A bigger diesel could conceivably have ruined the Defender, but Twisted's five-pot prototype proves a likeable Shire horse

What is it?

The next step in Twisted’s slow-burning plan to transform the once humble Defender into a do-it-all upmarket offering.

Previously - leaving its brilliant V8-engined offering aside - the Yorkshire-based tuner had contented itself with modifying Land Rover’s established lineup; now it intends to offer the bigger 3.2-litre TDCi from the Ford Ranger (and Transit) as a swap-out option. 

As standard, the new-to-Defender five-cylinder unit develops around 197bhp and 347lb ft of torque; once Twisted has finished bolting on a new exhaust, intercooler and remapping the ECU, the power peaks at beyond 230bhp and, more importantly, provides the 110 prototype driven here with 528lb ft of low-down pluck.

Not only does this cleave the standard Defender's 0-62mph time roughly in two, it also makes the car a supremely capable tow bar mount. No surprises there perhaps, considering Land Rover’s own sterling reputation, but the 3.2-litre engine’s extra heave is said to make considerably lighter work of the 3500kg towing limit - a serious attraction to anyone who’s ever spent time hauling something down a motorway behind a Defender. 

Although an evolution of the car’s current 2.2-litre, four-cylinder TDCi, Twisted has had to find room for the larger engine, and its six-speed manual gearbox. Its taller dimensions mean it’s a much tighter fit between bonnet and axle, and the greater weight rules out the use of the brand’s preferred progressive springs (although they'll be available eventually).

Instead the Twisted prototype gets a more conventional heavy-duty set-up at the front, albeit one complemented by Bilstein dampers and six-pot brakes.

What's it like?

A hoot. Flawed, certainly - as you might expect at this stage - but easily likeable enough to confirm that Twisted is probably onto something. The key feature here is burliness; the bigger engine, tightly squeezed under the Defender's bonnet, is heavier, noisier, keener and manifestly tougher than even the Twisted-fettled version of the 2.2-litre motor. 

With the firm’s attentions it idles with a roaring, impatient five-cylinder thrum. Predictably, given its provenance, first and second gear feel short enough to get a concrete horse-box underway, and can almost be bypassed completely should you wish.

Third and fourth are hardly what you’d consider long either, although both are rambunctiously propulsive. Really, as it’ll pull cleanly from 30-70mph in the next ratio, it’s fifth and sixth where you spend most of your time though - and where the car announces itself as something different. 

Instead of easing into 60mph like it’s been winded at the effort, the 3.2-engined Defender uses its almighty, largely unhindered twist to surge well beyond the familiar chug.

Outright quick, by modern standards, it probably isn’t, but for Land Rover’s pop-riveted lackey it feels incredibly enthusiastic beyond 70mph. Overtaking, instead of being limited to rounding cyclists, is now credible even on a fast A-road. 

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Exploring its potential however is not a quiet or relaxing business. Twisted’s impeccable soundproofing can only do so much; this is an unapologetic workhorse of an engine, and from the weight of the gear change to the low geared, Transit-like power band, it shows everywhere.

The firm may yet choose to somewhat lengthen the ratios of the six-speed gearbox for a bit more usability in the lower gears, although Twisted is keen not to rob the model of its towing prowess at higher road speeds.

Certainly there are few other applications where such an obviously industrial power source would be acceptable. But the Defender is obviously a class apart in that sense, and as a long-term recipient of such engines, the five-pot’s fitment doesn’t inordinately pervert the established formula.

It does, at the moment, make for a slightly different breed of Twisted though; without the added compliance of the progressive springs, the prototype is a more insistent prospect to drive than its other offerings.

Not uncomfortable or unlikeable for it however - especially as the elimination of that initial body roll has endowed it with a newly aggressive turn-in that suits the extra grunt. 

Should I buy one?

Even Twisted admits that for most people, its clever and considerately tuned versions of the Defender’s standard four-cylinder engines are plenty good enough - and significantly cheaper to buy. But it isn’t hard to see the space for a bigger diesel offering in the company’s growing portfolio, nor is it difficult to imagine its enthusiastic customer base embracing the option. 

The premium - Twisted currently quotes £17,995 for fitting the five-pot - will likely be a bigger hurdle than its drivability, although clearly that's in line for some fine-tuning before customers start ticking boxes. Down the line, there's also the possibility of an auto ‘box option for the 3.2, a prospect which would likely add effortlessness to the model’s existing attributes. 

Of course, with a turbocharged V6 petrol in the pipeline first, there are far more lazy and luxurious options to come from Twisted; what it has produced here feels instead like the brawniest of power tools - and given that it comes wrapped in a car celebrated for its fierce ruggedness, that makes it something of a plaything in its own right.

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Add in the briskness and blasé towing ability, and the right kind of deep-pocketed Defender fan might just consider it irresistible. 

Twisted 110 Utility 3.2 Ultimate

Price £96,000 (From £66,000); 0-62mph 8.6sec (est); Top speed 115mph (est); Economy 25.5mpg (est); CO2 NA; Kerb weight 2370kg; Engine 3198cc, five cyls, turbodiesel; Power 237bhp; Torque 528lb ft Gearbox 6-speed manual

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Citytiger 3 May 2014

Its about

£60k too expensive, it would be cheaper to buy a Discovery and modify it for your particular needs, be it luxury or ruggedness, and you dont lose anything in off road ability but gain a massive amount of refinement and safety, and surely would it not have been better to fit the JLR/PSA V6 3.0 diesel as currently used by JLR, that way a normal dealer could have looked after it, and its far more powerful and refined, fitting this Ford engine makes no sense.
NY_69 3 May 2014

City Banker

You see the odd Defender driving about in the city. Suppose under those circumstances there is a certain hint of coolness about the vehicle...maybe?
John O'Groats 3 May 2014

Fit only for masochists.

I don't know why any driver would willingly subject themselves to the physical punishment associated with the cramped interior and the horrific ergonomics of a Defender - tarted up or otherwise.