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Land Rover Defender 130 P500 2024 review: plenty of space and power, but also rather excessive

Fitting the biggest Defender with a thumping great V8 results in plenty of brawn, but it does feel a bit unnecessary

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.5 out of 5

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Verdict

In a word: excessive. Few people will be able to justify the 130 body style, let alone this alarmingly thirsty V8 powertrain. That’s not to say it lacks appeal; the engine is brawny yet smooth, and while it’s no sports car, the Defender still handles well for something so enormous. Yet when all is said and done, the cult off-roader is still best suited to a torquey (and mildly more efficient) diesel engine. That’s where our money would go.

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We're big fans of the Land Rover Defender here at Auto Express – our editor-in-chief will admit he preferred running the boxy 4x4 over his plusher and more refined Range Rover during their time on our long-term test fleet. There’s something about a Defender you can’t help but love.

It’s mostly justified, too. Its character and sense of occasion are hard to match, but the Defender’s utility, practicality and user-friendly interior make it a genuine all-rounder. There’s a model to suit all circumstances, too: three lengths, countless specs, plus a choice of petrol, diesel or plug-in hybrid power. You can even have one with a supercharged V8.

That’s the version we’re driving here – now available with the biggest and most brash body style. At almost 5.4 metres long and over two metres wide (the wheelbase is unchanged over the shorter 110’s), the 130 not only looks a little ungainly, it can also feel it at times. Not so much in normal driving, but you’ll be grateful for the countless cameras when parking – especially if you regularly have to leave your car on the street.

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But that’s true of any 130. And while there are plenty of similarities between the flagship car and the more rational diesel version, that V8 heart transplant gives this Defender a personality of its own. Push the starter button and you’re greeted by a crescendo of revs – recognisable by anyone who’s sampled the soon-to-be-axed Jaguar F-Type, with which this Land Rover shares an engine.

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It’s this part of the car that ultimately defines the driving experience. The sound is obviously entertaining, but perhaps not as raucous as you might expect. It’s actually rather muted at a cruise, creeping into life on the exit of corners, or if you’re brave enough to attempt a full-throttle overtake.

Doing so requires use of the steering wheel-mounted paddles, because left in D the gearbox is hesitant to respond. Once the cogs gather their thoughts, however, the rear squats and the nose points to the sky, rocketing the Defender from 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds. This is a quick car rather than a genuinely rapid one, with a swell of torque that builds in line with the 4x4’s boisterous soundtrack.

But utilise that straight line speed and you’ll soon need to consider the lardy 2,631kg kerbweight, which takes a little while to rein in. We’ve no complaints about the brakes themselves, but physics has its limitations and the Defender’s outright size is definitely one of them.

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Another limitation closely linked to this car’s mass – plus that old-school supercharged V8 – is its ability to return sub 20mpg fuel economy even in test conditions. In reality, you’ll likely see mpg numbers in the mid-teens, or less if you drive with anything other than a featherweight right foot. Emissions of 325g/km mean this Defender isn’t likely to feature on anyone’s company car wish list any time soon, either.

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But all that bulk cannot detract from what is still a surprisingly good car to drive. The ride is plush and refinement is solid for something this bluff-fronted. And while there’s plenty of pitch and roll to contend with, grip is unbreakable; the pictures you see here are not representative of the lashing rain we had to contend with on our drive. 

The one benefit of the sodden winter weather was a dramatic off-road route that showed off the Defender’s capabilities to their fullest. Slippery tracks, rutted ravines and deep water proved no match for this evergreen off-roader. The longer rear overhang posed few problems, and the 130’s turning circle is only slightly wider than the 110’s, meaning there’s little tangible trade-off when the going gets tough.

Otherwise, the Defender is a car that continues to justify its price point with a high-quality cabin and usable technology, plus controls that feel both sturdy and luxurious. You don’t get the same squashy dashboard finishes you’ll find on a Bentley Bentayga or even a Mercedes G-Class, but the Land Rover’s Suedecloth steering wheel is lovely to hold, and we found the seats comfortable yet supportive, even after a long day of driving.

That huge body means there is space in all three rows; most 130s get eight seats, and while you wouldn’t want to sit in the rearmost middle seat for long stints, it’s accommodating enough for children, or short trips.

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Of course, the boot is vast, whether you go for the existing diesel or this new V8. Even with every seat occupied there’s more space (389 litres) than you’ll find in a Volkswagen Golf, while folding the third row gives you 1,232 litres to play with. The Defender can even double as a van with everything down; a maximum 2,291 litres of load space makes this one of the most practical cars on sale – if you can contend with that huge side-hinged back door.

Unlike the rest of the Land Rover range, the V8 isn’t available with the usual choice of trims – instead acting as a standalone specification. As you’d assume for almost £117,000, it comes well equipped, proven by the fact our car was fitted with just one option: a £530 extended subscription to a secure tracker service.

Every version of the 130 V8 gets 22-inch wheels wrapped in all-season tyres, a sliding panoramic roof, matrix-LED lights and privacy glass. Inside, there are 14-way heated and cooled leather seats, plus the excellent Pivi Pro 11.4-inch touchscreen infotainment set-up, digital dials and a Meridian sound system. All of the Terrain Response systems are included, and every model rides on electronic air suspension – helping the car both on and off road.

Price:£116,845 (Defender 130 from  £73,850 / £117,375 as tested)
Engine:5.0-litre V8 supercharged petrol
Power/torque:493bhp/610Nm
Transmission:Eight-speed auto, four-wheel drive
0-62mph:5.7 seconds
Top speed:149mph
Fuel economy/CO2:19.6mpg, 325g/km
On sale:Now
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Deputy editor

Richard has been part of the team for over a decade. During this time he has covered a huge amount of news and reviews for Auto Express, as well as being the face of Carbuyer and DrivingElectric on Youtube. In his current role as deputy editor, he is now responsible for keeping our content flowing and managing our team of talented writers.

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