There’s days out and then there’s off roading days out. Having never used four wheel drive for what it was intended, when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped at the chance. Twisted kindly offered to bring a group of us out in their bespoke Land Rover Defenders to learn a few new skills and test out their infamous Defender conversions.
The Twisted HQ is based in Thirsk, North Yorkshire. They develop performance and exterior upgrades for primarily Land Rover Defenders. Twisted originally started as a side operation to Charles Fawcetts fathers business, offering tuning and performance enhancements for Defenders, Discoveries and Range Rovers. Almost 70 years after it first appeared, the original Defender ceased production in 2015 with over 2 million sold. In 2014 Twisted ordered 240 Defenders to become bespoke builds for individuals. The full Defender charm is still evident, what you get is a custom made and distinctively crafted off road vehicle.
At Twisted’s HQ in North Yorkshire, ‘The Old Cinema’ has been completely refurbished to display a range of ‘for sale’ and in the making Defenders. Twisted develops hand picked base vehicles which are taken apart, rebuilt and upgraded to Twisted’s high end specifications. They ‘take elements of the Land Rover history... and build it again, the Twisted way’.
Depending on the chosen spec, Twisted modifies the brakes, springs and dampers to improve stopping power and body control. You can keep the engine stock or increase torque. Twisted has invested in the future and has worked on conversions of combustion-engined Defenders into EVs. This is a brand new project and has been designed from the ground up. The result is supposed to be similar in spirit to combustion-engined Defenders.
They’re bespoke, so you will need anything from £50,000 (€81k) up to £200k (€233k) to secure one. Each car could spend up to three weeks being trimmed with premium leather to enhance the interior and give the cabin a luxurious touch without altering its classic layout. You still have a cramped driving position and it won’t feel like a modern SUV, with its heavy steering, vague handling and bumpy ride but that’s all part of the Defender appeal.
We were brought on a dive to test out their range on the North Yorkshire moors. It’s a little daunting when you don’t have any off-road experience but thrilling at the same time. After a tour of the incredible showroom and a little bit of the backstory of Twisted and ‘The Old Cinema’ we’re off on our adventures towards Swinton Park Estate which was our playground for the day. We get the feeling they’re more used to seeing spotless Bentley GT’s and Range Rover’s in the car park but today we’re in convoy in Twisted Defenders. There’s a mix of 90’s, 110’s and there’s even an electric Defender for us to test.
First off we’re brought through a meandering trail which brings us around the back of the Swinton Estate grounds. We’re told about the locking diffs and how to engage the low range modes in each vehicle. At first it seems a little daunting as there’s different steps between auto and manual cars but we soon get the hang of it. As a newbie to offroading, auto is a slightly easier process as there’s only a couple of buttons on a screen to press as well as the N, P, D buttons to engage (Neutral, Park and Drive - same as in an auto car). In a manual Twisted Defender, you’ve got two levers to engage as well as having to roll the car gently forwards to ensure the diffs are locked. It does sound quite technical and it is, but the steps are simple once you get used to them.
Next we learn about hill ascent and descent and in what can only be described as perfect timing, the small 90 Defender in front has difficulty climbing out of a muddy quagmire. We look on in awe as the driver in front takes another run at it and gets it through the tricky rut.
Learning that doing the opposite of what your instincts tell you, is a big part of the day. As we approach the quagmire in a much bigger 110, it’s actually easier for our vehicle to gain grip and climb gently out of it, much to our delight at not having to get out and push! We’re told that when climbing you don’t always need a huge amount of acceleration, you need to listen to what the engine is telling you and apply pressure to the accelerator as needed. In the traditional Defenders, it’s all about the feel of what the car is telling you. A lot of the time, the Defenders will just creep along the rough terrain without any input from the driver, bar the steering. The driver will feel the car telling them when to apply some acceleration or braking when necessary. The difficulty comes when you need to basically not trust your instinct as a driver, we’re told not to brake when descending quickly but to keep up with the speed at which the Defender is rolling down the hill. During descents, you need to keep the turn over of the wheels in line with the speed of the ground moving beneath you, so you keep hold of the grip from the tyres and therefore control of the vehicle.
We learn to use our eyes, ears and the sensation of the noise from the engine, which when we come to the electric Defender, can throw you off at first as some adjustment to the driving style is needed. Without the noise and rumble of an engine, you’re purely using your eyes, arms and the sensation of gravity to tell you what you need to do in an electric Defender. The sensations are different, there’s no noise or strain on the engine to tell you to pull back or push forward. You use the sensation of the throttle and grip of the tyres to let you know if you’re using too much acceleration or not enough.
We climbed hills and descended troughs, we crawled through rocky streams all the while taking every input; noise, sound, sight, feeling everything the Defender was telling us and using the information to get us up those steep inclines, and all without anyone binning it, success! We had an incredible day learning about offroading and what a Twisted Defender can do and personally I wouldn’t hesitate to go offroading again.