The surprisingly agile off-roading capability of the 2023 Land Rover Defender 130

I found the most snow I could possibly drive through for this review. All for the cause, as they say. In my area, winter is winding down finally but I wanted to find a place where I could test out the off-roading capability of the Land Rover Defender 130 I was testing, a monstrous and luxurious SUV meant for people who prefer the best possible large transport vehicle.

Known as Terrain Response, this system involves a row of buttons you can use for any condition. I was particularly interested in the “wade” mode, which can apparently prep the vehicle (mostly by raising the height) so you can drive through three feet of water. I wasn’t about to test that one, but I did manage to find a setting that was perfect for snow.

I asked one of my adult kids to jump out and watch as the defender 130 rose up several inches after pressing the terrain button. It feels a bit like a magic carpet adjusting itself as you feel a discernible difference in height. As she climbed back in, we edged through about one foot of snow that was wet and sticky, but not at all any sort of challenge for the Defender.

I decided to try again at a slightly faster speed, and the traction control kicked in nicely to keep the Defender perfectly straight. I started to imagine where this would come in handy. In some areas where I live, the snow plows are a bit late to the game. They take some time to get to the side streets, and after a big storm, no one is going anywhere. 

I could see using the Defender to plow through heavy snow before the plows arrived, with one press of the Terrain Response buttons. It takes a few seconds to adjust the height, but once you are off and rolling, you have the ground clearance and traction for piles of snow.

Now, about that wade mode. I did try pressing it and noticed the vehicle rose up even higher than before. I am currently testing a Jeep Wagoneer II this week, and it has a similar button that allows you to lower the vehicle for more economical driving and raise up to a height that’s perfect for snow and mud, but we’re not talking actual wade depth.

From what I understand, the Defender 130 is one of the most capable — if not the most capable — off-roaders on the market right now. From the specs, this means for off-roading you can raise up a full 1.4 feet and wade through three feet of water with no problems.

In case you need to know, the Defender also has a twin-speed transfer box and has a body frame design that is three times more rigid than most “body-on-frame” designs. 

That means it is more than ready for mud, snow, water, rocks, or anything else you want to throw at it. I pictured a vehicle that would last for decades, and then, when it is ready to be handed down to someone else, would make for a terrific off-road machine when you don’t have to think about dings and scrapes.

For me, it was mostly an entertaining drive through a lot of snow, without any concern about getting stuck or even thinking about the snow reaching up to the bottom of the vehicle.