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TReK 2023 pitted confident journalists against a renowned off-roading adventure park in Central Texas. However, us journos weren’t alone; Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) sent teams of evaluators out into the challenges with the larger-than-life Land Rover Defender 130 SUV, a deceptively apt trail companion given the brute’s size.

What is TReK Land Rover?

Land Rover's TReK 2023 logo on an official vehicle.
TReK 2023 logo | Erik Sherman, MotorBiscuit

TReK is a dynamic off-road competition facilitated by Jaguar Land Rover to challenge its employees and expose them to the capabilities and limitations of the brand’s vehicles. Inspired by the Camel Trophy, TReK pits teams against their own limitations and rugged terrain.

TReK 2023, the fourth consecutive year of the event after a 17-year hiatus, paired me with experienced off-road journalists in the media wave. Our companion? The Land Rover Defender 130 SUV, an eight-passenger Union Jacked-up behemoth. 

The challenges centered around the Land Rover Defender 130 SUV, but not right from the start

A matte black Land Rover Defender 130 shows off its shovel, spare tire, and high-lift jack.
The TReK Defender 130 | Erik Sherman, MotorBiscuit

I’ll admit, I had a little inside baseball into what TReK was all about after my colleague, Joe Santos, attended the 2022 event. However, as Joe points out in his recollection of the 2022 event, the thing changes yearly. This year, the event was shorter and hotter, yet no less interesting than the preceding years. 

The crafty crew that designed TReK 2023 chose the Hidden Falls Adventure Park for the event, a popular off-roading spot about an hour northwest of Austin, Texas. Those who know Central Texas will know that even though the calendar says October, it’s still summertime hot for travelers. Despite the heat, the media wave of journalists descended on the campsite, ready to test not only the Land Rovers but also themselves. 

I was a member of Team 3, a name that doesn’t strike much of anything in the hearts of anyone. However, one of my teammates, tenured off-roading journalist Graeme Bell, quickly monikered us “MC and the Hammers,” using part of my exposed military tattoo as inspiration. Yes, he is that cool. 

After camping under a starry Texan sky, we rose to find, well, nothing. Logic would place a row of matte black-clad Land Rover Defender 130s near our campsite. Instead, we used our land navigation skills to find a .50 caliber ammunition can with tchotchkes that we could exchange for the key to our Defender SUV. After another leg of trail navigation, we reached the top of a terrain feature and, you guessed it, a row of kitted-out TReK Land Rover Defender 130s.

Is the Defender 130 too big?

An infotainment system shows off a bird's-eye view of a Land Rover Defender.
The Defender’s camera system showed multiple angles of the vehicle | Erik Sherman, MotorBiscuit

First, the Land Rover Defender 130 is a presence. It’s big. Real big. Bow to stern, the beast of an SUV is about 212 inches long with a spare tire. However, our TReK 2023 Defender added a high-lift jack and integrated WARN winch, pushing the dimensions further.

However, the husky proportions of our Defender SUV didn’t keep us from putting the brute through its paces. We took our Defender, complete with its P400 395-horsepower turbocharged 3.0L inline six-cylinder engine, to 10 tasks. While you might expect a press event for an off-roading staple to include exclusively vehicle-related tasks, that’s not TReK. 

At one point, we had a casualty evacuation drill, where, with my background, I finally would have been a top asset to my team. Instead, I was literal dead weight, with my Hammers carrying me to the safety of our Land Rover Defender with a hand-built stretcher and then a modified chair carry.

Another challenge involved driving the bruiser on an off-road course with a blindfold, using only auditory input from teammates. Other evolutions involved using the Defender’s winch with mechanical advantage to move objects. It was quite the eclectic collection of maneuvers.  

Team 3 brought the heat, but not enough to put us in first

TReK 2023 involved using winches to move objects and gain mechanical advantage over rough terrain.
A Defender uses its winch to pull a large log | Erik Sherman, MotorBiscuit

Land Rover History: From War to Luxury Off-Roading Staple

Despite our best efforts and willingness to push the time limit, MC and Hammers finished in second overall. Jeff Glucker, Senior Video Editor at Autotrader, was a member of the event victors, Team 1. To my surprise, Jeff was quick to point out that the returning champs were, for the first time, nervous about the results. 

I guess our efforts weren’t entirely in vain, then. Either way, we had a riotous good time putting the Land Rover Defender 130 SUV through its paces. Despite its building-esque dimensions, the Defender handled dramatic terrain with an accommodating approach angle. Further, the Defender’s air suspension came in handy to maximize ground clearance and level a small trailer during a towing challenge. 

Of course, the Defender wasn’t without its foibles. Throttle response at slow speeds can be finicky, and the Hill-Descent Control wants to do your thinking for you. Additionally, in one of the instances where we got the Defender stuck, the Brit’s brain shifted to two-wheel drive mode, requiring a manual reset. 

Still, the Land Rover Defender 130 was right at home in TReK 2023. Despite the pseudo-luxe appeal of the eight-seater, it handled trail, rock, and hill with sure-footedness. At any rate, I won’t forget traversing a bit of Texas with the Hammers and our Defender.

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