If you ask people the first word that comes to mind when thinking about the Land Rover brand, most would say “adventure”, while others would mention the latest James Bond film, and the cynical ones would point out reliability issues. It’s nothing scientific, but the brand has honed itself as an outgoing luxury name. And, besides the hiccups in terms of reliability, which JLR boss Thierry Bolloré promised to crack down on, Land Rover and Range Rover cars are quite sturdy and can withstand pretty much anything in the wild.
In order to reinforce this message with its clientele, Land Rover organizes experiences and activities throughout the globe. One of them takes place at the Land Rover Experience Center in Manchester Vermont.
But instead of the regular programming at this site, Land Rover organized a “trophy experience”, inviting future 2023 Land Rover Trophy Edition owners and members of the press to take part in several on- and off-road tasks at the experience site, as well as around Equinox Mountain in Manchester.
The 2023 Land Rover Defender Trophy Edition
In 2020, Land Rover brought back the famous Defender nameplate. A few special editions followed, and one of them, the Trophy Edition, pays homage to the vintage Camel Edition Defender. The 2023 opus of this historic yellow livery truck is based on the Defender 90 P400 X-Dynamic SE, and features a series of add-ons, like an extended Black Exterior pack, air suspension, the Cold Climate Pack, a full Off-road Pack, and Advanced Off-road Capability Pack, the Expedition Roof Rack paired with the ladder, Electric Winch with a handy remote, a set of mud flaps, an integrated air compressor for when your tires are feeling down, and other off-roading bells and whistles.
The 2023 Land Rover trophy is limited to 250 units in North America, but 30 were kept by the manufacturer for events and activities. We were lucky enough to take one of them out for a muddy ride.
The Defender Has What It Takes
Automotive journalists aren’t generally keen to participate in intense physical activity. Our days are usually composed of a lot of driving and office work (with frequent snack breaks). Needless to say, Land Rover USA had something else in mind for us this time.
The day started off with a scavenger hunt, which included a steep hike, where clues were cleverly scattered along the way to the key to our Defender, which we located after quite a bit of debating between teammates and sweating out our breakfast.
The activities were spread around town, which gave us the opportunity to drive the Defender in normal, day-to-day conditions. The P400 engine supplies plenty of bottom-end torque, which can be quite surprising at first (speed limits are very low in Vermont, it seems). The 90 model always looks short and top-heavy, but the air suspension on our Trophy Edition made it easy to take turns with minimum body roll (considering the height of this thing). The Defender also makes it look, with its short wheelbase, like a rocky ride, but comfort was also a good side of the air suspension on road, especially for what came later on the trail.
Inside, the accommodating cabin could pack our heavy gear, as the cargo space behind the rear seats was calculated. While the spec sheet shows 397 litres of volume, it is much more vertical than horizontal, which leaves space for two or three carry-on pieces.
Our first task of the day took us to the very top of Mount Equinox to test our communication abilities as well as the Defender 90’s 42,1-inch turning circle. Once we were able to get out of a simulated “cage” with the least amount of turns possible, we tackled the rather muddy off-road trail. Some activities along this trail required us to use the full mechanical capabilities of the Defender, while others required us to step out of the vehicle and use the means that were available to us to get the truck out of trouble. For example, we used the Defender Trophy’s stock winch unit along with its handy wireless remote to take a step back to safety while watching our workhorse get pulled out of a troublesome situation.
Some Elbow Grease and Navigation Skills
Although the Defender is impressively advanced in terms of tech, the team at Land Rover wanted to exercise our brains and bodies. For example, a good old horizontal high jack was set up for us to manually pull the vehicle with nothing but elbow grease. A couple of herniated discs and a heart attack later, we pulled the Defender a few feet where it needed to be and hoped to God that we would never need that torture device ever again.
A few of the onboard technologies definitely came in handy throughout the course of our ride. For example, the “what three words” capability of the navigation system helped us get to our destinations more precisely than typing a point of interest in Google maps and hoping for the best. The 360° camera helped us determine whether our brand-new, limited-edition Defender was getting too close to trees or rocks. That’s not even mentioning all the hill descent, low gear, and other mechanical assets.
Most buyers who purchased the 2023 Land Rover Defender Trophy Edition will never put their vehicle in the conditions that we put our tester in. However, there are some that definitely will. A lot. But our experience showed us that the Defender can go from street to trail and from picking up kids at soccer practice to wading through three feet of water, all with a blend of style and ruggedness that definitely sets the vehicle apart from German-made SUVs.