Ten days ago, on Sept. 9, a gorgeous little sports car with two seats and tons of fun was parked in my driveway. It would be mine for a week, to drive and judge, and all was well. But something happened overnight to radically change the situation. The Bolt Creek wildfire broke out near Skykomish, and those of us who live in the Skykomish Valley were facing evacuation. Through no fault of its own, the little sports car’s appeal dissolved.
When the emergency alert for immediate evacuation blasted out from cell phones, those of you who live in other parts of Snohomish County were puzzled, but for Sky Valley residents already on tenterhooks, hypothetically me, it was cause for panic.
I have two cats and getting either one of them into a carrier is like a UFC event. When I finally had them in the car, the second emergency alert blasted to say ignore the previous alert. Turns out the first one, meant to target Index, was sent county-wide due to a technical problem.
It was now clear that my mental health was at risk if the little sports car stayed with me all week. So I called the car-handling gods and asked if I could swap it for something more evacuation-friendly. By the next day the 2023 Land Rover Defender was in the driveway.
In Land Rover’s lineup of tough and capable vehicles, Defender is their toughest and most all-terrain capable. And it doesn’t drive like a tank. On pavement at freeway speeds, the ride is quiet and refined. In a congested parking lot, maneuvers are easy. In extreme conditions on or off road, you couldn’t ask for better stability. With a wildfire evacuation threatening, I couldn’t have had better relief.
There are a lot of different Defender models, in two-door or four-door configuration, special edition trim levels, seating capacity, and varying engine sizes. Every one of them has four-wheel drive. The new-for-2023 Defender 130 has four doors and adds a small third row.
The base engine is a turbocharged four-cylinder with 296 horsepower and 296 pound-feet of torque. Mid-range is a turbocharged inline six-cylinder making 395 hp and 406 lb-ft. Maximum output comes from a supercharged V8 producing 518 hp and 461 lb-ft. Based on standardized acceleration testing, even the four-cylinder is strong and able.
I hate to fuel-shame the vehicle that saved my sanity, but the Defender V8 gets only 14 mpg city, 19 mpg highway, and 16 mpg combined. The six-cylinder engine fares best of the three, thanks to a mild hybrid system. It gets 18 mpg city, 23 mpg highway.
Defender pricing with a $1,475 destination charge included starts at a reasonable-sounding $54,975 and then reaches toward the troposphere. The top-level V8 Carpathian Edition model is priced at $116,475 and still has optional goodies to choose from.
Observations noted during my time with the Land Rover Defender, which I nicknamed The Rescuer, include: A vast interior with irresistible rugged-looking design, the excellent new-for-2023 cruelty-free synthetic leather upholstery, advanced infotainment and climate-control technology with a bearable amount of operational difficulty, the ponderous rear door that swings open to the right and bears the extra weight of the spare tire mounted to it, and a magnificent 700-watt Meridian Surround Sound audio system.
2023 LAND ROVER DEFENDER 110 V8
Base price, including destination charge: $112,775
Price as driven: $113,695
Mary Lowry is a member of the Motor Press Guild and a member and past president of the Northwest Automotive Press Association. She lives in Snohomish County. Vehicles are provided by automotive manufacturers as a one-week loan for evaluation purposes only. Manufacturers do not control content of the reviews.