Electromod classic Land Rover Defender is eye-wateringly expensive and unlike any other EV you might have driven, but that it’s still so much like an authentic ‘Landy’ is the core of its appeal.
It’s been an eventful time for UK-based Land Rover Defender modifier Twisted Automotive. When last we checked in on them, in 2018, they’d not long launched their first Chevy-powered Twisted V8 model. They have since been sued by Land Rover – twice – over trademark infringement, and won both times. But neither that nor the wider business challenges of the past few years has held up the company’s expansion much.
There are now Twisted-modified Defenders being sold under licence in the UAE and the US, and the company is expanding in the UK (where we have tested this T90 EV). Twisted is not officially sold in Australia, although there are local companies such as Jaunt EV doing similar electric conversions. Of the 240 last-off-the-line Defender Commercials that Twisted founder Charles Fawcett bought up back in 2016 (and if LR had a problem with his business model, which was already well established by that time, you might wonder why it sold them to him), apparently only 40 ‘new’ chassis remain as a departure point for anyone who comes through the door without a Land Rover to use as a donor car for a restomod build.
And the Twisted’s latest introduction is likely to bring a whole new kind of buyer through the door. That’s because, as an alternative to one of the company’s top-level Chevy V8- or Ford 2.3-litre Ecoboost-powered models (or just a birthday upgrade for your hard-working Defender diesel), you can now have a Twisted Defender ‘electromod’. In a vehicle like a Defender, electric power may not be an instinctive fit and the Twisted management realises that only a minority of its customers, for now at least, will want one. Even so, it says a fifth of all new business enquiries that it’s currently getting are about an electric vehicle, and that’s clearly not a sign it can afford to ignore.
Engineered by Dutch electronics specialists Plower, the Twisted EV Defender conversion effectively swaps out the standard car’s gearbox (upstream of the old-school four-wheel drive system) for a 200kW electric motor, and fills the space where its engine and fuel tank would have otherwise been with liquid-cooled lithium ion batteries and power electronics.
If you have a T90 short-wheelbase car, you get 61kWh of battery capacity and an advertised 225km of range (and end up with a Defender that weighs about 300kg more than a combustion-engined 90). Go for a T110 instead and the battery pack rises to 81kWh, for more like 290km on a charge. However, neither version yet offers DC rapid charging. A 22kW three-phase AC charge is the fastest charging possible.
The rest of the car’s body, chassis, suspension and interior are upgraded to Twisted’s familiar and alluringly high standard – and in the T90 truck cab that we tested, the result was very smart indeed. Climbing up and getting comfortable in any Defender remains a bit of an undertaking. Even after Twisted’s cabin modifications and with its sports seats, you sit with limited room at the controls, squeezed in close to the driver’s door. It’s nothing Defender devotees won’t be used to, but it’s also your first clue that an electric drivetrain doesn’t turn this updated old-stager into something that’s much like any other EV you might have driven, whether around town, out of town, or anywhere else that it’s capable of going.
Driving the EV Defender is less physically taxing, in some respects, than a traditional Landy might be. However, the steering is still heavy and slow geared (despite working through a smaller rim than most Defenders have); the turning circle, even in a short-wheelbase version, remains poor when manoeuvring; the low-speed ride is often rough and clunky; and at higher speeds, in spite of Twisted’s best efforts at improved cabin sealing, the car is a feast of wind noise and road roar. Instead of really making for a more refined car, taking the combustion engine out of Defender actually just makes you realise how many other sources of noise and commotion there have always been in one. Not that, if you like these cars, you’ll likely mind much.
Is it fast? Honestly, not nearly as quick as you might expect of something with a motor of a claimed 1186Nm (which, in any case, I can’t believe you can put through the drivetrain of a classic Defender without it becoming an inadvertent exponent of the automotive pole vault). In Eco driving mode, torque is meted out and managed for a smooth, pleasant step-off. Use Sport mode instead and the car can dart into motion more keenly, and up to the national speed limit about as quickly as a lower-order hot hatchback. But in Sport mode, you have to put up with a bit of driveline shunt, and a slightly sensitive accelerator pedal (a bigger bugbear than you may realise in a car that’s always busy on its springs). When you do get up a head of steam, handling is typically animated and approximate; always involving if you like to earn your keep at the wheel, but not like you’ll find in any modern off-roader or SUV. Faster cornering is best considered with plenty of circumspection, but no more than you’d reserve for any other Defender.
No major car brand would, I suspect, risk launching a vehicle that felt simultaneously as mechanically forthright and yet also as decidedly 21st century as this Defender. It’s an enigmatic and unexpectedly likeable contradiction, although the idea of it is sure to be divisive.
But be assured that however irrelevant that £270,000 (AUD$477,000) price may make this car to you (and Twisted can do a simple EV powertrain swap on a donor car for less than £100k (AUD$176,000), if that’s all you want), this is still a Defender, warts and all. The next time someone claims that all electric cars are the same, you can tell them – thanks, not least, to the aftermarket – how wrong they are.