The Land Rover Defender and its slightly bigger sister, the Discovery, offer off-road talent and a similar number of seats for a similar price. But the Defender has been too hot to stay on the lot since it was first introduced in 2020 while the Discovery is often a hard sell. Why? The Defender’s toy-truck design and historical reputation promise more fun and excitement, and it delivers on all counts.
For 2023, the new 130 body style offers a full third row with 13.4 inches added behind the rear axle. That’s in addition to the standard four-door 110 and the short two-door 90, and the new version makes the Defender the only SUV on the market offered in these configurations. This is now Land Rover’s most popular model, having recently eclipsed the Range Rover, the full-size flagship that retails for double the Defender’s $54,975 base price. Land Rover staked its reputation on rich, adventurous lifestyles—never mind the at-times horrendous reliability of the vehicles—and the Defender is riding home with the loot.
The only direct competitor, in terms of capability and price, is a Jeep Wrangler. A base Mercedes-Benz G-Class can’t be purchased at the Defender’s highest price. That leaves regular-looking SUVs like the BMW X5, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Mercedes-Benz GLE to duke it out with the Defender. The comparatively plebeian Toyota 4Runner and Ford Bronco are nearly as capable, but no other SUV in this class combines such an overkill amount of 4×4 prowess with all the expected levels of technology and comfort.
There’s genuine off-road capability to back up all the bougie pretensions, whether it’s a cloth-lined, steel-wheeled base model or a V-8 road rocket on air springs. Everything about it is legitimate and purposeful. But pricing aside, the Defender isn’t for everyone. It rolls heavily in corners, steers like a truck, and builds up so much friction it slows when traveling downhill. It’s a gas hog even with a turbo four-cylinder. And if you’re expecting a luxurious, exquisite interior, look elsewhere. The Defender doesn’t act like all the other midsize luxury SUVs on sale.
For many buyers, the Defender’s flexible seating arrangements will win the day. Available for five, six, seven, or eight passengers, the Defender offers a front jump seat and two types of third-row benches. Four gasoline engine choices span from 296 horsepower to 518. Air springs can raise the vehicle to more than 11 inches off the ground. Cameras can show the view beneath the hood. Then, there are all the factory accessories and trim choices that make this a true luxury vehicle—colors, roof racks, winches, ladders, you name it. This is a specialty SUV.
There are 18 trims across three body styles. Here’s a helpful cheat sheet: The V8 and blacked-out Carpathian Edition are available only on the 90 and 110, the most stripped-down trim is exclusive to the 110, and the base 130 is the only trim with a lower-output version of the inline-six. The Defender isn’t conventionally luxurious and like other serious off-roaders it does mean on-road compromises, but it’s not quite like anything else.
Most Defender trims (SE, X, X-Dynamic) use a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six with an electric supercharger and a 48-volt battery mild-hybrid system. The Defender cannot run solely on electric power, but while stopped it kills the engine and restarts it without any of the shuddering that plagued older auto stop-start systems. Total output is 395 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. It’s smooth, quiet, and provides enough thrust for this heavy vehicle.
The engine to avoid is the 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four unless you’re hell-bent on ordering steel wheels and getting dirty on the trail. Smaller 90 models without weight-saddling options like the air suspension will do fine with this engine’s 296 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque but on the road, the Defender will get dusted in traffic. That’s why the base 130 comes with a detuned version of the inline-six, with the same 296 hp but 347 lb-ft of torque. Every Defender comes with an 8-speed automatic and full-time four-wheel drive, locking differentials and a low-range transfer case.
At the top of the lineup is the Defender 110 V8 Carpathian Edition, with a 5.0-liter supercharged V8 that has powered Jaguars and high-end Range Rovers for the past decade. The exhaust is muted compared to Jaguar’s versions and the numbers are also lower: 518 hp and 461 lb-ft of torque. That’s still plenty to move nearly three tons of Land Rover with alarming speed. Performance all-season tires on 22-inch wheels come standard but 20-inch wheels on all-terrain tires are a $350 option.
While off-road performance is terrific, the on-road experience suffers next to other luxury SUVs. The Defender is plush and quiet in a straight line. In sharp turns, it’s clumsy. Turning quickly is not on the agenda. The optional air suspension cannot overcome the body’s physical inertia—this truck rolls, pitches, and dives every chance it can get. Compared to the old Defender, it’s world-class. Next to anything modern (except possibly the Wrangler), it’s merely adequate.
The Defender also has another ace up its sleeve: towing capacity. Six-cylinder versions can tow up to 8,200 pounds while fours and V8s can manage 7,716.
Fuel Economy: 8/15
Fuel economy is expectedly poor on a four-wheel drive vehicle with no aerodynamic profile. But at least the more powerful six-cylinder (18 mpg city, 23 highway and 20 mpg combined) returns greater mileage than the smaller four (17, 20 and and 18 mpg combined, respectively). These numbers are well shy of the four- and six-cylinder Wranglers, especially with the optional diesel, and also below the Bronco and most midsize crossovers, though they are better than the 4Runner.
The V8 on the 90 and 110 is rated at 14 mpg city, 19 mpg highway, and 16 mpg combined, which is worse than both the Jeep Wrangler 392 V8 and the Ford Bronco Raptor. While other luxury SUVs with V8s drink just as much gas, they’re faster and more agile than the Defender. At least the regular Defender models are on par with a Jeep Wrangler, but in any trim, they consume more than a conventional SUV in the midsize class.
Safety & Driver Assistance Tech: 10/15
The Defender has not been rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which costs it some points in our evaluation. It did receive five out of five stars in tests by the European New Car Assessment Program (EuroNCAP), an EU agency that performs similar tests.
Every Defender has forward emergency braking, lane-keep assist, blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alerts, 360-degree cameras, and traffic sign recognition. Adaptive cruise is standard on X and V8 trims and optional on all others. Semi-autonomous cruise control is unavailable.
Comfort & Room: 11/15
No other midsize SUV offers as much seating flexibility as the Defender. The two-door 90 and four-door 110 can be ordered with a jump seat for three across in the front. The 110 offers a rear jump seat for “5+2” seating in place of the front jump seat. Finally, the 130 has a full-size third row. That means a Defender can seat five, six, seven, or eight passengers in any number of configurations. Cloth seats are standard on base models, while two grades of leather are available on upper models.
The Defender 90 and 130 have 36.6 inches of rear legroom. The 110 has 34.0 or 34.6 with the optional third-row jump seat. A two-door Wrangler has 35.7 inches; a four-door Wrangler offers 38.3. The Mercedes-Benz GLE and BMW X5 score similarly to the Defender. The third row in the 130 offers a separate climate zone and moonroof, and its 31.6 inches of legroom aren’t bad for the class and more than the Jeep Grand Cherokee L (30.3), but still shy of the Discovery’s 33.5.
The Defender comes standard with a seven-inch instrument panel display and 10-inch touchscreen with navigation, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto. An 11.4-inch touchscreen and a fully digital 12.3-inch instrument panel with full-width maps are optional, as is a head-up display. The larger touchscreen offers taller, 1:1 dimensions for greater legibility. The Defender runs Pivi Pro, Jaguar Land Rover’s latest software that is faster than its previous InControl Touch Pro. The software can update itself over-the-air and comes with a few built-in apps with a data plan, though in-car Wi-Fi is optional. A smartphone app allows remote connections to the vehicle.
As a Land Rover, the Defender comes with unique features such as a front camera that’s wide enough to render the ground view beneath the front wheels. Sensors can detect if the vehicle is approaching its maximum wading depth. More graphics depict the vehicle’s vertical and horizontal angles. Multiple driving modes alter the Defender’s incredible off-road capability depending on the selected terrain. Unusually for a Land Rover, the software works very well.
Cargo Space & Storage: 11/15
There’s ample space in a Defender. Even the 90 model can seat three up front with the rear bench folded. In the 90, there are 15.6 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 58.3 when they’re folded. The 110 has 34.0 behind the second row and 78.8 when folded. On 110 models with the third row, total space decreases to 69 cubic feet with all rows folded, 34.6 cubic feet behind the second row, and a paltry 10.7 behind the third row. The 130 has 80.9 cubic feet of space in total but only 13.7 cubes behind the third row. Folding the third row in the 130 produces 43.5 cubic-feet behind the second row.
There are plenty of cubbies and storage bins, including an optional refrigerator in the front console. The available roof racks, which can come equipped with a folding side ladder, can handle as much as 360 pounds (on the 130), more than enough for a rooftop tent.
Style & Design: 8/10
The exterior design is the entire point of the Defender. No other vehicle looks so instantly recognizable and carries the prestige of the Land Rover brand. It’s a status symbol but also incredibly down-to-earth.
Inside, the Defender is too basic—think Wrangler but with better fit and finish. Priced above $80,000, it doesn’t offer the trappings and finishes of other SUVs. Think of it more as a high-end campground instead of a five-star hotel. Regardless, the design is authentic and classic. Land Rover offers so many ways to customize the exterior, from ladders to brush bars and a locking case for wine glasses (really). No detail is left unturned.
Is the 2023 Land Rover Defender Worth it? Which Defender is the Best Value?
The best value is a Defender 110 S that stickers for $59,975 including destination. Without options, this trim comes well-equipped with the inline-six, 19-inch alloy wheels, 12-way power heated front seats, and leather. All the aforementioned driver assists come standard, as do features like an auto-dimming rearview mirror, keyless entry, wireless charging, and other basics that typically cost extra on other luxury SUVs.
A Defender is only worth as much as you’re willing to pay. Priced in the $60,000-range it’s a great value when a high-trim Wrangler costs just as much. This is a refined vehicle despite the clumsy handling. Above $80,000, the Defender loses touch with reality. Any other midsize luxury SUV can outgun it, handle better, and provide a richer interior even if an X5 won’t be going off-road anytime soon. Above 100, it’s fun—but an insane buy.
How Much does it Cost to Insure the Land Rover Defender?
The Land Rover Defender’s Insurance costs vary significantly by model. According to our data, a typical 30-year-old female driver with a clean record can expect an average annual premium of $3,180 for a Defender 110 P400, but $3,285 for a V8 version and $3,695 for a Defender 90 V8, though four and six-cylinder 90s cost less than their 110 equivalents. This data averages all 50 states. That compares to $2,185 for the V8 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon (the most expensive version of that vehicle), $2,017 for the Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road and $2,892 for the BMW X5 xDrive40i. To get a more accurate picture of your potential insurance expenses, visit our car insurance calculator.