Last year’s brief off-road drive in a prototype version of the INEOS Grenadier left many questions unanswered, with the good news being that PH’s first turn in the production station wagon was comprehensive enough to put ticks against all of the ones related to the product itself. But not, of course, the biggest one of all – will Jim Ratcliff’s radical new venture prove a success.
The Grenadier’s media launch could well be the biggest and most ambitious ever held in the UK, divided into multiple parts as the cars headed from the far north of Scotland to London, ending up at the pub that inspired the Grenadier’s name. I went on the first of these, starting near Wick and ending in Inverness, with a two-day itinerary both featuring plenty of time both on road and it. There was also the chance to have dinner with the INEOS boss himself, at which Sir Jim confirmed that the company is planning to launch several other models, but also that he has spent €1.5bn getting the Grenadier to market. Nobody could accuse him of lacking ambition, or backing his plans
Yet what the Grenadier is not, despite the oft-repeated backstory, is a successor to the old Defender. Yes, Land Rover’s greatest hit inspired its creation, and the Grenadier’s design is the result of INEOS having won a legal battle with JLR to allow the superficially familiar form. But beyond the fact it has a ladder chassis, live axles and front wings you can stand a teacup on, the differences are much more pronounced than the similarities. The Grenadier is much better built, more spacious, more powerful and considerably quicker. To drive it actually feels closer to the more basic versions of the previous-generation W461 Mercedes G-Wagen. Which is no great surprise, Ratcliffe noting that no fewer than 250 engineers at Magna Steyr moved straight from working on the current G-Class to the Grenadier.
Most of the comments on the cabin are similar to those from the prototype drive. There is much more space than in a classic Defender – no need to drive with the window open for elbow room – and the interior feels tough and well-finished. The single display central display screen combining the minimal instrumentation with all other functions feels maybe a little too utilitarian for the price – even the cheapest launch-spec five-seat station wagon is £58,000 in the UK. But it delivers data cleanly and the decision to forego the use of any native navigation app to just run a smartphone one feels like a realistic position given where world is going.
Much impresses. The circular compass in the central air vents is a nice touch, it also shows altitude and bearing. The functional, clean design of the dials and switchgear works well, although with the proviso that only the heating and ventilation controls are backlit. Some functions are also on an aircraft style roof panel, these including switches to allow wired accessories to be integrated and the controls for the front and rear locking differentials. The centre diff is controlled by the mechanical lever for the high-low transfer box, sliding this left engages the lock. And yes, the selector for the eight-speed autobox clearly shows its origins; but it works as easily and instinctively as it does in its BMW applications.
There is a sizeable ergonomic foible, although only on right-hand drive Grenadiers. This is a substantial hump on the left side of the footwell, one I initially took to be an XL footrest. It isn’t – beneath it lies an equally substantial bulge in the floor, apparently down to the front-drive transfer casing on the gearbox. This means there isn’t an obvious place to rest an idle left foot except by tucking it sideways, something that felt a little strange.
The prototype drive in France last year was conducted entirely in gelatinous mud, and without going over 16mph. But the first part of the road route in Scotland definitely constitutes a jump to the dynamic deep end – 70 miles of one of the most rugged and isolated stretches of the North Coast 500, following the A836 west from the Castle of Mey to the shore of Loch Eribol. A gloomy weather forecast has me checking the website that tracks Scotland’s puntastic fleet of salt-spreaders before setting out – Gritty Gritty Bang Bang being my favourite. But although temperatures are below freezing, the roads are mercifully free of ice.
First up is a petrol-powered version in the slightly ritzier Fieldmaster spec, this using the 282hp 3.0-litre BMW B58 turbo six. Fieldmaster brings alloy wheels and leather trim as standard, but moves some of the more rugged features standard on the identically priced Trialmaster to the options sheet. In addition to its £69,000 base price the car I drove had been given a fetching shade of baby blue with a white contrast roof, bigger 18-inch alloys and the Rough Pack – standard on the Trialmaster – which brings front and rear differential locks plus chunky BF Goodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tyres. All-in it came to £76,293.
The petrol Grenadier is quick – impressively so. INEOS claims an 8.6-second 0-62mph time, but it actually feels a good deal fleeter than that thanks to the extra appreciation of G-forces that come from its height and the slight but noticeable nose-up attitude it adopts under hard acceleration. The petrol engine produces maximum power at a lowly 4,750rpm, and the engine won’t go past 5,200rpm even with manual gear selection. But the broad spread of torque across the rev range means it doesn’t need to – and even at half throttle with the transmission left in Drive it gathers pace at a rate no original factory Defender could get close to.
The chassis copes well with the challenge of maintaining order, even in slippery conditions. The combination of solid axles and a steering box rather than a rack and pinion have been designed for off-road duty more than on-road precision, but the Grenadier is well behaved and predictable. Steering is low geared and lacking much feedback, with the amount of correctional input required to stay on a chosen line rising as speed increases. But the limits are well-flagged and it felt stable at a decent road pace. The outhouse proportions create lots of drag – especially obvious by the rate it slows when lifting off – but I can’t imagine the limited 99mph top speed will be an issue for many buyers very often.
Despite the aerodynamic challenges of battering air aside the Grenadier doesn’t get loud at cruising speed, with refinement good considering the live axles. The Grenadier will never be mistaken for a limo; even on smooth roads the ride never quite settles down. But bumps are handled cleanly and without any sensation of wobble from the separate chassis. Visibility is less impressive, with a big blind spot behind the driver’s side A-pillar and minimal view out of the back past the combination of the exterior mounted rear tyre and door frames. The flat rear glass also tends the reflect the headlights of approaching traffic into the interior rear view mirror, distractingly.
The Grenadier is also lacking on the sort of active safety tech increasingly common in this part of the market. There’s no blind-spot monitoring or lane-departure warnings, nor the option of radar cruise. There is a rear view camera – a legal requirement in many markets – but not one of the view-stitching 360 degree systems which help when manoeuvring something big in tight spaces. Engineers say the Grenadier will meet forthcoming ADAS requirements for active steering assistance by putting slight braking force through individual front wheels; the hydraulically assisted steering box can’t be electrically controlled. INEOS insists that the Grenadier is aimed at buyers who prioritize ruggedness and durability over flashy tech; it will deliberately be an analogue car in an increasingly digital world.
Heading off-road takes the Grenadier to its happy place. The long, linear car launch meant here was an element of luck when it came to encountering different terrain. Much of the first leg was on rutted tracks through vast Highland estates, these bringing spectacular views but little dynamic challenge. But I did get to take it down a steep, slippery muddy trail to the side of a particularly scenic sea loch, the returning the same was in torrential rain once the route had been churned up by another couple of dozen Grenadiers.
This is the point the Grenadier starts to feel most like the old Defender. It is definitely a manual, physical car – with selecting low range requiring the transmission to be put into neutral and then the heavy lever for the transfer case heaved with a satisfying clunk. Locking the centre diff was easy, but the front and rear ones was more fiddly – having to press the roof buttons controlling them and then wait for the light to show they were ‘in’.
Skill is required. Choose the right settings and the Grenadier is predictably mighty, slipping and sliding its way through the mud in a way very reminiscent of its Land Rover inspiration. But if you’re looking for anything like an idiot-proof off-roader with clearance boosting air springs and a fire-and-forget terrain mode – a car like the current Defender – this definitely isn’t it.
Switching to the diesel Grenadier in Trailmaster spec proved it was better suited to low-speed off-road chugging, and didn’t feel noticeably lacking on pace on road. It is louder than the petrol engine, but not to the extent of feeling crude. It’s also much more frugal. The demanding off-roading meant that economy wasn’t great with either powerplant, and I only had the trip computer to go on. But while the petrol’s display reported 12mpg after my sting, the diesel got past 20mpg after a mix of road and track. The Trailmaster gets lots of the off-roady bits as standard, as well as rubber flooring, cloth trim and natty steel wheels. But there are some glaring omissions: a £69,000 SUV lacking heated seats feels positively stingy.
The Grenadier is also just the start. INEOS Automotive is planning at least three other models. One will be bigger, presumably featuring three rows of seats, and one will be an EV – but all will still have to be able to deliver on both durability and off-road performance. So it’s fair to say that Sir Jim’s appetite for automotive risk remains unassuaged, despite the ten figure stake he’s already put on the table.
The Grenadier is a very serious car. Now we have to wait to discover if there is a correspondingly serious global market for it.
SPECIFICATION | INEOS Grenadier Petrol Fieldmaster
Engine: 2,998cc, straight six, petrol, turbocharged
Transmission: 8-speed automatic with two-speed transfer case, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 282 @ 4750rpm
Torque (lb ft): 331 @ 1850rpm
Top speed: 99mph (limited)
Price: £69,000 (base), £76,293 (as tested)
SPECIFICATION | INEOS Grenadier Diesel Trialmaster
Engine: 2,993cc, straight six, turbodiesel
Transmission: 8-speed automatic with two-speed transfer case, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 247 @ 4200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 405 @ 1250rpm
Top speed: 99mph (limited)
Price: £69,000 (base), £72,041 (as tested)
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