The Land Rover Defender really got its start with the original Land Rovers, which are now called Series Land Rovers to distinguish them from later vehicles from the British automaker.
The first Land Rovers went mostly unchanged from 1948 to 1985, with a variety of wheelbases, body styles, and drivelines. Land Rover made more than a million of them, and the original Rovers became the stuff of legend.
In 1983 Land Rover brought out the next generation of the same basic idea with the Defender, and made another million Defenders until the end of production in 2016. Note that the Defender was not officially imported to the United States after 1997, though many made their way across the Atlantic as gray-market vehicles.
After a four-year Hiatus, Jaguar Land Rover rebooted the Defender name on a new luxury SUV platform. Make no mistake, this new Defender has absolutely nothing in common with those old aluminum boxes on wheels except for the name.
The 2023 Land Rover Defender 110 is a high-luxury, high-dollar SUV that maintains the rugged off-road chops of the Defender, but with all the modern technological benefits and a sport-luxury interior. Where the original Land Rovers were quite slow and even underpowered on pavement, the new Defender can be specified with a state-of-the-art 5.0-liter V-8 engine and an 8-speed automatic transmission instead of the old manual gearboxes.
If you can name a tech feature, the Defender has got it. Realistically, it’s probably more capable off-road than the old Defenders, but you wouldn’t want to damage it.
The entire outside of the 2023 Land Rover Defender is an homage to the original Defender, but modernized. It’s similar in nature to the rebooted Ford Bronco or the GMC Hummer. It’s squared-off, blocky and macho.
You can get it in a two-door short 90-inch wheelbase, a four-door 110-inch wheelbase, or a 130-inch extra-long wheelbase design. Unlike prior generation, there’s no pickup truck cab version; they’re all SUVs.
Our test vehicle was a high-line trim model, with the optional V-8 engine, so it has everything that Land Rover could put into the vehicle. The seats are trimmed in Dinamica Suedecloth, and they are both heated and ventilated with power everything. The second row is also heated. In a nod to off-road usability, the floor is covered in rubber mats. There’s three-zone climate control and get this — a refrigerated compartment in the center console.
One point to make about the Defender, the rear hatch isn’t a hatch. It’s a door that opens from the left side. That’s not the best for access, but it’s unique.
As is typical with Jaguar Land Rover products, you have a range of engine options with the Defender. The base engine is the parent company’s Ingenium 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder. You’ll find that engine in various Jaguars and Land Rovers like the Jag XF sedan and the Range Rover Evoque. It’s been around for a while now and it’s a solid performer with 296 horsepower.
You can also get a 6-cylinder mild hybrid with 395 hp. However, our test vehicle came with the 5.0-liter V-8 with 518 hp and 461 pound-feet of torque. This is the top of the line and only the most expensive Range Rover models have more power.
Behind the engine is an 8-speed automatic transmission with full-time all-wheel drive and a 2-speed transfer case. The Defender includes Jaguar Land Rovers well-developed All Terrain Progress Control and Terrain Response 2 automatic programming. Basically, this SUV is much smarter than you are when it comes to navigating off-road, and you should just let it do its thing if you find yourself in the wilderness.
For our test model, towing is rated at 8,200 pounds, and the Defender 110 is rated for about 1,400 pounds of payload, including passengers.
Safety and Technology
Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have evaluated the Defender, but it comes with a good list of safety tech features. Land Rover has their REMOTE system for emergency collision notification, stolen vehicle locator and remote starting. The Defender also comes with all the usual traction and stability controls, plus emergency braking support.
On the luxury side, you get adaptive cruise control and a speed limiter to keep you at or below the posted speed limit. There’s a 360-degree camera and 360-degree parking radar, blind-spot monitor, lane keeping, traffic sign recognition, and a rear traffic and clear exit monitor as well. In short, it’s an up-to-date SUV.
A 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster is standard, as is a 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard. So too does wireless charging, which is integrated into a vertical slot the that conveniently holds your phone in place while its charging. That said, the charging indicator icon is too small to be legible.
On the dash, Land Rover provides an 11.4-inch screen for infotainment, including navigation. That’s connected to a 700-watt Meridian sound system. One last piece of tech is the camera-based rear view mirror, which I really like.
The Defender 110 is a pretty big SUV, and it rolls on some pretty aggressive off-road tires, so don’t treat it like a sports SUV on pavement. If you want that, you can save some money and pick anything from the Range Rover lineup. Get the Evoque, it’s great for that. But provided you keep things under control, the Defender is comfortable and easy to drive.
The one thing I found annoying is the way the Defender moderates takeoff from a stop. All of these vehicles have to damp down the power for low-speed driving, or they’d be jumpy if you so much as breathe on the gas pedal.
But the Defender is so damped down that you have to give it more accelerator pedal than you really expect to get it to move. Consequently, it can feel a little sluggish off the line until you learn how much foot to put down.
I didn’t do any off-roading in my week with the Defender, but I have faith in Land Rover. I’ve used the company’s All-Terrain Progress Control before and its near-magical in its ability to gain and maintain traction. If I had to pick an SUV to traverse the Amazon basin, I could choose a Defender with confidence.
Bottom line: If you want a big off-road capable SUV and you’re willing to spend the money, this Land Rover is a great option.
2023 Land Rover Defender 110 V-8 Specifications
|Dimension||L: 197.5 inches/W: 82.9 inches/H: 77.4 inches/Wheelbase: 119 inches|
|Powertrain||5.0-liter V-8 engine, 8-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive|
|Fuel Economy||14 mpg city/19 mpg highway/16 mpg combined|
|Performance Specs||518 horsepower and 461 pound-feet of torque|
|Price||Base price: $111,300; As tested: $113,695 before $1,475 destination charge.|
|On-Sale Date||Available now|
There are many combinations of trims, engines, and vehicle sizes available with the Defender. First, you’ve got the three wheelbase lengths, and each of those has 4 or 5 trim levels. The most affordable Defender 110 with the 4-cylinder engine starts at $53,500, and the short wheelbase 90 starts just a little above that at $55,100. The long wheelbase 130 edition starts quite a bit higher at $68,000.
Things get more expensive very rapidly from there. The top Defender 90 V-8 Carpathian Edition stickers at $115,000, and the same trim in the 110 costs $118,400. In between you can get the 6-cylinder engine or the V-8, and a good selection of trims.
If I was buying a Defender with my own money, I’d head for the low end of the price range, mainly because I like the short wheelbase Defender 90 and I think the 4-cylinder engine offers plenty of power while being more in keeping with the original Land Rover spirit. Honestly, there’s not much in the five additional trim levels that I would want to pay for, but I would buy the rubber mats and towing hitch, so I’d bring my Defender in right at $58,825 including the $1,475 destination fee.
2023 Land Rover Defender 110 V-8 — Frequently Asked Questions
Is the Land Rover Defender a reliable car?
Motor Trend reported, “Yes, everything that ‘broke’ has been minor and relatively easy to rectify. I still wouldn’t hesitate to hop into the MT Defender for a cross-country overlanding expedition.”
Can the Defender carry more than the Land Rover Discovery?
In terms of overall cargo capacity, the Defender 110 offers an additional 4.5 cubic feet of space compared to the Discovery.
Is the Land Rover Defender a luxury car?
Yes, The Land Rover Defender is a true luxury car. It carries a base price of $53,500. From there it spans the full range competing with both the Jeep Wrangler and the Mercedes-Benz G Wagen.