Looking for a luxury midsize SUV that lets you traverse a stream and navigate boulders on your drive? The 2023 Defender is an off-road beast and also well-mannered for driving in the city. It’s loaded with features and tech and has robust performance, but it’s not as opulent as some rivals and fuel efficiency isn’t good.
Base Price: $111,300
As Tested: $113,695
Mileage: 14 mpg city/19 mpg highway/16 mpg combined
The Defender is Land Rover’s most capable off-road vehicle. It was launched for the 2020 model year but actually goes back decades to the first Land Rovers that were introduced in 1948. In the last few years, a larger touchscreen and a supercharged V8 engine have been added. For 2023, the Defender 30th Anniversary Edition is unveiled and an 11.4-inch touchscreen is now standard.
There are two-door and four-door models and six trims: base, Defender S, Defender X-Dynamic, Defender X, Defender V8 and Defender V8 Carpathian Edition. Starting prices range from $53,400 to $118,400. Most models have room for five passengers in two rows of seating. Four-door models have an optional third row that’s cramped and challenging to access.
All trims are ready for off-road adventures with standard with four-wheel drive, two-speed transfer case, hill descent control, automatic wade sensing and the Terrain Response system which lets you select different driving modes: Grass, Gravel, Snow; Mud and Ruts; Sand; Rock Crawl; and Wade. More off-road options are available including All Terrain Progress Control, an off-road low-speed cruise control, and Terrain Response 2 system which automatically adjusts the drivetrain and suspension for the terrain you’re driving on. Off-road tires, an air suspension, and an electronic active differential are also available.
When equipped with the air suspension, the Defender has a top ground clearance of 11.5 inches and can traverse water up to 35.4 inches.
There are three engines: a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 296 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque; a turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder that produces 395 horses and 406 pound-feet; and a supercharged 5.0-liter V8 that cranks out 518 hp and 461 pound-feet. All are paired with an eight-speed automatic.
My tester has the V8 which makes for very muscular performance. Acceleration is fast and hustles this nearly three-ton vehicle from zero to 60 mph in about 5 seconds. There’s more than enough oomph for merging and passing at freeway speeds. The eight-speed shifts quickly and smoothly. The Defender also has a comfortable and refined ride that you’d expect in a luxury SUV. Steering and brakes are responsive, and the Defender feels planted when cornering. The cabin is library-quiet with road and engine noise kept at bay.
When properly equipped, the Defender can tow up to 8,200 pounds.
Fuel economy ranges from poor to average depending on the model EPA ratings for my tester with the V8 are 14 mpg city and 19 mpg highway with a combined rating of 16. I got 17 mpg during my week with a mix of city and highway driving. Premium gas is required.
The cabin is upscale with nice materials but not as opulent as some other luxury SUVs. The vehicle’s boxy shape makes for an airy feel and plenty of leg- and headroom in both rows. Seats are comfortable and supportive even on long trips.
Standard features include proximity keyless entry, surround-view camera system, dual-zone automatic climate control, auto-dimming rearview mirror, cloth upholstery, heated and eight-way power-adjustable front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, infotainment system with 11.4-inch touchscreen, six-speaker audio system, satellite radio, HD Radio, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, wireless device charging, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a universal garage door opener.
Available features include a rearview mirror camera, tri-zone automatic climate control, leather or Windsor leather upholstery, 12- or 14-way power-adjustable front seats, front-seat memory settings, ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, heated second-row seats, center console refrigerator, 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, 10-speaker Meridian audio system, Wi-Fi hot spot, ambient interior lighting, cabin air ionization, household-style power outlet, partial cloth roof, panoramic roof, and automatic high-beam headlights. An Activity Key is also an option – this is a wristband that lets you lock and unlock the Defender without the key fob.
Standard driver assistance technologies include forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, forward automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, traffic-sign recognition, rear cross-traffic alert, and safe exit assist which alerts passengers exiting the Defender to vehicles approaching from behind.
Available driver assistance technologies include adaptive cruise control.
The infotainment system is user-friendly with logically arranged menus. The touchscreen looks great with crisp graphics and the system responds quickly to touch and voice commands.
The four-door Defenders have average to good cargo space. There are 34 cubic feet with both rows of seats in place, and a generous 78.8 cubes with the second row folded. The rear cargo door opens from the side and is heavy due to the mounted spare tire.
Available in a wide variety of configurations
Well-equipped with features and tech
Many standard and available off-road features
Upscale, spacious cabin
User-friendly infotainment system
Standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
Price can climb in a hurry
Heavy rear door
My tester starts at $111,300. Wi-Fi with limited data plan is $360. Basic interior protection/storage pack are $560. Destination fee is $1,475 bringing the grand total to $113,695.
The 2023 Defender has serious off-road chops that let you explore far off the beaten path. But it’s also civilized for city driving and road trips. Land Rover has taken a classic and equipped it with plenty of modern amenities while keeping its adventurous spirit.