~ A DriveWays Review ~
by Frank A. Aukofer

Napoleon Bonaparte got it backwards. But the supposed coiner of the phrase, “iron fist in a velvet glove,” ruled France in the 19th century and of course never experienced the 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 First Edition.

This sophisticated big and brawny sport utility vehicle from the British manufacturer is the opposite—more of a velvet glove inside the iron fist. From the driver’s seat on paved city streets or Interstate highways, its ambiance more resembles that of a comfortable limousine than a boondocks brawler.

Though some people believe the Land Rover was a counterpart to the American Jeep in World War II, it was crafted and introduced following the war in 1947. It soon developed a world-wide reputation as a rugged all-terrain vehicle. Older models, including those carrying the Defender model name, which arrived in 1990, are considered rugged classics and fetch high prices at auctions.

Newer Land Rovers and Range Rovers are now regarded as luxury vehicles like Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and Lexus, and carry cachet and prices to match. The owner of an East Coast trucking company bought a Range Rover mainly to park it in front of his headquarters to demonstrate that he ran a successful business.

There are three 2023 Land Rover Defenders: the two-door model 90, larger four-door 110 and the whopper of the trio, the 130, tested for this review in the First Edition version, called a trim level in the industry. This silky brute stretches 17 feet 7 inches, is 6 feet 6 inches tall and can carry up to eight passengers in three rows of seats. The middle and third rows have bench seats, each accommodating three passengers.

The 130 makes 395 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque from its 3.0-liter in-line turbo and supercharged six-cylinder engine. The power makes its way to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be manually shifted, with a two-speed transfer case. It also makes use of an electric motor in a mild hybrid system for extra boost and a slight improvement in fuel economy. Its city/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 17/21/19 mpg.

For a vehicle that weighs almost three tons, the 130 First Edition is relatively quick, with the manufacturer rating its zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration time at 6.2 seconds.

The tested Defender 130 First Edition also had about every luxury touch a prospective buyer might want: Perforated leather upholstery, real wood appointments, four-zone climate control, front center console refrigerator compartment, power leather covered steering wheel, panoramic glass roof, heated and cooled front seats with memory settings, heated second and third row seats, and an infotainment system with premium audio, Bluetooth, SXM satellite radio, and Apple Car Play and Android Auto

Safety equipment included automatic emergency braking, 3D surround camera, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, driver condition monitor, blind-spot detection, lane-keeping assist, and tire pressure monitor.

The tested First Edition 130 had a starting price of $86,175, including the destination charge. With a short list of options that included a towing package with all-terrain controls (towing capability is 8,200 pounds), a cold climate package, custom alloy wheels and a full-size spare wheel, the bottom-line sticker price came to $92,075.

One possible drawback: the spare wheel is mounted on the tail gate, which opens sideways, like a refrigerator door. It makes the door heavy to open and close, and it sticks up into the driver’s field of view out the rear window.

Between the intrusion of the spare and six headrests in the second and third rows of seats, vision to the rear is challenging. Fortunately, the second row slides forward and the third row seatbacks can be folded to improve the view. But it’s also important to adjust the outside rear-view mirrors correctly.

It has often been said that small vehicles should drive big and big vehicles should drive small, and the Defender 130 First Edition excels at the latter. As noted earlier, it drives steadily with accurate steering and its air suspension system delivering a good ride, and mostly silent running to enjoy the audio system.

Because of it size, the 130 requires attention and care in negotiating traffic and curving roads, not unlike a stretch limo.


  • Model: 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 First Edition four-door sport utility vehicle.       
  • Engine: Mild hybrid 3.0-liter six-cylinder; supercharged and turbocharged; 395 hp, 406 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shifting, all-wheel drive and two-speed transfer case.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 7 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA/SAE cargo volume: 81 cubic feet behind first row of seats, 44 cubic feet behind second row and 15 cubic feet behind third row.
  • Weight: 5,930 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 8,200 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 17/21/19 mpg. Premium gasoline recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $86,175.
  • Price as tested: $92,075.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review. Photos ©Land Rover