I have to confess: I can be judgmental. They say to never judge a book by its cover, but isn’t that the point of the cover? So when I snagged the keys to this 2024 Land Rover Defender 130 Outbound, I passed judgment even before climbing in: I thought it was going to be a capable off-roader, but with on-road manners akin to a WWE wrestler trying to win a figure skating competition.
Boy, was I wrong. The Defender certainly came to its own defence — yes, that’s a dad joke, but I’m a dad, so it’s allowed — almost immediately. It’s an attractive, brutish looking thing with a long wheelbase and wide, commanding presence, especially with the suspension aired up to its highest setting. Decked out in white, the Defender 130 is hard to miss; the front end is a well-executed blend of modern elements and retro design cues harking back to the Defender’s long and rugged past.
The headlights are perhaps the most striking part of the retro-modern motif, clearly taking cues from past Defenders while being inherently modern LED units that, you know, actually light up the road ahead. The hood features black accents with a diamond plating pattern, complemented by additional black accents on the fenders.
The side profile is boxy and slab-sided, as a Defender should be. The wheel arches integrate black trim that tie into matching side sills running from wheel to wheel, while meaty Goodyear Wrangler all-terrain tires wrap around black 20-inch wheels. Our tester’s Fuji White paintwork suited the Defender and definitely made the panel covering the rear side windows stand out. Out back, square-lens LED tail lights and a painted spare tire with “DEFENDER” proudly laid across finish off the rear end. Overall, the 16.5-foot-long Defender 130 Outbound comes off as properly imposing, but I could do without the panel covering the rear side window. It’s better suited to the shorter 110 edition, as it results in too much blank space on the stretched 130.
The Outbound treatment is subtle overall on the outside, with minimal cosmetic changes to differentiate it from your standard issue Defender, but the biggest differences are inside. The Outbound is the only 130 model that eschews the third row in favour of a massive cargo area; it’ll accommodate over 1,000 litres with the seats still up. Yes, this 16.5-foot SUV is only a five-seater, but you can certainly pack a lot of junk in its trunk for a family getaway.
Beyond the cargo hold, the interior of the Defender is a nice place to be, and what surprised me the most. When most manufacturers play off the rugged motif, you usually end up with a gimmicky interior, an outdated one — hello, 4Runner — or both. Not so with the Defender; there are tasteful rugged elements like exposed, body-coloured metal trim on the doors, exposed screws, and beefy grab handles, but beyond that, the Defender feels luxurious and modern. Most switchgear is pulled from other Land Rovers, but that’s not a bad thing. You still get physical buttons and knobs for climate controls and functions like air suspension and drive/terrain mode adjustment.
Infotainment is displayed on an 11.4-inch touchscreen that is easy to use and has some of the nicest graphics I’ve seen in a while, coming off way classier than you’d expect in such a “rugged” vehicle. The digital gauge cluster works well and isn’t guilty of any major UX no-nos, the leather-wrapped seats are comfortable for both short and long hauls, and space both up front and out back is plentiful. The Defender’s cabin is easy to enjoy, especially with your phone hooked up wirelessly to Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, and you’ve got the Meridian sound system cranked up.
The Outbound is classified as a P400 model in the Land Rover world, meaning a smooth, turbocharged 3.0-litre inline-six and a 48-volt mild hybrid system that helps with coasting, braking, and the automatic start/stop system. Power is routed through an eight-speed automatic gearbox and a two-speed transfer case, making up its very capable all-wheel drive-system. Total output is 395 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque, more than enough for this 5,600-pound brute to not feel asthmatic. There is a V8 available with over 500 horsepower, but you don’t need it. [You never need a V8, but you always WANT a V8. —Ed.]
The Defender’s air suspension allows a total of around eight inches’ worth of of ride height adjustability, allowing you to scale tough terrain with ease, but the big shocker is how good it rides on pavement. The Defender is smooth and easy to drive for long road trips, with the only caveat being the all-terrain tires making slightly more noise and vibration over 110 km/h. The air suspension also keeps things in check when you’re being judicious with the throttle, maintaining a level of composure and handling I certainly didn’t expect.
The problem with being judgmental is that it’s easy to put your foot in your mouth. The Defender certainly gave me a taste of that: my expectations were ho-hum and although it didn’t totally blow me away, I was genuinely impressed with how premium the Defender feels, how easy it is to live with, and how composed it is on pavement despite the ruggedness. And at $104,990 as-tested, the 2024 Land Rover Defender 130 Outbound isn’t inexpensive, but you get a lot for the money, and I’d even argue it has more presence than a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen that costs triple the price. Maybe never judging a book by its cover has some merit after all.