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Road Warrior: We Drive Twisted’s Excellently Reimagined NA-V8 Land Rover Defender 90

This reimagined, $250,000 Land Rover uses a 525-hp LT1 V-8, and only adds to the Defender’s legend.

The Land Rover Defender in America

LOS ANGELES—Before we get to the Twisted NA-V8 Land Rover Defender 90, let's call up some context.

The Land Rover Defender was introduced worldwide (except in the U.S.) as the Land Rover 90 and 110 in 1983, and it became the preferred vehicle of farmers, military personnel, and utility workers. Designated as the "Defender" in 1990, the Defender did eventually land in America, and it enjoyed a brief sales run from 1993-97 before being expelled due to not meeting U.S. safety regulations.

In recent years, importation of Defenders to the U.S. has grown exponentially, and the price of a Land Rover Defender in good shape—particularly the LS3-powered 110s and low-mileage North American-spec models—can exceed $100,000. One such example, a 1997 Defender 90 NAS with 3,000 miles, sold at a mind-blowing $155,000 on an auction site earlier this year. Undoubtedly, there exists a strong interest in acquiring classic Defenders in the U.S. market-even if that means paying six figures.

A Compromising Purchase

Anyone who owns or who has previously owned a classic Land Rover Defender understands that with ownership of the legendary boxy SUV comes compromise. In the Defender's case, compromise(s) includes reliability issues, rollover risks, lack of safety equipment, terrible fuel economy, and corrosion. Devotees ride the tide no matter the maintenance and repair costs, and often commit to long-term ownership. As one British mechanic based in Canada put it, buying your first Land Rover Defender is probably your worst Land Rover.

Similarly, if you have ever driven an old Defender outside of its element, you are probably aware of the more obvious flaws. Among them: it's loud, with a wobbly ride, lousy visibility, and vague steering, and is about as slow as a slug. But the Defender, however imperfect, was made for off-roading in treacherous terrain, or for farming, safari excursions, transporting goods, and military use, and was not intended for everyday use on standard roads.

Twisted NA-V8 Land Rover Defender 90 Test: From Yorkshire to Austin  

For all Defender zealots and rugged luxury SUV fans working with large budgets, Twisted North America, based in Austin, Texas, builds high-performance Defenders custom-made to individual specifications. Backed by its 20-plus years in the business of re-engineering the Defender in Yorkshire, England, Twisted Automotive now introduces its NA-V8 lineup into the North American market.

With plans to sell only 200 hand-built and individually numbered models during the next five years, including a forthcoming all-electric variant, a starting price of $250,000 will secure your name on the list for a Twisted NA-V8 Land Rover Defender 90. Every build comes with a 24-month/20,000-mile warranty, and extensions are available. The GM-sourced engines and transmissions have 24 months, or 50,000 miles of warranty coverage.

We had the opportunity to take a quick test drive in the first Twisted NA-V8 Land Rover Defender 90 to arrive on our shores, and the reimagined Defender is an electrifying experience.

Twisted NA-V8 Land Rover Defender 90 Test: Limited Production and Built to Order 

You might think spending a quarter-million bucks for a bespoke Defender is straight-up absurd, and subjectively, you might be right. However, a Twisted NA-V8 Defender 90 is a new machine that eliminates virtually everything most people hate about old Land Rover Defenders.

Each Twisted NA-V8 Defender is unique to the customer, meets U.S. standards, and takes six months to build. The Twisted Defender is available in five variants: the extended-wheelbase 130 Pickup and Double Cab 110 pickup, the long-wheelbase 110 Station Wagon and 90 Station Wagon, and the soft-top 90 Station Wagon.

Twisted also offers an all-electric version of the short-wheelbase soft-top 90, called the NAS-E, in its California Series; the company says it delivers a 200-mile range, and pricing starts at $185,000. The electric model will be limited to 30 examples and made in three distinct colors to celebrate the American landscape: Malibu (yellow), Yosemite (green), and Tahoe (blue).

Twisted NA-V8 Land Rover Defender 90 Test: Perfecting Performance

All Twisted NA-V8 Defender models are powered by Chevrolet's 6.2-liter LT1 with 525 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission comes standard, but a five-speed manual is available if you want to up the ante on driving-engagement. And for those who need an excess of power from their four-wheel-drive Defender to move extra-quickly across the desert, Twisted will happily install a 650-hp, 6.2-liter LT4 V-8. Built on a galvanized and Raptor-coating protected chassis, the body-on-frame Twisted NA-V8 is fitted with heavy-duty differentials, driveshafts, and half-shafts to cope with the additional output.

A completely revised suspension includes ABS and TCS braking technology, Eibach springs, Bilstein shocks with custom-valved dampers, high-performance Alcon disc brakes, and hard-use RS29 brake pads. While retaining the Defender's hallmark long wheel travel, Twisted engineers say the upgraded suspension dramatically reduces understeer and provides superior traction. The addition of a switchable performance-exhaust system delivers thundering sound, useful for when you need to wake up the driver in front of you who is glued to their phone when the light turns green.

Twisted NA-V8 Land Rover Defender 90 Test: Interior Aesthetics and Technology 

Inside, an enhanced insulation and soundproofing package make the Twisted NA-V8 Land Rover Defender 90 a much nicer place to be in comparison to an original Defender. Meanwhile, heated and cooled Recaro bucket seats will take care of you during hot summers and snow-covered winters.

Stitched and diamond-pattern leather, choice of Twisted steering wheel, leather-trimmed door panels and handles, and a diamond leather headliner create an aesthetically pleasing cabin. For added convenience, automatic interior lighting, central-locking and electric windows, cruise control, new switchgear, and a custom dual-cup center console with USB connection makes life on the road painless.

The full-leather trimmed dashboard features a touchscreen infotainment and navigation system, a Hertz eight-channel audio system, unique readouts, and a Twisted Automotive build-plaque.

Additional technology includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, front- and rear-facing cameras with wide-angle views, parking sensors, Bluetooth audio, blind-spot sensors, location tracking, and an immobilizer system.

Twisted NA-V8 Land Rover Defender 90 Test: Bad-to-the-Bone Exterior

On the outside, the Twisted NA-V8 Defender 90 is an expression of sophistication and toughness. Twisted-specific exterior upgrades include choice of wheels, a stage-one grille, a powder-coated steering guard, headlight surrounds, wing-top and side vents, and billet aluminum door handles and fuel cap. Other updates to the exterior add LED headlights, NAS tubular side steps and rear step, upgraded wiper blades, a Puma hood, and stainless steel fixings.

While Twisted offers a paint-to-sample option, a range of 11 colors that honor the classic Land Rover Defender are available, among them Fuji White, Willow Green, and Marine Blue.

Twisted NA-V8 Land Rover Defender 90 Test: Road Warrior  

When I signed up to test drive the Twisted NA-V8 Land Rover Defender 90 on L.A. freeways and scenic roads, I had no previous driving experience with a classic Land Rover Defender.

I read about how terrible these Defenders were on paved roads and was expecting a toss-your-organs-around, all-out annoying encounter. But that's not at all what I discovered.

Nervously and carefully, I pulled out of the Beverly Hilton in this Keswick Green Defender. As soon as the Twisted Defender 90 rolled onto Santa Monica Blvd., it came out throwing punches. I did my best to take it easy on the gas pedal, which proved to be challenging when a rumbling V-8 growled at the slightest push of the throttle. Steering felt a bit loose, though the re-engineered Defender did a pretty decent job at staying in its lane or, better yet, telling every other car to get out of the way. Granted, I was following a chase car; I wanted to be on my best behavior.

Finally, a chance arrived for me to lay down the pedal on the freeway, and suddenly all manners were broken. As I gained speed, I could hear and feel the gears changing, and it was spectacular. On Malibu Canyon Rd., I became a natural, and driving a custom Defender with 525 horsepower made me the most awesome person on the road. Through the tunnels, the piercing exhaust notes probably terrorized other motorists, but I had good intentions.

Visibility at times, specifically through the rear window, did cause a little anxiety during lane changes, though it was nothing to go cry over. Once we got onto Pacific Coast Hwy., I maneuvered the Defender like my life depended upon. The brakes responded to roadblocks (trucks out for garbage-collection day) with a substantial amount of friction, allowing me the room I needed to get around the sanitation behemoths and stay on track.

Before I knew it, my test of the Twisted NA-V8 Land Rover Defender 90 had expired, and I felt cheated. I watched as the Defender went back into the parking garage at the Beverly Hilton, and for a moment I felt like tears should be running down my face. This is the part where some writers would tell you why you should consider buying one of these Defenders, or why it is justifiably so expensive. But that doesn't do the Twisted NA-V8 Land Rover Defender 90 any justice. So let's just say my first-ever test in a classic Land Rover Defender is one I will never forget, and it's one that will not be topped easily—and for all of the right reasons.

Twisted NA-V8 Land Rover Defender 90 Highlights

  • Optional five-speed manual transmission
  • Two available engines: Chevrolet LT1 or LT4
  • Enhanced insulation-and-soundproofing package
  • Recaro leather-trimmed bucket seats
  • Suspension upgrades
  • Switchable performance exhaust
  • Limited to 25 examples
  • Starting price: $250,000