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First Drive

Ineos Grenadier 4x4 review: prototype off-roader tested

Published: 23 Feb 2022
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Ah, the Grenadier. A proper off-roader for proper off-roady people…

It’s difficult to dislodge the image of The Fast Show’s bobble-hatted off-roaders when you see this thing in the flesh for the first time. Ineos’s mustard keen young marketing team would prefer you to think in terms of Carhartt, Canada Goose or Belstaff – a British fashion brand it hoovered up a few years ago to go with the company’s myriad other assets – and it’s fair to say that the Grenadier redefines the idea of being fit for purpose. Besides, no-one sinks £1bn-plus into building an entirely new car company in jest, certainly not Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the British billionaire and larger-than-life personality who is indivisible from this admirably square-cut device. So this first stint behind the wheel is important.

And? First impressions?

Full disclosure: today is a strictly off-road experience. As we slew gently sideways, great gobbets of mud arcing skywards off each wheel, the sheer unstoppability of Ineos’s inaugural vehicle is instantly apparent. It’s not practical to carve a car out of granite, but you sense that the guys behind the Grenadier would have done it if they could.

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Is it any good to drive?

In a quagmire in Alsace not far from where it’s being made in a former Smart factory, most assuredly. We’ll have to wait another few months before we get to try it on the road, and probe the outer limits of the defiantly old-school ladder frame chassis (supplied by Gestamp in Germany), coilover suspension and beam axles (from Italian specialist Carraro). And don’t ask about steering feel or any of that stuff. No idea.

What we can say is that the BMW-sourced 3.0-litre powertrain (the petrol one is good for 283bhp, 332lb ft) is smooth, and even in these heinous conditions there’s no need to engage the low range setting – a big, knobbly looking thing in this prototype – on the Tremec transfer case never mind the lockable front, centre or rear differentials. The eight-speed ZF automatic is more than capable of parcelling out traction when and where needed by itself. Traction, clearance (257.8mm) and stability are the mainstays of off-road driving, and the Grenadier has them covered. Magna Steyr did the work across a 1.1 million mile development programme. Sure, some folk might yearn for a manual gearbox, but that’s only for the truly hairy-arsed off-road flat-Earthers. And if it was needed or remotely relevant, you can be sure the boss would definitely have insisted on it. The Grenadier feels like a vehicle that could hold its own in Mad Max: Fury Road. It feels apocalypse-proof. A very 2022 USP, all in all.

Interior?

It’s great. You climb up and into the reassuring embrace of fabulous Recaro seats. The view ahead across the bonnet is commanding. The driving position is terrific, and there’s acres of room. This is clearly a place in which you can get business done, whether you run an Australian iron ore mine or maintain electricity pylons in the African bush. There’s a slim-line little display ahead of the driver, and a bigger one that perches on top of a jutting centre console. That supplies you with all the usual multi-media information, audio info, plus super clear graphics about what’s happening at the four corners.

Ineos Grenadier 4x4 review: prototype off-roader tested

That’s – gulp – a touchscreen, but beneath that sits all the other switchgear, an array of big, chunky rotary buttons that make up for in ease-of-use what they lack in smoothly engineered haptic feel. These control climate, window heaters, audio volume and park assist, amongst others. Then there’s the aviation-style panel on the roof, where you’ll find the controls for the serious off-road settings and a bunch of switches for add-ons like winches and auxiliary lights. Even the fonts used for the labelling scream ‘no-nonsense’. Mind you, I got a crick in my neck trying to explore it all, so maybe it’s not that ergonomic after all. Passengers get big grab-handles.

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And outside?

In an AI world, the Grenadier’s lack of pretension will definitely resonate for plenty of people (and not just the individual fixing the pylons in the African bush). Ineos’s head of design Toby Ecuyer is a trained architect who ended up designing super yachts for a company called RWD. Although those often end up being extraordinarily expensive and questionable manifestations of personal taste, they’re also informed by extreme functionality. He and his team stumbled on another important ownership consideration. "There’s a kindness about these sorts of vehicles, even if they’re working cars," he tells TopGear.com. "Words like 'faithful' and 'dependable' crop up a lot. It’s not about about grace or elegance. You could almost be talking about a beloved working gun dog. The vehicle had to be uncomplicated visually and uncomplicated to use. They’re easy to read, these things, you can see how they work just by looking at them."

Tell me more.

There are LEDs and parking sensors. The wheelarches are the shape they are to allow the maximum axle articulation. The front wings have a flat expanse so you can rest a mug of tea or a laptop on them, and they’re strong enough to sit on. Exterior wiring, with exit points to the roof at the front and rear, allows auxiliary lighting to be fitted. You can specify a utility rail with a universal fixing system on the doors, and its load bay can swallow a Euro pallet. Ecuyer says that the round front and rear lights form a ‘light tube’ that runs the length of the vehicle, but this is the only time he starts speaking car design. Ineos is happy to describe the Grenadier as ‘open source’ and will actively encourage owners to add their own kit to the vehicle, and for third-party companies to start making accessories for it. Well, that sort of thinking worked for the original Land Rover.

So you could say INEOS is unconventionally conventional.

They go their own way, for sure. "That’s a daily occurrence," CEO Dirk Heilmann explains. "Don’t get me wrong, it’s something we see in the petrochemical industry, too. As an organisation we listen, then we make our own mind up. But we want to improve where we see imperfections or massive gaps. Being ambitious and challenging is the key part, and it’s about asking the right questions. Look, half the time it might be a case of, 'ah, now I understand, carry on', but there’s the other half where we get to a new position and do things differently."

Will it work?

On this evidence, and having had a deep dive in the factory, it’s looking good. The global market for tough, unapologetic utility vehicles is three million units, and Ineos is targeting 25-30k vehicles per year. Remember also that America’s best-selling car/vehicle/truck is the Ford F-150 pick-up. Farmers, tradespeople, NGOs in tricky parts of the world and even people who like Belstaff clothing will find much to admire here. The Grenadier only came into being when Ratcliffe and co found themselves bemoaning the demise of the original Land Rover Defender, but the car it most reminds me of is the Mercedes G-wagen. Or maybe a late Seventies Toyota Landcruiser that’s fallen through a hole in the space-time continuum and re-emerged rebooted in 2022. These are strong reference points, in terms of build quality and character, and the ladder frame’s adaptability will no doubt lead to some appealingly analogue derivatives, including a long wheelbase seven-seat station wagon and two-seat commercial version. I suspect it will suit a gentler sort of driving style on the road, as you’d expect, but then who the hell wants to hustle a 2.7-tonne off-roader?

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