The Defender comes back from the grave to take on the G-Wagen
The Defender may be dead, but it shows no signs of disappearing. Indeed, it gets turned into all manner of specials, twisted out of its original utilitarian roots so far it’s practically a new species. Mercedes has done much the same with the G-Wagen, which nearly died earlier this century but now shows signs of rude and very expensive health.
Price: £102,233 as tested
Engine: 3.0-litre, V6, diesel
Transmission: Seven-speed auto
0-62mph: 8.9 seconds
Top speed: 119mph
Economy: 28.5mpg combined
CO2 emissons: 261g/km
However, not all the Merc derivatives are as blingy as the G500 Squared, and you can still buy serious vehicles like the G350D. Land Rover never seemed to quite get behind the idea of creating decent numbers of special Defenders, so it’s been left to the private sector to fill that void, companies like Twisted. The result is two vehicles that in many ways came from a similar stock but have ended up coming at things from different directions.
The G350d is a strange combination of styles and decades. Just look at the upright, boxy appearance, the vinyl on the door cards, the almost harsh structure of the big heavy beast. Yet within that is an infotainment system any owner of a modern Merc would be familiar with, along with sat nav, entertainment, some wood and some leather and other little luxuries, cheek by jowl with something from the 1970s.
With off-road tyres on, it’s a bit of a wandery old thing on the main roads but it’s a doddle to drive and actually very easy to control and see out of. Under the high bonnet the modern 3.0-litre V6 diesel works extremely smoothly and easily with the seven-speed 7G-Tronic transmission.
Twisted Defender 110 T40
Price: £63,474 as tested
Engine: 2.2-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel
Power: 170hp with P4 performance upgrade (Twisted figure)
Torque: 265lb/ft (standard)
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Top speed: 90mph
CO2: 266g/km (110 295g/km)
Then you go off the road and on to gnarly Scottish countryside and you are forcefully reminded that this is the real thing. You have to be trying to get stuck to even contemplate low ratio, and then you still have the diff locks if it gets medieval.
This is where an ordinary Defender ought to be showing its mettle, but the Twisted option is no ordinary Defender. The 110 T40 has had some serious work on it to improve on what are some pretty agricultural aspects to the workhorse. You can tell instantly on the road, as you can actually have a conversation thanks to a lot of very effective sound-deadening.
And the Progressive Suspension package really does allow you to tackle some B-roads without the fear you’re going to topple over. The 2.2-litre diesel has been breathed on with sensible improvements, which has resulted in a really chunky midrange. It still doesn’t feel as worthy of the road as the G-Wagen, but it’s a big step forward. Some of the vehicle is still very archaic but that can be endearing rather than off-putting.
When the Twisted gets on the twisty off-road stuff it shows its colours with a real sleeves-rolled-up air. You feel more involved where in the Mercedes you feel more isolated. In the Defender you can feel and hear big bits of metal moving into place, and you really drive the thing, whereas in the G-Wagen you could just sit back and literally steer it with one finger.
Perhaps that’s where the Mercedes falls down. It’s so utterly capable, that it can seem almost dismissive, remote, not engaged. It’s massively capable, astonishingly so, on the kind of terrain most owners would probably never walk let alone consider taking their £100,000 vehicle. Yes, six figures. Go figure.
But the G-Wagen hits the G-spot these days as a sort of over-the-top Hollywood gangsta and there’s no shortage of people buying the blingiest versions for eye-watering money.
Which, rather strangely, leaves the Twisted Defender looking sort of normal. It costs well under £65,000 in this 110 T40 iteration, and there’s no doubting that you gain an awful lot of material advances over a standard vehicle. Yet, at the same time, it still is a Defender and you’re aware of it. You get stuck in, involved, man and machine working their way up a hill in harmony. The Twisted part just makes that involvement even more harmonious.
(All stats for standard car before modification unless otherwise stated)