here you’ll need to dig into the 13.1-inch touchscreen that floats above the dashboard.

Tech and infotainment

Land Rover’s Pivi Pro infotainment system feels quite solid and responsive, offering plenty of configurability as well as quick access to things you’ll need quickly, like parking cameras — bolstered here by a neat feature that turns your car transparent to let you see what you’re driving over. Though I found the voice recognition infuriatingly obtuse, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay obviate that to a good degree.

Behind the steering wheel is a 13.7-inch, dynamic gauge cluster with three different views: a barebones Focused mode, the traditional Dials mode, and a full-screen nav view. That’s controlled by a touch-sensitive pad that rests beneath your left thumb, while a similar pad on the right handles cruise control. There is at least a physical roller for volume on the left and a rocker on the right for adjusting cruise-control speed, but in general these touch surfaces are hard to use without looking down, a big step backwards from previous tactile controls.

In fact the cabin is remarkably free of buttons and knobs. Yes, there’s still a tactile volume knob down in the center between seats, and a drive mode knob as well that pops up if you want it, but just about everything else has been consumed by the touchscreen and various other touch surfaces. Even the seat adjustment controls have capacitive touch pads for setting memory.

Other than the on-wheel controls it all works well enough, and it looks good, too. Again I fear the longevity of leather interiors of this color in an SUV, but then the people who buy these are rarely too concerned about long-term viability, and in the moment everything looks stark, clean, and sophisticated. It all feels good, too. Materials everywhere are top-notch, even the headliner and the insides of the pockets in the doors, doors which must be the heaviest portals known to man. Park on an incline and be prepared to throw your weight behind these things to get out.

Ride quality

On the move, everything is quiet and calm and composed. Part of the appeal of those giant rear seats is that they’re actually positioned ahead of a sort of rear bulkhead. That’s I’m sure partly why the rear legroom is a bit compromised, but it does help to cut out the excessive road noise that SUVs can offer. That makes for a fine soundstage for the 29-speaker Meridian sound system, which doesn’t shout for your attention like some premium audio systems, but it deserves respect just the same.

Ride quality is similarly relaxed, with just a hint of stiffness on bigger bumps to remind you that this is indeed a very capable off-roader. Locking differentials front, center, and rear help keep the power moving where it’s needed, while eight separate modes ensure you’ll have just the right amount of throttle response and suspension compliance for whatever you need. There’s even automatic wade sensing for those everyday fording opportunities, an off-road specific heads-up display mode, and the ability to make four different custom configurations. This is, as ever, the perfect companion for posh off-roading.

In its most aggressive on-road mode the Range Rover is certainly willing in this, the P530 engine configuration, the 523-horsepower, 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 not offering much in the way of throttle response. But, give it a moment to build boost and this massive machine surges forward. This is the sort of car that will usher you up to speed quickly and just keep piling on velocity if you’re not careful. It’ll just keep drinking more and more fuel, too. The P530 is rated for 16 mpg city, 21 highway and 18 combined. I netted 20.5 mpg in my testing, most of which was spent on the highway.

Best to use the cruise control, then. It’s adaptive, of course, and works quite well at maintaining speed smoothly in traffic. Sadly, the active lane-keep system doesn’t work so well. It had a tendency to wander in the lane, sometimes jerking the wheel abruptly, which is unpleasant in a big SUV. It seemed to frequently confuse asphalt snakes for line markings, especially at dusk, which left me turning the system off unless visibility was pristine.

Other active safety systems include active blind spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking front and rear with pedestrian detection, and occupancy alerts to ensure nothing (and nobody) gets left behind.

Pricing and Options

This First Edition Range Rover was well optioned and priced appropriately, $158,200 to start but stickering at $169,900 with $7,450 for the Sunset Gold Satin paint (exorbitant but worth it), $1,000 for the blacked out detailing, another $1,000 for the blacked out roof, $900 for the 23-inch wheels, and another $1,350 for delivery.

For that money you could cross-shop this with something like a Mercedes-Benz GLS or even an Alpina XB7. That’s some luxe competition, in many ways even more posh and comforting.

But then they’re not Range Rovers, without the presence, off-road capability, and frankly the dimensions of this thing. There aren’t many SUVs out there with true pedigree, and above all else that’s what the Range Rover delivers in spades.


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