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Land Rover’s new 8-seater Defender 130 is out‘SAND’ing

The launch of the new Land Rover 130 essentially completes the new family line up for the Defender nameplate, and where best to test out this big 8-seater’s off-road capabilities than the ultra-challenging sand dunes of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. 

Land Rover says that globally, their new Defender has already proven to be very popular in both its 90 and 110 variants, a statement that’s supported by the fact that due to demand, their plant in Nitra, Slovakia has increased production to ‘around the clock’ and even then, there are still backorders for about 4-6 months, so they decided that the time was right to ‘complete the family’ and add the 8-seater 130 to the mix.

Land Rover Defender 130 First Drive

“We designed all three vehicles together,” Stuart Frith, Vehicle Programme Director JLR told us, “the 90 and 110 were introduced a number of years ago and 130 completes the picture.”

For those that don’t know, the 130 nameplate dates back about 30 years to the original Defender, and originally related to the longer 130-inch wheelbase, but this new model has quite a different concept which starts at the wheelbase. 

Land Rover Defender 130 First Drive

The new Defender 130 has been designed as an 8 seat vehicle from the onset, however, rather than extending the wheelbase it is exactly the same as the 110’s (3022mm), so all the 340mm extension has been added to the rear of the rear axle. Land Rover says that by extending the vehicle rear of the rear wheel (as opposed to extending the wheelbase), you get more width behind the wheel arch housing which has allowed them to ‘comfortably’ put three occupants in row three. And when they say comfortably, they really mean it. 

Most of the other 8-seaters in the segment have the 3rd row seats sitting lower with the occupant’s knees being higher and therefore more uncomfortable. The Defender 130’s 3rd row offers really good posture for the seating position, which is important for long journeys. 

Land Rover Defender 130 First Drive

To add to the 3rd row occupant’s comfort, there are padded armrests, cup holders, USB sockets, small item stowage, four-zone climate control and they even have own glass sunroof – giving natural light to the rear and (alas) negating the need for those classic alpine lights.

The architecture itself is the D7X, (which is aluminium intensive) with the X standing for extreme, so it’s a very tough monocoque structure that provides a very firm base for the suspension systems both on and off road – more on that soon.

Infotainment comes via an 11.4-inch Pivi Pro system (as in the 90 and 110) and with software over the air JLR are continually updating the system, so the 130 has now got the latest in connectivity such as what3words navigation (seriously look into this, it’s amazing).

With 3rd row seats up, luggage space is 389L (1200L when folded down) and very configurable, and there is also a 5-seat version for those that prioritise luggage space, with 2,600L and a flat load floor.

Land Rover Defender 130 First Drive

Outside, the proportions of the 130 are actually more classic than the 110. From a pure design perspective, the balance that you get with the rear overhang is the optimum of the three car range. The linearity is there, the upright back end is still there and it clearly has the Defender silhouette. Oh and the spare wheel on the back gets a colour coded hard cover too. 

More Importantly, the rising rear gives a departure angle of 28.5 degrees, which is an advantage over the 130’s competitors when venturing off road. (approach and break over angles are the same as the 110 – 37.5/27.8 respectively).

Along with the D7X architecture you get the all round air suspension as standard with adaptive dynamics. This means 430mm of cross axle articulation and wade up to 900mm. The ground clearance is 290mm in the off road ride height, however, there is an extra ride height position above that, and (as I discovered), if the 130 is sat on the sand and you can’t move, there is further extension available.

Land Rover Defender 130 First Drive

Land Rover explained that the reason we were all assembled in Dubai was because they have an engineering centre there, they base their extreme hot-climate temperature test work here and of course, it’s where they conduct their sand driving tests.

Dubai Sunset

Our first night in Dubai was spent in the luxurious Address Grand Creek Harbour, an undoubtedly 5-star hotel that looked across the water to the main centre of Dubia (and offered an amazing sunset. However, once properly rested, the ‘work’ began early the next morning.

Land Rover Defender 130 First Drive

For our sand dune driving pleasure we would be behind the wheel of the 130 SE P400 (3L 6-cylinder Petrol MHEV 400PS/550Nm), in either Fiji white or my pick of Sedona red with ebony full Windsor leather seats and smoked oak veneer. All models were already well-equipped with  the side storage box and ladder, but our rides also came with a roof rack complete with an extra spare wheel, extra fuel, sand ladders and a shovel (no bucket). 

To underline the severity of what we were to expect, the 130’s also came with an additional protective system on the front and a bluetooth winch – we were instructed to ‘push the cars and ourselves to our limits, but enjoy it.’

Land Rover Defender 130 First Drive

The initial convoy drive from Dubai Creek Harbour to the nursery dunes took about an hour and that gave us plenty of time to get to know the biggest Defender. Oddly enough, its 5.36m length didn’t feel too imposing on the tarmac and aside from the wind noise generated by the additional off-road gear, the cabin’s silence felt rather serene. The seats were supportive and yet supple and the air suspension (in comfort) simply lapped up the miles.

For the first sand dune introduction, we let the 130’s Terrain Response 2 system figure it all out by itself, which it did with ease. The sand was soft but the gradients were not too steep, and we all navigated the slopes with aplomb – ‘it’s a bit like skiing you have to float through it’. However, things got more extreme when we got through the gates of a special ‘hand-picked’ reserve.

The Goodyear Duratrac tyres were dropped to 20psi, the sand mode was engaged and the height was raised – along with our pulse rates. We were specifically told to not stop on the flat, but as I found out, it’s not always possible when travelling in convoy, and with the 130 in front coming to an abrupt stop on an incline I managed to dig my wheels in on the flat, the first to do so – yay.

Land Rover Defender 130 First Drive

Thankfully, the combination of expert tutelage, raising the ride height, engaging rock mode,  and being slow on the throttle, had me out of my rut in a jiffy. I wish to point out that this was the ONLY time I got stuck, and others fared much worse, but even so they managed to get free with a little help from a tow or two – no 130 was left behind. 

Land Rover Defender 130 First Drive
Land Rover Defender 130 First Drive

There were a lot of heart in mouth moments, with gradients and slopes that I for one didn’t think we’d conquer, but even with us group of rookies behind the wheel the Defender more than proved its worth – a sentiment underlined by the fact that none of the instructors got stuck.

Land Rover Defender 130 first drive

Once clear of our sand-rovering (and tyres being reinflated), we were left to our own devices and Pivo Pro navigation to get to our final destination, the Bab Al Shams resort, which included a spirited 160kmh drive (the actual speed limit) along Abu Dhabi freeways. It was a total contrast to the dune driving but again, the big 130 wasn’t fazed at all. 

Land Rover Defender 130 First Drive

With our sandy exploits now resigned to the Defender 130’s rear view mirror, it was time to relax and where better than the Bab Al Shams resort in Dubai. Set in what feels like the middle of nowhere (although it’s only an hour from Dubai airport) the Bab Al Shams Desert Resort is quite simply an Arabian oasis between magnificent earthly beauty and playful indulgence (alright that’s what they say) but hits the nail squarely on the head. It’s a modern hotel/resort that’s been made to look like yesteryear Arabia and it’s a place that you’ll never, ever want to leave – and that’s not overselling it. 

Bab Al Shams
Bab Al Shams

Alas we did have to leave the next morning, but not before having a sumptuous breakfast and a massage.

Land Rover Defender 130 First Drive

The new 130 not only completes the Defender family dynamic but with eight comfortable seats on offer, it can take all the family and friends with it. What’s more, with its ‘all-terrain capability’, it makes light work of whatever you may throw at it – from school runs to the middle of the Arabian desert, this is an adventurous 8-seater that’s truly out’sand’ing.

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