REVIEW: The $250,000 Twisted NA-V8 is a vintage Land Rover Defender that looks and drives like modern luxury

REVIEW: The $250,000 Twisted NA-V8 is a vintage Land Rover Defender that looks and drives like modern luxury
Twisted NA-V8 90.Kristen Lee
  • The Land Rover Defender is a popular off-roading vehicle that's gained a cult-like following over the years.
  • Companies like Twisted Automotive reconstruct Defenders to be highly customized and luxurious for today's top Defender fans and collectors.
  • The Twisted NA-V8 90 is based on a Defender 90 but has a V8 from a Corvette and a starting price of $250,000.

The road in front of me straightened out, so I thought "What the hell" and floored the gas pedal.

A banshee-like V8 scream filled the cabin. The steering wheel shuddered in my hand with each violent upshift, the front wheels squirreling for traction as the entire truck leaned back from the force of the acceleration. Not long after, I braked, not wanting to get pulled over.

The walkie-talkie in the cupholder crackled. "That's what I'm talking about!" the Twisted Automotive rep, driving in the lead car I was following, crowed excitedly.
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REVIEW: The $250,000 Twisted NA-V8 is a vintage Land Rover Defender that looks and drives like modern luxury
Twisted NA-V8 90.Twisted Automotive.
I was behind the wheel of Twisted's North America V8 90 - or NA-V8 90 - which, to the untrained eye, looks just like a vintage Land Rover Defender 90: a square, two-door truck that wouldn't be out of place on someone's farm. But looks can be deceiving. The NA-V8 90 is so not a run-of-the-mill vintage Defender.

What is old is new

Explaining the Twisted NA-V8 90 is where things get interesting. Think of it as a 25-year-old, brand-new car. I know this sounds oxymoronic.

REVIEW: The $250,000 Twisted NA-V8 is a vintage Land Rover Defender that looks and drives like modern luxury
Twisted NA-V8 90.Twisted Automotive.
All of the parts are new, see. The body panels and the chassis - before Twisted added extra sub-bracing to protect it from twisting - are brand new, but they're built from the original Land Rover blueprints and specifications. After Land Rover ceased production of the Defender, it sold the rights and tooling to other OEM suppliers so that they could continue making Defender parts. Because of that, companies such as Twisted can source those parts and build new Defenders to their original dimensions.
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So from the outside, NA-V8 90's shape is all original. But that's where the similarities end.

REVIEW: The $250,000 Twisted NA-V8 is a vintage Land Rover Defender that looks and drives like modern luxury
Twisted NA-V8 90.Twisted Automotive.
Details and safety ratings: Corvette heart

No original Defender ever came with a Chevrolet Corvette's 6.2-liter, naturally aspirated LT1 V8 engine and a General Motors-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission. (A five-speed manual transmission is also an option.) On top of that, Twisted upgrades and modifies the internals, brakes, suspension, and electronics. It gives its trucks a customized suspension system, big and heavy-duty brakes, heavy-duty differentials, and a switchable exhaust that alternates between Loud and Not Quite As Loud.
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Inside, you get a whole suite of convenience features like parking sensors, wide-angle exterior cameras, and cruise control.

REVIEW: The $250,000 Twisted NA-V8 is a vintage Land Rover Defender that looks and drives like modern luxury
Twisted NA-V8 90.Twisted Automotive.
The truck puts down 455 horsepower, but should the customer want it, the supercharged LT4 V8 out of the C7 Corvette Z06 and Cadillac CTS-V is also available. That motor offers a claimed 650 horsepower.

I drove Twisted's demo vehicle that's based off a Defender 90. It had two front doors and a swing-out style rear door for trunk and second-row access. The second row of seats were sort of like two stadium-mounted jump seats - they were positioned so that you'd be able to look over the driver's shoulder.

The demo car, according to Twisted, averages 20 mpg. Since the NA-V8 90 is based on a classic Defender, a Twisted rep said it has not been crash-tested because "all crash testing is specific to the OEM." (It should be noted that crash safety has improved greatly in the past 10 years, let alone 25, so driving around in a 1990s-spec Defender with a modern Corvette engine is done at your own risk.)
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REVIEW: The $250,000 Twisted NA-V8 is a vintage Land Rover Defender that looks and drives like modern luxury
Twisted NA-V8 90.Twisted Automotive.
What stands out: V8 magic

Within five minutes of driving the thing, I could already tell the NA-V8 90 is a hoot. I had sort of hoped the demo car would have a manual, but after I got moving, I realized it didn't really matter - that eight-speed automatic is clever enough on its own.

I attributed much of that to the LT1 V8. Happily, I was informed the demo car was tuned to have a claimed 525 horsepower instead of the standard 455.

V8s in luxurious grand-tourers are meant to be smooth and quiet. V8s from muscle cars are supposed to be loud, screamy, and violent. Since the demo car had only one exhaust setting - loud - the noise part was taken care of.
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REVIEW: The $250,000 Twisted NA-V8 is a vintage Land Rover Defender that looks and drives like modern luxury
Twisted NA-V8 90.Kristen Lee
Thanks to the way the engine is tuned, you want to floor the NA-V8 90 everywhere. Feel the wheel twitch in your hands. Scatter flocks of geese. Make children cry. Cackle diabolically. The steering is not your Lotus-esque, nearly psychic feedback; it's not so tightly tuned that a millimeter of input results in the most microscopic steering response. You won't feel turn-in happen until you've started turning the wheel further from the center position than in a regular car, but you get used to it almost immediately. Then it just becomes a matter of aiming the V8 cannon.

Part of Twisted's whole appeal is how utterly customizable its products are. The Twisted rep brought along a book of leather trim options to show me, featuring every color on the visual spectrum - or at least most of them.

REVIEW: The $250,000 Twisted NA-V8 is a vintage Land Rover Defender that looks and drives like modern luxury
Twisted NA-V8 90.Twisted Automotive.
The interior of the demo vehicle was fitted pretty much from floor to ceiling in soft quilted leather. The leather itself was black, but the green contrast stitching that matched the exterior paint made me feel like I was driving in " The Matrix." Sitting in the NA-V8 90 makes you feel like you're a head taller than everything else on the road. You see easily over most other cars, and visibility - owing to the fact that the greenhouse is basically box-shaped - is great.
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If the world ended tomorrow, I know which car I'd want by my side.

REVIEW: The $250,000 Twisted NA-V8 is a vintage Land Rover Defender that looks and drives like modern luxury
Twisted NA-V8 90.Twisted Automotive.
What falls short: Narrow

A narrow interior, distinctive of the original Defenders, carries over. When driving a tall SUV, I'm accustomed to roomier interiors, so the NA-V8 90 might take some getting used to for some. I found the seat adjustments difficult to reach and hit my left elbow on the door a lot when cutting the steering wheel in either direction. The pedals are also rather close together, but I have small feet and this was no issue for me.
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But there's plenty of headroom, so taller customers won't have to worry about driving with their necks bent.

REVIEW: The $250,000 Twisted NA-V8 is a vintage Land Rover Defender that looks and drives like modern luxury
Twisted NA-V8 90.Kristen Lee
The narrowness makes sense; the original Defender wasn't meant for wide and sweeping American roads, it was designed for the English countryside. Have you seen what they think is a "two-way street" over there? It's the equivalent of, like, a little, one-way dirt path here.

Some might think the NA-V8 90's narrowness is a drawback; I say it's charismatic. I think most cars today are far too wide for their own good. The front row of the new Lincoln Navigator is palatial. I had to really stretch to reach the radio controls.

A narrow but tall car is a fun new thing to experience. Everything is within reach and you feel like you can place the NA-V8 90 a little more easily around double-parked cars.
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REVIEW: The $250,000 Twisted NA-V8 is a vintage Land Rover Defender that looks and drives like modern luxury
Twisted NA-V8 90.Kristen Lee
The rear stadium seats are a fun idea, and for a 5-foot-3 person, they were fine to sit in. But anyone taller might have trouble. Most realistically, the NA-V8 90 is for a two-person household with maybe a big dog.

Against competitors? It ain't no G-Wagen

It's clear what the Twisted NA-V8 90 is aimed at: the Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen. Rugged, square, with big wheels, big power, and customization options fit for a king, the NA-V8 90 is an alternative to the G-Wagen - which, depending on where you live, might very well be a dime a dozen.

The NA-V8 90 is certainly priced appropriately. Each one starts at $250,000 and it only goes up from there, depending on how customized you want yours to be. Each one is built to order, Tom Maxwell, Twisted's CEO, told us in a recent call.

REVIEW: The $250,000 Twisted NA-V8 is a vintage Land Rover Defender that looks and drives like modern luxury
Twisted NA-V8 90.Kristen Lee
Conversely, a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen starts at $130,900 for the G 550 and $156,450 for the AMG G 63. Maxwell said he charges people $250,000 for one of his products because they're buying a process. "I don't want to sell a soulless black [Defender] 110 that nobody has had involvement in," he said. "You're buying a process, stitch colors, leathers, et cetera. It's a custom car built around you."
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Uniqueness, it seems, is the selling point. I suppose if I were to drop a quarter of a million dollars on a car, I certainly wouldn't want it to look like my neighbor's.

REVIEW: The $250,000 Twisted NA-V8 is a vintage Land Rover Defender that looks and drives like modern luxury
Twisted NA-V8 90.Kristen Lee
Our impressions: Full of personality

I've driven a restored vintage Defender before and I didn't much care for it. Once the novelty of Oh, wow! I'm driving a vintage Defender! wore off, the old truck was rattly, slow, uncomfortable, and definitely not worth the mounds of praise heaped upon it. I have, however, seen countless Defender masochists insist that the awfulness is the point.

Maxwell said his company isn't in the business of restoration or resto-modding; they're about reconstruction. Apart from the identity of the Defender - which is narrow, has iconic boxy looks, and can be off-roaded - the thing is a fresh take on Defender ownership for today's luxury buyer. Thus, the "Defenderisms" that plague the original models - for those who aren't Defender masochists - are absent.
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REVIEW: The $250,000 Twisted NA-V8 is a vintage Land Rover Defender that looks and drives like modern luxury
Twisted NA-V8 90.Kristen Lee
That does not mean the Twisted is without charm. Unlike a modern car that's easy enough to drive with one finger and rarely has any personality, the NA-V8 90 takes some time to learn and pilot.

The thin-spoke steering wheel takes effort to turn. The brakes don't bite immediately but they work really well once you learn to use them. There's a little lean in the suspension if you take a corner quickly, but you don't feel afraid that you'll tip over. Mostly, you're reminded that you're driving a tall SUV.

The NA-V8 90 isn't one of those SUVs that tries to pretend to be a sports car, despite its Corvette heart. Though, of course, it's faster than any original Defender could ever be.
REVIEW: The $250,000 Twisted NA-V8 is a vintage Land Rover Defender that looks and drives like modern luxury
Twisted NA-V8 90.Twisted Automotive.
But as for the slower, around-town stuff? It does that perfectly, too. As a commuter, the NA-V8 90 putters along quietly and agreeably, handling roundabouts, sitting in traffic, and waiting at red lights as well as any luxury SUV. Each time that you remember how much power is on tap beneath your right foot is a blessing. As a cohesive package, the Twisted NA-V8 90 is a pretty good one. It certainly feels like a sum of all of its parts. Not one aspect of it feels like it's too modern or incongruent compared to the rest of it. It doesn't drive like a crappy old truck someone pulled out of a bog two months ago. But it doesn't drive like a modern car, either.
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If character is a currency, then the NA-V8 90 is wealthy with it. A contemporary interpretation of a truck that dates back to at least the '90s, it's pleasantly contradicted with a high-quality interior and all of today's creature comforts. And because it lacks old age and general mechanical crotchetiness, it also won't leave you stranded when it arbitrarily refuses to start up one day.

REVIEW: The $250,000 Twisted NA-V8 is a vintage Land Rover Defender that looks and drives like modern luxury
Twisted NA-V8 90.Kristen Lee
For the buyer who loves the Defender aesthetic but wants a working car, this ain't a bad solution. Just have your checkbook ready.
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