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Off-road travel for the whole family

If you look at today’s vehicle population, it’s pretty obvious that we good old Yanks like things big. I fondly remember when pickup trucks had two-doors and would fit inside the garage. These days they’re bigger and more capable than yesterday’s heavy-duty versions and what used to be called half-ton pickups now can carry more than a ton of payload capacity. Those truck thoughts occurred to me when the new Defender 130 arrived for testing.

Trucks may have grown over time, but it didn’t take Land Rover long to supersize its Defender model. Just like its rival Jeep, Land Rovers began prowling on and off road shortly after WW II. Of course Jeep got a head start by serving our troops at war. In contrast, the first Land Rover prototype was designed in 1947 by the British car company Rover when its chief designer Maurice Wilks fabricated an upright body over a Jeep chassis. Both brands went on to prosper, especially during our Sports Utility Vehicle heydays.


The Defender model was relaunched three years ago as an unremittingly upright reworking of its predecessor whose sales had been discontinued in our market in 1997 from lack of volume. A bit later, Land Rover executives obviously became aware of the public’s affection for a rugged, military style vehicle since Mercedes-Benz was briskly moving its G Series and independent fabricators were earning a good living by resurrecting box-like Land Rovers for American consumers.


The Defender series is available in 90, 110 and 130 models that takes a page from Land Rovers of the past when the numbers related to wheelbase lengths. At its 2020 launch, the company asserted Defender’s off-road credentials, a boast that was certainly creditable since every Land Rover model could demonstrate competent off-road capability, from its Evoque through plush Range Rover offerings. And in recent, rugged off-road events, Defender 130 models were quick to demonstrate their prowess.


Once I reconciled myself to the feature of bringing as many as eight people out to the wild in luxury, I found the big Defender 130 a perfectly comfortable SUV for domestic duty. The smooth, inline six-cylinder makes 395-horsepower and delivers it, along with 406-pound-feet of torque, through an eight-speed transmission to all four wheels. Of course moving 5,570-pounds comes at a cost at the gas pump with an EPA average of 19 MPG. On the bright side, Land Rover promises a plug-in hybrid version with around 50-miles of electric range before gasoline gets pressed into service.


The most interesting aspect of this big rig’s demeanor is the intentional lack of wood veneer, glove soft touches and other luxurious attributes we expect to find in premium products. Instead, the functional interior layout is all rugged and business like to remind you of its off-road capability. And while we didn’t go trail crawling, we drove through some deep sand with ease to visit the beach on a blustery day for the photo shoot. For comparison, an interesting rival to consider is Jeep’s new Grand Wagoneer.

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2024 Land Rover Defender 130

TYPE:  Front-engine, all-wheel-drive

ENGINE:  3.0-liter Turbocharged I-6

HORSEPOWER:  395 @ 5,000 RPM

TORQUE:  406 lb.ft. @ 2,000 RPM

BASE PRICE: $81,400

AS TESTED:  $95,025

FUEL CONSUMPTION:  17 city, 21 highway, 19 combined

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