What do you do when you’re one of the richest people in Britain and feel like nobody is making the car you want? Nice position to be in, eh?
That was the problem faced by Sir Jim Ratcliffe in 2017, the man who topped the Sunday Times rich list in 2018 (namely thanks to his petrochemical business Ineos) who thought there was a gap in the market for a ‘stripped-back, utilitarian and hard-working 4×4’.
Named after his favourite pub in Belgravia, it’s not surprising that when someone has that kind of backing and ambition it doesn’t take long for an idea discussed over a pint to lead to hundreds of engineers being onboard and for the end product to quickly materialise. The end product is this – the Ineos Grenadier.
I believe this is what’s known as Grenadier weather pic.twitter.com/OJtow8SerW
— Ted Welford (@TedWelford) October 18, 2021
Ineos has been drip-feeding information about the Grenadier since, with the model being revealed in full in July 2020. Not all coverage has been rosy, though, as while originally set to be built in Bridgend, Wales, the model will now be produced in France. There’s also been a bitter row with Land Rover, who reckoned Ineos was copying its Defender’s unique shape.
Thankfully that Punch and Judy show now seems to be over and it has let Ineos get on with things, which is what leads us to Duncombe Park near Helmsley, North Yorkshire, to get up close to the Grenadier for the first time, as well as get in the passenger seat to sort-of experience it for ourselves.
Though more than a hundred cars are being tested around the globe at the moment, there are only a handful in the UK – with just two prototype examples on display for us to look at. The first is a static which is said to be 90 per cent there, though we’re given strict instructions to not touch anything as it’s still ‘fragile’.
The second is the test vehicle used to highlight its off-road credentials, and though most of the buttons and touchscreen are in there, it’s not what you’d call finished – a large notice on the dash saying that the airbags aren’t working, is just one example.
But though this car isn’t there yet, jump inside and you realise how utilitarian it’s been designed to be. The interior can be ‘washed out’, so there are hard floors, Recaro seats that are said to be water-resistant and clearly labelled switchgear. A cool touch is that the off-road switchgear is located on the roof above you – almost making the Grenadier feel like an aircraft.
Everything is clearly described, and though we understand why, things like labelling a climate switch as ‘temperature’ feel like it’s just pointing out the obvious.
But back to the model’s engineering, which aims to use the best bits from other brands and combine them together. It’s why you’ll find BMW straight-six engines under the bonnet (there’s an option of petrol or diesel), while the gearbox comes from ZF (which supplies the likes of Jaguar) and springs from specialists Eibach – we could go on.
Though there is certain off-road gubbins that isn’t yet fitted to this car yet, a brief stint from the passenger seat soon showed us the capabilities of the Grenadier. Though our route was hardly the equivalent of climbing Everest, rough tracks and muddy and slippery rutted trails (it was typical Yorkshire weather on the day of testing) through forests are likely what most Grenadiers will get up to on a more day-to-day basis.
If you’re used to the compromised driving position and bone-shattering ride of an old Defender, the Grenadier is a vast improvement. The punch from the straight-six petrol engine in our test model (final figures are being finalised, but Ineos is aiming for 280bhp and 450Nm of torque) is superb when negotiating steep up hills, and seems effortless, while the eight-speed automatic – no manual will be offered – is a great companion, and is ultra-smooth.
The suspension also does a superb job of ironing out the ruts in the road. Granted, we’re not at the adaptive air suspension levels of comfort that you get from a Range Rover, but it can smooth over many bumps that you’d expect the car to crash over. Special mention also needs to go to the Recaro seats, which are a great addition, and offer that greater support you might need when heading off the beaten track.
Ineos still has plenty to do before full Grenadier production commences in July 2022, not just in terms of the development of the vehicle, but also infrastructure. There are plans for 23 UK ‘dealers’, while the firm will work with Bosch aftersales for servicing. We’re told the aim is that customers will ‘never be further than 50km away from Ineos-accredited workshop’.And pricing? Well, the Grenadier certainly isn’t cheap, with prices expected to start from £48,000, though it will likely be closer to £60,000 by the time the bells and whistles you’ll want are added.
Though full judgement needs to be reserved until we can get behind the wheel ourselves – and for longer – the Grenadier most certainly has potential, and doesn’t feel like a half-baked attempt at recreating an original Defender, either. Let’s hope the end result delivers on that beer-barrel-promise.