Super-sized, supercharged, super-silly; largest Defender gets a dazzling 493bhp V8 which works shockingly well

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Approaching three years into the life cycle of the ‘new’ Land Rover Defender, the model range has expanded a little. As has the car.

The Land Rover Defender 130 is the extra-long version of the off-roader-cum-SUV. Decades ago, back in simpler and more innocent times for Land Rover’s promotional strategy, it would have been the one that looked most at home in safari-style brochure pictures, with a cut-down roof, tourists standing in the back and some big game wandering past in the distance.

Nowadays, however, the 130 is the only Defender to offer more than six seats: two up front and three in both the second and third rows (unless you plump for the five-seat Outbound variant and its van-sized rear cargo bay). It’s not available with Land Rover’s front-row jump seat, because that would make it a nine-seater and, for UK taxation purposes at least, technically a minibus. But with what Land Rover claims are eight adult-appropriate seats at its disposal and nearly 400 litres of luggage volume left over when all are in place, the 130 makes a particularly spacious and practical car in any case, even by the standards of large family SUVs.



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And so it should, frankly, measuring 5358mm in overall length. The car’s extra length is concentrated entirely within a rear overhang that has been extended by 600mm, as well as reprofiled slightly to minimise the compromise to the car’s departure angle. That means it has the same wheelbase as the Defender 110 and only a slightly larger turning circle. 

It has a higher standard equipment level than the 110, however, getting height-adjustable air suspension as standard, which accounts for at least part of the car’s relative weight penalty (130s are about 200kg heavier than equivalent 110s).

From launch, engine options were restricted to mild-hybrid six-cylinder petrols and diesels. With the rear-axle packaging associated with the P400e plug-in hybrid option, an eight-seat 130 PHEV would be a very long shot.

Happily, though, working a supercharged 5.0-litre V8 under the bonnet to create a new mega-Defender was obviously a much easier (and no doubt far more profitable) exploit, and so here we are on the eve of Land Rover's electrification, welcoming the latest, loudest and most loutish entrant into the 130 line-up: the P500. 

You get the sense, given the general trajectory of the car market and prevailing public opinion, that something this large and uncouth shouldn’t really exist in 2023. This hulking, imposing goliath – all 2670kg, 5000cc and 5358mm of it – arrives as the latest in a long line of mammoth-engined, go-anywhere apocalypse wagons from Land Rover - a brand that in less than 12 months will be selling its first electric car. How’s that for diversity?

The 130 V8 takes the Defender name into hitherto untapped territory, not just in terms of its heft and presence, but in its positioning in the heartland of the sporting luxury SUV sector - where it contends obviously with the Mercedes-AMG G63, but also indirectly with other V8 behemoths like the Audi RS Q8 and certain flavours of Porsche Cayenne.

Like the 90 and 110 V8s, the most powerful version of the stretched 130 uses JLR’s 'AJ' supercharged V8, rather than the new-school 4.4-litre BMW V8 as deployed in top-rung Range Rovers, albeit downtuned a touch to give ‘just’ 493bhp and 432lb ft.

JLR bosses refused to tell us whether this would be the last time we would sample the hallowed AJ, but production has finally come to an end after nearly three decades and the units used here are from a stockpile of indeterminate quantity, with some reserved for the last-of-the-line Jaguar F-Type, so it seems the end is nigh.


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Land Rover is on a firm footing in claiming that the 130 is a car big enough for a larger party of adult passengers. While other three-row SUVs offer only child-sized quarters in row three, the Defender’s rearmost seats provide decent head room and leg room for two full-sized occupants. Fitting three adults in the third row wouldn’t be particularly comfortable, and access to and exit from them is via the usual rigmarole of sliding and folding the second row forwards and squeezing through a pretty small gap - only after you’ve disturbed anyone travelling in row two, of course. 

Still, for bigger families with older kids, the Defender should offer plenty. The outer seats in rows two and three have Isofix child seat points, as does the front passenger seat; both second and third rows fold down 40:20:40, for optimal carrying versatility; and with all the back seats flat, the Defender offers more than 2500 litres of outright storage. It’s not quite a van-sized carrying space, but it’s not far off.


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Off road, the 130 handles and performs much as a 110 does. Although the 110 was already a big car anyway, the common wheelbase means there’s no marginal trade-off on agility or manoeuvrability for the extended version.

It can feel wide on narrower forest tracks, but visibility is good and the car’s extremities are easy enough to gauge; and you can rely on Land Rover’s low-range transfer gearing, ground-clearance-boosting air suspension, standard-fit Pirelli mud and sand tyres, and excellent electronic traction, stability and hill descent control systems to make the car haul itself through deep ruts and puddles, up muddy slopes and down steep drops safely - and without troubling its driver to do much more than keep a steady hand on the wheel, and a sensible toe on the accelerator pedal.

On the road, Land Rover’s well-tuned air suspension reins in the 130’s greater size and mass well, and its D300 Ingenium diesel engine also has the torque and refinement to make performance assured and pleasant. We didn’t have the opportunity to test the car fully loaded with occupants, in which condition you would doubtless be aware of the extra weight being carried. But, in pretty light-loaded condition at least, it showed little distinguishable compromise to body control or drivability relative to a 110. 

What of the supercharged V8 variant? For a brand whose engines have never been the star of the show, there’s something admirable about how this new super-Defender celebrates its motor without overshadowing or compromising the attributes that are so intrinsically associated with its name.

There’s a muscular but understated baritone on start-up, which befits the sinister aura cultivated by the black-on-black-on grey paint scheme and chrome quad-exit exhaust, while cultivating a sense of occasion that you have to argue is rather more obvious and aspirational than that of a diesel workhorse.

So too is it incongruously and hilariously quick. In a straight line, grunt is delivered with such surprising immediacy and captivating aural drama that you quite forget the sheer size and weight of the damned thing. The squeal of the supercharger alone is a joy to be savoured, giving way as the revs climb to a viscous, angry growl that simply can’t be matched for charisma by the BMW V8.

It can be overbearing and ostentatious, indeed, but only when called for. At more sedate speeds, the V8 is no more intrusive than the engines available elsewhere in the Defender line-up. You could drive it for weeks at normal speeds and completely forget what was under the bonnet – until you noticed that it had been averaging fewer than 20mpg the whole time.


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The modern Defender drives and handles like a big car with an unusually wide-reaching dual-purpose brief rather than like any remotely ‘sporty’ utility vehicle. But it handles tidily, intuitively and fairly precisely - and that’s true of any version of it, the 130 included. The car’s outright size will no doubt be the greatest and most persistent hurdle to its usability. It’s only just under two metres in overall height without any roof apparatus (so watch those city-centre car-park height-restrictors, folks) - but more importantly, at nearly 5.4m long, it would be a tough car to fit into most marked parking spaces. This car is longer, even, than some double-cab pick-up trucks.

For the V8, though, the faintly agricultural architecture means its rambunctious firepower is unchecked in corners by any trick electronic chassis systems that help to mitigate weight transfer and deploy power more effectively. As a result, the body lean is severe enough to warrant you kerbing your easily-won pace well in advance of the corners, and the steering – while agreeably predictable and nicely weighted – is no quicker nor more responsive than on the standard car.

More importantly, even with the extra 340mm of metal behind the rear axle to dent its departure angle, this longest of Defenders remains a deeply impressive off-roader. The silky diesel straight six is the more obvious choice for serious work, being more manageable and predictable at the low end and actually with slightly more torque to count on when scaling the rockiest outcrops, but you can count on the same indomitable array of off-road assistance systems here. Even when presented with some fairly fearsome-looking inclines and obstacles, it never really felt like we were probing the outer limits of the 130 V8’s capabilities.

Riding on air as standard, the 130 can be raised at the flick of a switch to give the same 291mm of ground clearance as ‘lesser’ Defenders, whereupon (in low range and with hill descent mode configured appropriately) it will follow them pretty much anywhere you could reasonably expect it to. Inevitably, at more than a metre longer than the comparatively tiny 90, the 130 struggles to quite match its range-mates for manoeuvrability on the narrowest of tracks, and we were forced to take a second stab at some of the tightest hairpins on our off-road route.

So too do crowded, dimly lit car parks probe the very limits of your hand-eye coordination and patience. Land Rover says the 130’s size, prestige and practicality credentials will appeal particularly to the likes of the Sunday-morning rugby crowd, but I wouldn't want to negotiate a full, sodden field in one of these after the 80-minute whistle.


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The diesel-engined version of the 130 nets slightly upwards of 30mpg on the WLTP combined cycle, for which you can only really commend it, given its unignorable bulk. The petrol straight-six injects a hit of extra performance at the expense of some frugality, to the tune of about 5mpg.

While the 5.0-litre V8 might offer a surprising blend of punch and refinement, it adheres rigidly to expectations in returning a combined 19.6mpg - making the Defender 130 P500 (just about) the thirstiest car in the Land Rover line-up. If that bothers you, it's very much not the car for you. 


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If you know you’ve got the physical room for it in your life, and if you need the sheer space and passenger-carrying capacity it provides of course, this could still be the right Defender for you. If you don’t, the car’s extra bulk probably won’t be worth the penalty it imposes, at least at times. An outlier model it may be, but the existence of the 130 really only broadens the reach of the Defender line-up as a whole and underlines the uniqueness of what continues to be one of the most genuinely versatile new cars in the world.

As for the V8 - ultimately, its 22in alloys, low-profile tyres and city-spec paintwork give the game away: this has certainly not been conceived as a Defender in the most traditional sense of the name. It’s silly, really; not big and not clever. Well, actually: massive and unfathomably capable…

It's a car of contradictions, then, and one that there's no reason on Earth you would need to own. But need and want are never mutually exclusive.

Felix Page

Felix Page
Title: News and features editor

Felix is Autocar's news editor, responsible for leading the brand's agenda-shaping coverage across all facets of the global automotive industry - both in print and online.

He has interviewed the most powerful and widely respected people in motoring, covered the reveals and launches of today's most important cars, and broken some of the biggest automotive stories of the last few years.