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The new Ineos Grenadier is built to take the rough with the smooth

Simon de Burton
April 22, 2024
6 min

Fans of ‘classic’ Land Rovers were up in arms when the truly legendary Defender was finally pensioned-off in 2016 – two million vehicles after the first of the breed was unveiled at the Amsterdam motor show in April 1948. The old Defender had matured into a dinosaur incapable of meeting modern-day emission and safety standards: it was simply unsellable. But those same traditionalists were left wanting when the ‘new’ Defender arrived in 2020, with many seeing it as too luxurious, too expensive, too complex and a little too precious to be used in the way that the original was designed for: for lugging logs, hauling hay, dragging trailers and generally being pushed to its limits, while still being able to come back for more.

Adventure-loving billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe – CEO of chemicals giant Ineos and frequently cited as ‘Britain’s richest person’ – spotted an opportunity, and offered to buy the rights and tooling direct from Jaguar Land Rover.  He was turned down, flat. Undaunted and determined, Sir Jim began developing from the ground up the car many people believe the new Defender should have been. The project was first mooted in 2017 in Ratcliffe’s favourite pub, the Grenadier in London’s Belgravia, a historic former officer’s mess named in honour of the Grenadier Guards.

Just five years later and production of the Ineos Grenadier is well underway at the Smartville factory in Hambach, France, which Ineos bought from Mercedes-Benz as a going concern at the end of 2020. (For good measure, Sir Jim also bought the Grenadier pub, as well as the off road-appropriate outdoor clothing brand Belstaff, after which the first special edition Grenadiers have been named). Being a fledgling automotive company, Ineos needed a bit of help to get things underway, so, with plenty of cash to throw at the project, Sir Jim chose the best engineering firms available. Magna, which built the original Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen SUV, created the body; German chassis specialists Gestamp took care of the underpinnings; and the all-important axles have been designed and built by Carraro in Italy.

In keeping with the car’s ‘Built on Purpose’ mantra, first drives of the production car took the form of an event labelled ‘Expedition 1’ in which a fleet of Grenadiers travelled in relays from the Castle of Mey in northernmost mainland Scotland, down to the Grenadier pub where it all began. Q-P was invited to take part in the second leg, which ran from Inverness to Glasgow amid snow, ice and bitter cold – conditions that could hardly have been better for the launch of a vehicle specifically built to tackle anything that nature can throw at it.

On first sight, the design of Toby Ecuyer – an automotive debut for a man best known for designing superyachts – appears to have been clearly inspired by the old Defender, albeit with a front end that has more in common with the G-Wagen. But the Grenadier is no pastiche of anything that has come before – it’s a completely new vehicle from the ground up.

Starting from the bottom, the car has been given a massive ladder chassis supported by Carraro’s hefty beam axles, and a set of good, old-fashioned coil springs rather than the high-tech, but potentially troublesome, air suspension units commonly found on many modern off-roaders. This set up is backed up by three differential locks (front, middle and back) that ensure power always goes to all four wheels – useful across tricky terrains.

Under the bonnet, there’s a choice of petrol or diesel-powered three-litre and six-cylinder BMW engines that drive through a mighty ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox, complete with manual override and a choice of high or low ratios. Inside, the cab is rugged but comfortable with a choice of trim options and an innovative control set-up that’s divided between a split dashboard (touchscreen infotainment above, business-like knobs and buttons below) and an aircraft-style overhead console that houses switches for activating features such as the differential locks, hill descent control, ‘wading’ and ‘offroad’ modes.

Lewis Hamilton tested the Grenadier 4x4 with Sir Jim Ratcliffe. “I’m genuinely enjoying driving this car, it’s very comfortable considering some of the huge dips we were driving down… I was pretty much flat-out around the course. I’m massively surprised at how much grip there is,” said Hamilton. Photograph © Ineos

Additionally, the overhead console is fitted with a multitude of auxiliary switches that are wired-in to accept some of the many accessories that owners will likely want to add to their Grenadiers for hitting the road. Those switches can be quickly linked to extra lights, winches, and external power supplies, while other neat touches that enhance the car’s versatility include stout lashing points on the roof (which can carry a direct load of up to 420 kilos when static or 150 on the move); optional (and ingenious) ‘sockets’ along each side of the body for attaching accessories such as tables and tents; and a 2,000 litre cargo area that can be configured in numerous ways and fitted with a wide range of carrying accessories from an already fast-growing catalogue.

The CEO of Ineos Automotive, Lynn Calder, is a 45-year-old Scot whose father was a commercial vehicle mechanic – but, prior to her appointment last December, she had no professional experience of the automotive world, having built her career in the oil and gas industry. “I’m driven by learning about new things – I just think it’s a lot of fun to stretch your brain,” she says.

“Discovering the SUV market and, specifically, about the features and capabilities of the Grenadier, has been a steep learning curve,” she continues. “It’s an intense period because, after five years of development, the car is moving from the project stage to being a business. Sir Jim saw a gap left by the old Defender and, inevitably, there has been an early-stage comparison with that vehicle. However, I’m confident that when the public gets to know the Grenadier better it will be proven to have its own DNA.”

The drive routes in the remotest parts of the 50,000-acre Ardverikie and Luss estates were designed to test the Grenadier’s mettle without compromise, taking in boulder- strewn tracks, ice-covered ascents and descents, deep river crossings, extensive rutted tracks and even a wade through Loch Lomond. And the car didn’t disappoint, not least thanks to a feeling of invincibility off-road that really does inspire an urge to pack it all in and head off on the kind of adventure taking roads less-travelled. This was particularly true of the diesel-powered versions which, thanks to the extra low-down power of that type of engine, gave the impression that if the Grenadier is allowed to take its time, it could probably crawl up anything. Some testers, however, have picked fault with the car’s on-road handling – criticising it for ‘wandering’ steering (for which old Land Rovers were notorious), inconsistencies in the way the doors close, and difficulties in disengaging the front and rear diff locks.

Points two and three will likely be resolved as production enters full swing; point one strikes us as nothing more than the typical trait of a vehicle designed to offer serious off-road capability and running on rough-terrain tyres. In fact, as a long-standing Land Rover owner and driver, I rather enjoyed discovering a brand new car that presented as less than perfect – not least because those perceived niggles seemed completely irrelevant when pounding up a rocky gulley, wading through door-deep water or yomping up a boggy hillside. In fact, let’s not call them faults – let’s call them ‘character enhancing’.  

Ineos Grenadier 4x4
Engines — BMW three-litre, six cylinder, diesel or petrol
Power — 183kw (diesel) 210kw (petrol)
Torque — 550Nm at 1,250 – 3,000rpm (diesel); 450Nm at 1,750 – 4,000 rpm (petrol)
Transmission — ZF eight-speed automatic with manual override; mechanical centre
differential lock; electronic front and rear differential locks
Weight — 2.7 tonnes
Towing capacity — 3.5 tonnes
Length — 4.8 metres
Width — 1.9 metres
0-100kph — 9.9 secs (diesel); 8.6 secs (petrol)
Top speed — c 99mph / 160 kph