- Car Reviews
Amazing off-road, surprisingly good on-road, fantastic interior, analogue feel and no lane assist
Thirsty, steering is lifeless, blind spot on the windscreen needs sorted
What is it?
You know those SUVs, with smoothly chamfered exteriors and secret-until-lit interiors, and perhaps even posh carpet in the foot-wells? Well, the Grenadier isn’t one of those. In fact, you can dispense with the S part of the SUV abbreviation. This is strictly a UV, or maybe a UUV – useable utility vehicle.
INEOS says it combines rugged British spirit and design with German engineering, for uncompromised off-road capability. It’s been a while since any manufacturer in this globe-straddling market segment used phrases like ‘no-nonsense’, ‘stripped back’, and ‘workhorse’ in the same sentence. But INEOS has.
Here’s another: fitness for purpose. The Grenadier is for people who run farms or drive across – and spend nights camped out on – African plains. No doubt plenty will end up clogging up the car park outside Daylesford Organic in the Cotswolds, but that’s not the Grenadier’s natural habitat. Although Daylesford’s sausage rolls are to die for.
Got it. But before we go on… INEOS? Who’s that?
The world’s third largest chemical company. It employs 26,000 people across 36 individual businesses, and has 194 manufacturing facilities in 29 countries. Lately, it has moved into the energy market – oil and shale gas – and is pretty keen on fracking (boo/hiss). But INEOS is also a massive mover and shaker in global sport, and owns a third of the Mercedes-AMG Formula One team, runs the Grenadier Cycling team, and is bank-rolling Sir Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup sailing campaign (F1 on the ocean, basically). It also owns French Ligue One side OGC Nice, and Swiss Super League side Lausanne.
But unless you really have been hiding under a huge rock these past few years, you’ll surely have heard of INEOS’s owner, Sir Jim Ratcliffe. He’s Britain’s richest man – his estimated net worth is £13.3bn – and he’s currently all over the media as the front runner to buy a little-known British football club called Manchester United. That’s likely to cost him more than the £91m he paid for Nice in 2019.
Football clubs. F1. Racing yachts. It’s all a long way from building an old-school off-roader. Is this all relevant?
It is. Because INEOS is a disruptor, and has invested £1.3bn building its own off-roader because Ratcliffe thought there was a gap in the market, and didn’t think what’s currently available is up to the job. Sir Jim is also a bona fide adventurer. TG.com had a long conversation with him during the Grenadier’s launch in Scotland, and came away feeling monumentally inadequate (as well as impoverished). He’s sailed his own vessel through the Northwest Passage – the famously dangerous route in the Arctic Ocean that connects the Pacific and the Atlantic – ridden a motorbike along the spine of the Andes, ventured across the North and South Pole, and climbed a few mountains. Where does he find the time?
“Have I ever experienced fear? A few times, yes,” he admits. “I’ve done the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc. Some people get comfortable with that sort of thing, but it wasn’t my natural turf.” Later this year, he’ll be driving a pair of blower Bentleys, the world’s oldest Land Rover Series I (Huey, which Ratcliffe owns and has restored) and a few Grenadiers across Mongolia.
He also has a fine car collection, highlights of which include the ex-Michael Schumacher Ferrari F310B with which he took his first win for Ferrari (gloriously so, in the rain-sodden 1996 Spanish GP), a McLaren F1 GTR (one of the celebrated Le Mans runners in 1995), and a Ferrari 250 GT California Spider. Pretty tasty. Plus, a few Mercedes G-Wagens, which Ratcliffe loves but says he would never consider adventuring in. Which brings us back to the Grenadier.
Ah yes, back to that. Tell us more, please.
In terms of the visuals, no-one’s reinventing the wheel here, despite starting from a clean sheet. Ratcliffe cites design as one of the key attributes, but takes a dim view of the way Land Rover has reinvented the Defender. The Grenadier is unrepentantly boxy, primarily to maximise interior space, with a wheel at each corner to reduce overhangs, making off-roading easier (and less expensive when things go awry). The wheelarches are the shape they are to allow for maximum axle articulation. The front wings are flat so you can rest a mug of tea or a laptop on them.
Exterior wiring, with exit points to the roof at the front and rear, allows auxiliary lighting to be fitted. A utility rail with a universal fixing system on the doors is an option. A single-piece tailgate would have needed hinges the size of the moon to support it so the rear door is split 30:70. Open them both and there’s room for a Euro pallet inside. A lockable storage box is an option.
“There’s a kindness about these sorts of vehicles, even if they’re working cars,” designer Toby Ecuyer (a former yacht designer, he’s now the INEOS group’s full-time in-house design boss.) explains. “Words like ‘faithful’ and ‘dependable’ crop up a lot. It’s not about grace or elegance. 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.”
One designy note: the circular lights look great, and they’re the same size front and rear. The idea is to suggest the strength of a solid tube across the length of the vehicle. And although there are exterior door hinges, the actual bolts are inside to stop light-fingered sorts from unbolting them. The marketing team have also had fun with the colour palette: Scottish White was almost called Scottish Tan (geddit?), Donny Grey is a nod to Doncaster’s skies (INEOS co-founder Andy Currie is from that fine city), and there’s also Magic Mushroom (yes, it’s named after the psychedelic fungi).
Please note, the options list is long – we’d have the front winch from NATO-supplier Red Winches, although it costs £5,500 – and INEOS is happily ‘open source’ and encourages personalisation. There’s little point trying to critique what’s basically a box on wheels, but for all it owes a clear debt to the Defender and G-Wagen, it also has lots of character of its own. Fitness for purpose is always cool, right?
What about the engines and specification?
We’re talking old-school ladder frame chassis (supplied by Gestamp in Germany), coilover suspension, and beam axles (from Italian specialist Carraro, who supply the likes of John Deere). The chassis has been fully e-coated for maximum corrosion protection, and the steel section is up to 3.5mm thick in the key places. Apparently the team spent three years working on it, which is a long time developing a ladder frame. There are front and rear skid-plates and protection for the 90-litre fuel tank.
Two powertrains are available, both sourced from BMW: the 3.0-litre turbo petrol is good for 283bhp and 332lb ft, the common rail direct injection turbodiesel 248bhp and 405lb ft. INEOS designed the manually adjustable two-speed transfer case, but it’s made by Tremec. In addition to its centre diff, two electronically actuated diff locks, supplied by Eaton, are also available. They’re optional, which suggests that INEOS is confident about the Grenadier’s ability in all but the toughest conditions.
The eight-speed ZF automatic is the one widely used in the car industry, but recalibrated here and fitted with a heavy duty torque converter. INEOS’s engineering partner on the Grenadier, Magna Steyr, honed everything across a 1.1 million-mile development programme. Including the infamous Schoeckl mountain in Austria, a particular favourite of Sir Jim’s.
TG asks him whether it’s been more or less difficult getting the Grenadier done than he’d anticipated. “Oh, it’s been much more difficult,” he replies with zero hesitation. “Would we make the same decisions today, knowing what we know now, as we did in 2016, I’m not sure we would, really. There were various stage gates along the way where you think ‘Shall we continue?’ But we never got close to canning the whole thing, although we finished up spending a bit more money.”
Ratcliffe is a noted Brexiteer, whose vast income led him to decamp to tax-friendly Monaco a few years ago. The Grenadier, once tipped to be made at a factory in Bridgend, is an international effort. “We’re British and we manage [the operation]. We have British concept, design and marketing, and German engineering. And in a way that’s how we run INEOS petrochemicals. The Brits are good commercially and not very good at manufacturing. That combination of the best skills of Germany and the best skills of the UK has proven to be very successful for INEOS.”
He continues: “There really isn’t anything in this space, is there? Other than pick-up trucks. If you’re a farmer or want to drive across Africa, what do you buy? Bits would fall off a Jeep. Drive the Grenadier in Africa and it’s better than anything else in terms of comfort and durability. Land Rover’s reliability is bad, the Landcruiser reliable but looks average and it’s not very comfortable. So for the Grenadier we tried to create something that looks quite cool, has the reliability of the Toyota, and off-road capability that’s as good as it gets. That’s where we started five years ago. And this is where we’ve finished up.”
A smaller, pure EV is in development, and while INEOS is well-placed to build a hydrogen-powered Grenadier, Ratcliffe thinks the lack of a suitable fuelling infrastructure makes it unlikely. For now.
What's the verdict?
Most start-ups are electric or dreamers making low-volume, often pointless sports cars. The INEOS Grenadier is indivisible from the man who owns the giant company that makes it, a pioneer who thinks big and tends to get things done. This automatically makes it fascinating, even if the end result isn’t exactly ground-breaking.
But we’re back to that fitness for purpose thing. The Grenadier is exceptionally well-engineered and does exactly what it sets out to do: go places most cars can’t without falling apart, and do it with some imagination and a dose of British idiosyncrasy. It’s also more accomplished on-road than its rivals, and almost as good as the Mercedes G-Wagen, a vehicle made by the company that invented the car in the first place. Only rather less expensive.