As me and my friend drove the new 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 across Dubai’s sand dunes – which looked like waves in the Persian Gulf – I told her to keep her foot on the gas. No matter what happened, I said, she shouldn’t take it off until I give the word.
My driving buddy, let’s call her Melissa, looks at me with a bit of nervousness. But she goes ahead and starts our big SUV, takes in a deep breath and does it. We’re ready for the 2023 Land Rover Defender 130 Dune Challenge.
Our Land Rover guides say that it takes commitment to be able to drive in the dunes. You need to press on the gas a lot, especially when you’re driving an incredibly big car or SUV that’s over 17 feet long, can fit up to 8 people, and weighs more than 5,700 pounds. Cars that are tiny and lightweight are easy to use in the dunes but larger SUVs may require a bit more effort.
I’ve driven everyday cars across big sand hills in lots of places like Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, California, and Nevada. This time though, I’m helping a beginner. The car maker Land Rover is making it easier by having a drive mode only for the beach. It’s also got all-wheel drive so its easier to move. Plus, the air suspension helps raise the car off the ground up to 11 1/2 inches so you don’t get stuck!
We’ve upgraded our vehicle, the Defender 130, with a special P400 powertrain that gives it 395 horsepower and 406 pounds of torque. It’s paired with an 8-speed automatic and 32-inch Goodyear Duratrac tires to help us drive over any kind of terrain!
As Melissa climbs the sandy hill, I can tell that the car’s traction control is starting to work harder. I realized we were using the auto mode which isn’t as good on sand compared to Sand Mode. Plus, we couldn’t change modes so Melissa just has to keep going with what she has.
“C’mon, Step On The Gas!” I shouted as Melissa kept focused on what goal she wanted to reach. Even though it wasn’t the perfect climb up the sand hill, she still managed to conquer it in style.
She glanced over at me with an excited grin and exclaimed, “I think this is gonna be fun!”.
In 2023 Land Rover Defender 130, nothing will stop us from having a blast!
Once we lowered the tire pressure from 39 to 25 and switched to Sand mode, which keeps the engine running faster and turns off all the traction control helpers. Melissa was driving the Defender over some medium-sized dunes while other people got stuck behind us – giving us a chance to practice starting and stopping on soft sand. It may sound easy but if you stop too quickly, your front tires will sink into the sand and get stuck. If you hit the gas too hard when coming from a standstill, you’ll totally bury yourself in sand.
I get to teach her how to ride up bigger dunes, which needs a lot of careful throttle control. You need to keep enough speed so you don’t get stuck but if you hold on for too long it will cause you to fly over the dune. So, you have to know when to lift off the accelerator at exactly the right time.
She’s got it. We climb the hill quickly with the turbo-6 engine providing enough power. As we reach the top, she precisely lets off the throttle so we can roll over the last few feet while keeping all four tires on the ground.
At first, she seemed to be doing fine driving a long vehicle like the Defender 130. It’s wheelbase was exactly the same as that of its sibling, the Defender 110 but it had an extra 13.3 inches at the back which made it over 200 inches long. This meant that when the air suspension went up, the departure angle was only 28.5 degrees compared to 40 degrees for both the 110 and 90 models.
When we drove off a steep slope, the back of the car began to drag. The terrain was soft sand, so we thought it would be easy to move forward but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. We got stuck in the chewed-up sand at the bottom and couldn’t move forward. However, with just a quick tug from a special rope (called a kinetic rope), we were quickly out of the sticky situation and back on our way again!
When I’m driving, I’m a bit more wild! I zip around sand dunes and show off by picking the highest line. I also tell Melissa about special shapes of sand called “witches’ eyes” which are hard to see and could crash your car if you drive into them. We talk about looking ahead at the dunes while singing to bad ’80s music in our cooled-seat cars. While others are stuck digging out in hot weather, we have fun!
I tested out the back row in the three-row Defender. Even though I’m quite tall, only 5ft 9in, there was still enough legroom (31.7 inches) for me to fit comfortably. Although it’s a bit snug with three full grown people sitting in the back, it should be perfect for kids!
The Land Rover Defender’s capacity for long-distance trips is impressive! It can fit lots of people and gear – up to 1,700 pounds of it. You can even carry 370 pounds on the roof while driving. You could fit a large tent for two on your roof too since the static roof load rating is 661 pounds.
The Defender 130 is really great for off-roading, and even I really enjoy it. But, it isn’t cheap – the cheapest version starts at nearly $80,000 and the most expensive one is above $100,000. Even though it’s pricey, it can make any beginner a pro!
The Defender has enough money to buy it, but there are other vehicles that match its off-road capabilities. The Land Rover Range Rover and Discovery, Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer can go places a Cadillac Escalade can’t. So don’t expect your Escalade to take you in the wild!
If you’ve never driven in the sand dunes, don’t worry. Even though it can be a bit scary at first, just remember: let some air out of your tires and drive with enthusiasm. It also helps to have your car set up in “Sand Mode”.