A MATTE BLUE Defender 90 is parked outside the Soma yoga retreat in Byron. With a locally shaped Defender branded surfboard strapped to its roof racks and a gear carrier mounted on its side, it looks like the kind of car Chris Hemsworth and his brood might cruise around their farm in. No wonder—the Defender has serious off-road chops. It’s equipped with a 3.0 litre twin turbocharged Ingenium six-cylinder diesel engine, which delivers 570 Newton metres of torque between 1250 and 2550 revolutions per minute, not to mention electronic air suspension and adaptive dynamics.
But this ‘Pacific Blue’ version, which is one of only 15 cars made just for the Australian market, looks like a luxury vehicle. Sure, it takes stylistic cues from its forefather, a boxy utilitarian vehicle built for its rugged versatility. But just like the people who drive it, the Defender has evolved with the times. This modern iteration is built for those of us who want to take it touring, but don’t wish to skimp on lifestyle-enhancing accessories and high-end ammenities like a sliding glass panoramic roof and natural smoked dark oak veneer finishes.
According to this Defender, you can have it all.
On a regular day, Soma is home to curated meditation and yoga retreats—architecturally designed with panoramic views over the surrounding hillside, it was also the setting of Nine Perfect Strangers, the 2021 Nicole Kidman-starring Hulu series. But recently, Soma was transformed into ‘Defender House’; the backdrop to a series of experiences that would show us how the new Defender drives, but also the kind of lifestyle it’s designed to empower.
This agenda was set with the first activity, a sound bath meditation session in the retreat’s geodome. As we sat down to a farm to table-style dinner, complete with meat and vegetables smoked for hours over hot coals, the ‘personality’ of the Defender began to take shape. A yoga session the following morning confirmed that if the Defender was a person, it would be that guy who eats organic produce, owns an Australian Shepherd, is incredibly active and spends his weekends on the wide open, seeking out new surf spots and country trails.
That afternoon, we got a taste for the latter half of that guy’s personality. Starting up our Defender, we headed deep into the hinterland, to a farm in the valley behind Lismore for some 4×4 action. Before veering onto the trail, we flicked on the air suspension and lifted the car 40 millimetres—an indication we were in for some pretty decent potholes and climbs.
What followed made good on this promise, as we wound our way up the mountain, through stony creeks and over loose soil, before heading back down and lowering our rig back to its base height. As someone whose off-roading experience includes fanging around the family farm on a quad bike, I have to admit—this was exhilarating. Needless to say, the Defender handled the conditions with the kind of smooth seamlessness that would impress the most serious four wheel drive dudes.
Back at Soma, I jump in the pool as the Defenders are hosed off in the driveway (the 90 is equipped with a portable rinse system, meaning you can remove traces of mud before driving into the city for dinner). Over dinner that night, the ‘personality’ concept comes up again—it’s the term JLR uses to describe the identities of its Land Rover fleet. We discuss what we’d do and who we’d be if we could take this handsome car home. I, for one, would know the state’s winding roads and rural tracks far more intimately.
Like other luxury companies from fashion to travel—companies that aren’t just selling clothes and holidays—the British marque isn’t just selling cars; it’s selling a lifestyle. And each vehicle in the Land Rover lineup has traits and features that make it distinct from the next.
When trawling a Reddit thread recently, I found a comment by user ‘ammo182’ that summed up these differences pretty well. “Range Rover – for ballers. Range Rover Sport – ballers that want a sporty look. Discovery – like the Defender, but with the on-road looks of a Range Rover Sport,” they wrote. As for the Defender? “Bad ass off-road.”
Ammo182 left this comment on the Reddit thread, titled ‘How Does The Defender Fit Into The Lineup?’ two years ago, when the 2021 model hit the market. With three new editions between now and then, we’d add that not only is the 2024 Defender “bad ass off-road”, it’s also built for comfort while flaunting “baller” levels of style.
Who wouldn’t feel conceited driving that around?