When John went to see Twisted at their new London digs in Kensington last month to drive the vastly expensive T-VE (the all-electric model it has been striving for sometime now to bring to market), the also-present and no less new T-VS was introduced to him as ‘the thinking man’s’ Defender. The reasoning was clear enough: thanks to its 308hp 2.3-litre petrol engine, it splits the difference between the 450hp LT1-powered derivative, the T-V8, and the 268hp zero-emission car that requires the virtuous to signal their good intentions with a £270,000 commitment.
But there are other good reasons for pondering the T-VS. As the average price of diesel crests £1.80 a litre, the drawn-out abandonment of the black pump threatens to gather pace. And while they might not necessarily be short a bob or two, Defender owners are no more invulnerable to a fast-changing world than the rest of us. So when Twisted talks about wanting to produce a new model with a ‘sustainable, economic twist’ it is being deadly serious. The T-VS is ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) compliant, for one thing. For another, its maker says it wants to extend the lifespan of the vehicle. Over a long enough timeline, a four-cylinder petrol engine is almost certain to do that.
The unit in question is Ford’s larger Ecoboost motor, the one that premiered in the Mustang back in 2015, and has proven itself highly amenable to tuning, serving time in all manner of thrusting applications, not least the Mk3 Focus RS. But if you were imagining a more domesticated (or hard-charging) sort of Defender, one made easygoing by the introduction of a modern turbocharged petrol motor, then think again. Paranoid, as ever, about subverting the car’s quintessential ruggedness, Twisted has apparently done everything it can to judiciously rough up the engine - as though it were moulding a clean-living boy soldier into a Scud-hunting Andy McNab.
Initially, this comes as a surprise. In the build-up, the tuner discussed the gains made in performance from its lighter, nimbler Defender, and presumably it had the option to twin the four-pot with an anonymous OEM slusher, had it wished (the V8 gets an eight-speed automatic, after all). Instead, it has grafted the Ecoboost unit onto a familiarly cantankerous six-speed manual gearbox, which has the effect of wedging its usual brawniness into what seem like curiously abrupt ratios. Factor in a distinctly gravelly hubbub coming from the stainless steel exhaust, and some characteristic off-throttle driveline shunt, and you could almost be in a well-kept TD5.
The extent to which you come to terms with this conservative take on restomodding is almost certain to correlate with how much you like classic Defenders in the first place. If for you they are a 20th century problem awaiting a 21st century solution, then almost certainly the introduction of a craggy Ecoboost motor is not going to win you over. For all its usual preoccupation with leather trim and contrast stitching, there is a palpable sense of Twisted measuring success less by what it has improved here, and more by what seems dutifully unchanged. “The key to the [T-VS] development was to use as much of the original Land Rover as we possibly could,” notes company boss, Charlie Fawcett, rather tellingly. And given the firm’s acute awareness of its customers’ preferences, its chosen metric is likely to be right on the money. Driven very modestly around town, the car rumbles industriously about the place in idiosyncratic fashion; part motor car, part tumbled down old Quonset hut.
Except, of course, you’re not in a TD5 Defender. Ask a little more of the throttle and it’s obvious that something fundamental has changed. For one thing, despite its less than mellifluous voice, there’s no mistaking a comparative lack of tell-tale rumble in the pedal and gear lever, nor the car’s newfound responsiveness. Twisted declines to offer a specific torque figure for the T-VS in the spec, but suggests there is ‘significantly’ more of the stuff than you’d get in a ‘standard’ Defender - and this certainly rings true on the road. On paper, the claimed 0-60mph-in-8.0-seconds isn’t something to get excited about - not when the much beefier T-V8 will dispatch it in 5 seconds - yet it fails to tell the full story of what’s been achieved in terms of additional spirit.
The crux of it is that while the T-VS is not especially quick by any contemporary measure, it is appreciably fast for a classic Defender that has not had a 6.2-litre rocket inserted up its trouser leg. And unlike the V8-powered derivatives, which tend to needlessly revel in incongruous straight line speed, the Defender actually feels reasonably well-matched to its brooding new petrol engine. Partly this is a function of the terminally unwieldy manual, which typically has you short-shifting through its tightly wound gears much like you would in a TD5, but to obviously greater effect (the upshifts amusingly punctuated by the sort air-escape histrionics you’d expect to hear coming from the wastegate of a Max Power’d Renault 5 GT Turbo).
And partly it is a result of Twisted’s usual fettling in the chassis department; a process the firm has down to a fine art. The custom-built T110 T-VS we drove featured both the progressive springs and the all-round replacement of its polybushes, alongside the fitment of those unapologetically phat 18-inch wheels and BF Goodrich all-terrain tyres. The result, as we’ve noted with previous interactions, is categorically a better Defender to drive. Sure, there’s still half a million turns lock-to-lock that will need negotiating at every junction, and a distinctly robust attitude toward ride comfort - but the wheel control is vastly better managed, as is the body when cornering.
Again, the distinction here is that you probably need to be in the Defender fan club already to really appreciate any of this. Nevertheless, for those who are, it is just possible that the T-VS might strike you as a total riot. Twisted has built its reputation on judiciously (and expensively) papering over some of the original cracks without undermining the car’s rough-hewn charm, and, after a few hundred miles in its company, the Ecoboost transplant seems like it might be its shrewdest move yet. Because while the tuner has astutely not made a fuss of its new engine’s modernity (quite the opposite), the upshot of its lustier presence is still a faster, better functioning and more likeable Defender.
For one thing, it will be a traditionalist of the diehard variety that chooses to complain about the petrol motor’s flexibility. Even working against the 110’s decidedly burly kerbweight and the shipping container-rivalling drag coefficient, the in-gear acceleration is predictably superior - especially if you don’t change up early and stick with it beyond the point where any stripe of oil burning Defender would abruptly run out of puff. Naturally this results in fewer fraught downshifts, but it also provides the T-VS with considerably longer legs on the motorway. Twisted’s suggestion of 120mph seems optimistic - or at the very least in need of a long run-up - but there’s no question at all that the model is nonchalant at outside lane speeds. Which is always a revelation.
That the Defender’s legendary ability for making progress away from the road remains intact is less of a surprise. Even the most humble version is a supremely able 4x4; equipped with proper tyres (and obviously retaining selectable low-range and its lockable diff) the T-VS seems unlikely to get stuck anywhere without you making a special effort to guarantee it. Most of the time the new engine simply threatens to do off-road what it does on, and that’s unlock the car’s latent potential for mischief.
However, unlike a V8-toting version, the nice thing about this unlikely facet in the T-VS is what seems like edge-of-your-seat, rev-matching tomfoolery is usually occurring at or very near the speed limit. At the end of the day, the Ecoboost doesn’t turn the Defender into a speed freak; it just makes the time-honoured act of driving one - always a laborious and oddly compelling experience - that bit more involving for the keen driver. True enough, that though won’t appeal to all keen drivers, just as it won’t necessarily appeal to all Defender owners. But, as ever, Twisted isn’t interested in the masses or their opinions; it’s motivated by a well-moneyed niche within a niche. For the thinking men among them, the T-VS might be the best thing it’s ever done.
SPECIFICATION | TWISTED DEFENDER T-VS T110 UTILITY
Engine: 2,261cc, four-cylinder, turbocharged, petrol
Transmission: 6-speed manual, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 308hp
Torque (lb ft): TBC
0-62mph: 8.0 secs
Top speed: 120mph
Price: £125,000 + VAT for a Defined build (prices start at £40,000 + VAT for a conversion)
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