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Forget the school run, this is what Defenders are really designed for : credit: © Tom Critchell
Martin heads to Yorkshire in the new Defender 130 to answer that age-old question – is bigger better?

They say that first impressions count for a lot, and I’m inclined to agree. My first impression of the Defender 130 has nothing to do with the firmness of the seat, the reassuringly solid ‘thunk’ when shutting the door or the colour definition on the 11.4 inch touchscreen. Nope, the first thing I raise an eyebrow to when clambering aboard the newest body-style L663 is how far away the back window is when looking in the rear-view mirror. It’s almost like it’s in another county.

Even in a big landscape, the 130 has a large presence

To put things in perspective, the 130’s just-over-five-metre length is a whole 34cm longer than the current 110 and 40cm longer than the Disco 5, placing it on par with the newest Range Rover, and slightly longer than the Sport. These are all big cars, but somehow the 130 just looks and feels especially huge. Numbers on paper are one thing, but the size of this behemoth is really quite something when you see it in person.

Just in case you forget what it is you’re driving

Land Rover’s main reason for introducing the 130 body-style to the range (and yes, it’s a body-style, because the wheelbase is the same as the 110 version) is to offer an eight-seat Defender. Two up-front, three in the middle and another three in the third row. Boot space – something the 110 has been criticised for – is boosted hugely both with or without the rearmost row of seats in use, thanks to the increased overhang and pumped-up back end. I intend to take advantage of all this extra space by chucking all my camping gear in the 130 and heading north for a night under the stars, although as I load the Defender I can’t help feel as if I’m wasting my time taking a tent; I could quite easily stretch out full-length and get some shut-eye in the back.

Third row of seats can just about accommodate adults

Despite length, rear end still has good departure angles

Camping gear in place, I take a few steps back and study the 130’s shape more carefully. The way the bodywork tapers towards the back might look slightly awkward at first glance, but there’s no denying it’ll help maintain a decent departure angle off-road. This X-Dynamic HSE top-speccer sports Eiger Grey paint, and while I’m a wholehearted advocate for more adventurous hues on new cars it definitely suits the vehicle, especially with smatterings of gloss black trim and the contrasting roof breaking up the swathes of grey. While 20 inch wheels are hardly rare these days, I still wince when I see rubber band profile tyres on a big 4x4 – which is why I’m so pleased to see a decent, chunky sidewall in the Defender’s wheel arches.

Editor Martin is content to sit here for mile after mile

​​​​​​Climbing into this particular 130, I’m not only made aware of the length of the Land Rover, but as the interior lights fade, I can’t help but find the cabin a bit dark. I don’t mind black headliners and trim, but you really do need to get the huge panoramic sunroof’s blind open to let some natural light in, or it can feel a bit dingy. Luckily, a prod of the switch lets you programme the blind to close when you lock the car and then open again automatically when you get back in – that way the interior stays cool on hot days, but you don’t need bat-like sonar to find your sunglasses before setting off.

Stabbing the start button to wake the 296bhp 3.0-litre and pointing the Defender’s snub nose north on the A1, it doesn’t take long to settle into the 130. Even with the same wheelbase as its mid-size brother, handling at speed is incredibly sure footed and the eight-speed automatic gearbox makes the most of the diesel’s torque, never getting flustered or hanging onto gears too long, even when overtaking.

A far cry from the traditional Defender’s driving environment

I’ve been a fan of the Defender’s dash and console layout from the beginning. The familiar feel of a cubby box lid beneath your elbow, grippy cup holders, convenient USB charge ports and a non-slip platform to keep your phone from flying off into the footwell in fast turns all add up to a cabin that you could spend some serious time in comfortably. Having the climate and seat heating controls on proper dials as well as through the touchscreen is a great feature, and although the radio’s volume knob is just out of reach for the driver – the rollers on the steering wheel more than make up for that.

Premium audio is an option you may not need, but may want

Apple CarPlay and the Meridian audio both do their bit to ensure you don’t get bored on long journeys, and when the restlessness does kick in, you can ask your passenger to call up the Cabin Air Purification monitor on the touchscreen. Without doing some reading up it’s not immediately obvious what the numbers mean, but it’s interesting to watch them change as you pass through built-up areas and waft through the countryside. The Driver Assistance Pack that this 130 sports features blind-spot monitoring, which is helpful, and lane keep assist which isn’t. The real party piece of this pack, though, is the 3D surround camera set-up and 360° Parking Aid, which really does come in handy when I swing into a cramped Co-Op car park to grab some supplies for my overnight camp.

The 3.0-litre diesel’s 296bhp should be enough for most

While I’m aware this is a take on how I found the 130 specifically, it’s hard to ignore what an accomplished vehicle the L663 Defender is, whether you go for a 90, 110 or this one. Without wanting to overly wax lyrical, it’s hard to think of another vehicle that feels as at home in as many places as the Defender, and one that does everything so well. The mild hybrid power of the D300 gets you from 0-60mph in a smidge over seven seconds, and performance never feels lacking. If you fancy propelling yourself along with a bit more gusto, you could plump for the P400 straight-six petrol, or really push the boat out and go for the monstrous P500 V8. For general use though, the diesel gets the job done without ever feeling weak or strained. As I’ve said before, gearbox technology has really progressed considerably when it comes to getting the most out of engines, and that certainly applies here.

A big vehicle, but boy does it handle with surprising agility

Turning off the dual-carriageways and onto some twisty B-roads, the size of the 130 is much less of a problem than I was expecting. Yes, it’s wide, but because the extra size is all behind the back wheels, it doesn’t drive any differently to a 110. I was certainly expecting there to be a noticeable difference in the way the 130 gets around faster bends because of the extra 200kg it carries in eight-seat form over the smaller Defender, but I honestly struggle to tell. A hot hatch it isn’t, but for a large 4x4 that’s as capable as it is off-road, its highway manners aren’t to be sniffed at.

The X-Dynamic boasts excellent ‘premium’ headlights

Gravel crunches under the Pirelli Scorpions as I switch back off the road and onto the track leading down to my campsite for the night, Nun Cote Nook at Marrick. Darkness is falling, so I flick the lights on; while the Defender doesn’t have the super-fancy matrix headlights of the Sport or full-size Range Rover, it turns the hazy dusk back into daylight very effectively. This X-Dynamic has ‘premium’ headlights – I’ve heard some owners complain that the lesser-specced Defenders leave a bit to be desired in the lighting department.

With the 130, you can cram in everything that a reasonable person requires

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Wishing I’d taken more time to pack my gear in the order I’d need it, I pop the 130’s taildoor open and grab my camping stuff. This is the first modern Land Rover I’ve used that can easily fit my cot tent through the back door and have it lying completely flat in the loadspace, which means you can pile loads of stuff on top and still have acres of room for extras – like the liquid refreshments I’ve picked up en-route.

Campsite found, it’s time for some liquid refreshment

Tent up and a bottle of Golden Sheep ale in hand, the sun dips further behind the hills, and I take a minute to appreciate how much better the Defender looks in this environment rather than crammed into a supermarket parking space. Out in the crisp evening air, the 130’s styling grows on me. That previously awkward-looking rear end seems much more in proportion with the rest of the Land Rover out in the open, and as the Eiger Grey paint blends into the dusky sky, I finish my beer and turn in for the night.

I’m awake and packed up early the next morning, ready to give the 130 a chance to stretch its legs on some more varied terrain. The 3.0-litre Ingenium bursts into life and I idle the Defender out of the campsite and head for Reeth to grab a coffee. Suitable caffeinated, I pop the air suspension into extended height and start the ascent up the rocky Unclassified County Road that runs up Fremington Edge to Hurst; if you’ve driven this lane before you’ll know how steep and covered in loose stone certain sections are.

Suspension raised, the 130 is ready for the rough stuff

The lane hardly poses a challenge for the Defender’s sharp-witted traction control, although I do knock Terrain Response 2 into Rock Crawl mode to get the very most grip possible. The 130’s suspension gets moving and even with the road-biased mild all-terrain tyres, it dispatches the scrabbly climbs with relative ease. I jump out near the top, and take in the stunning view. Further on, the greenlane down to the ford at Holgate is tempting, but with the 130’s extra length in the back of my mind I decide discretion is the better part of valour and opt to give it a miss to avoid catching the bodywork.

Never doubt the new Defender’s off-road credentials

The next UCR runs from Marske across Skelton Moor to Helwith, and it’s this lane that makes me appreciate how incredibly well the 130, and L663 Defenders in general, ride across rough ground. Whether you like it or not, independent, long-travel suspension flattens the terrain far better than beam axles ever could, and with the air suspension at maximum height and no low-hanging differential to ding on rocks, it’s a confidence-inspiring ride as I pass by the military training area.

Meandering through Richmond, I spot another Defender coming the other way, this time a 110. We exchange a nod as we pass by, and I wonder what its owner would think of the extra space the 130 offers, and whether they would consider swapping theirs for the bigger model. I expect this is the decision that many 110 owners will face when it comes to trading theirs in for something newer – I suppose it depends if they are happy to live with the 130’s extra length.

130 is wide, but easy to judge...

...especially using the clever electronics that create an overhead view

Snicking through gaps and slotting into rows of parallel-parked cars is one part of 130 ownership that will take some getting used to. It’s all too easy to aim for a gap to let an oncoming vehicle through, only to forget the length of the car and leave a bit too much rear overhang protruding out into the road. Despite the width of the L663, driving in towns and villages is otherwise straightforward and the bodywork is easy to place – even more so when employing the absolutely brilliant 360-degree cameras that sprout from the mirrors, handles and grilles of the higher-spec models. The top-down view (reminiscent of playing the original Grand Theft Auto on the Playstation) is an absolute game-changer when parking up.

Unrivalled comfort yet still supremely capable

From Richmond, I head to Downholme and along the greenlane, to splash through the stream at the bottom having missed out on the ford earlier on. No matter what surface you drive on or how ‘spirited’ your driving style, the Defender does a fantastic job of maintaining comfort and refinement levels that other 4x4s can only dream of – it truly does make you feel ready to take on anything.

Time to go...

As I spin around and start the jaunt back south, I don’t dread the long slog along the A1 like I might if I was driving something else. In fact, I positively relish another few hours in the 130. Is this big Defender for everyone? Absolutely not. But if you’re still not convinced by the L663, I implore you to try one, properly, for yourself. And when you’re finally won over by the sheer competence of the vehicle, only you can choose which size suits you best. For sheer versatility, the 130 takes some beating.

 

Defender 130 MHEV X-Dynamic HSE 8-seater

Engine
Ingenium 3.0-litre 6-cylinder

Transmission
• ZF eight-speed automatic
• Two-speed transfer box

Performance
• Top speed:
119mph
• Max power: 296bhp
• Max torque: 479lb-ft
• 0-60mph: 7.1 seconds
• WLTP fuel consumption: 31.6mpg
• Turning circle: 13.1m
• Max towing capacity: 3000kg
• Price: £86,785 (as tested)

 

Where I stayed

Nun Cote Nook campsite
Marrick, Richmond, North Yorks, DL11 7LG
Nuncotenookcampsite.co.uk
01748 884266

 

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