It has been six years since Sir Jim Ratcliffe, chemicals squillionaire and tough Lancastrian, walked into a pub with a few mates and started to talk about making a car. Not just any car, but a replacement for the previous-generation Land Rover Defender, which Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) had despatched into the deep the year before and then refused Ratcliffe permission to reproduce it. And now we’re here, Sir Jim’s Awfully Big Adventure is finally rolling its wheels in anger.
So, what’s the big idea? Mark Tennant, Ineos Automotive’s amiable commercial director, shows a slide of the beer mat on which Sir Jim’s sketched a triangle device showing his main criteria for the rugged 4x4. At the top is design, bottom left durability and reliability, and bottom right off-road capability. Of the modern accoutrements of Apple CarPlay, monocoque bodyshells, customer concierges, futuristic infotainment, radar- and camera-controlled steering, there is no sign.
This is no-nonsense all the way to its frozen, wind-blasted boundaries, using levers and brawn in place of the Cloud, and big buttons in place of dubious touchscreens, or at least that was the idea. It was even named after a Belgravia pub, the Grenadier. It’s owned by Ratcliffe now – of course it is.
There’s been serious effort in those six years, not least that of Magna, the Canadian/Austrian 4x4 specialist which built the first Mercedes-Benz G-wagen, Carraro of Italy which makes the beam axles and Gestamp of Germany which builds the chassis frame, along with the team at Ineos Automotive, to combine and design and build their first car. They’ve also set up a network to sell and look after Grenadiers around the world. What Sir James Dyson, the hoover knight, failed to do when he ran away from his plan to build a battery car, Jim Ratcliffe the chemicals knight is carrying off. Or is he?
Some might struggle to forgive Ineos for not taking up the Welsh Government offer and the redundant Ford engine builders of Bridgend to base production in the principality. But it would have been foolhardy to turn down the offer of an entire modern car factory in Hambach in Lorraine, eastern France, especially when offered at a fire-sale price. And especially a factory which used to produce the Mercedes-Benz Smart, but which had also been fitted out with a new production line and paintshop to make the Mercedes-Benz EQB SUV. Add in a 1,300-strong Mercedes-trained workforce, a warehouse full of body robots still in their plastic wrapping, rail links with suppliers and the rest of Europe. Come on…
As it is, Covid fallout has taken its toll of timetables for this upright utility 4x4, which was supposed to have been launched last autumn. But now we finally have the car in Scotland. First impressions of the flat windscreen, clamshell bonnet, curved waistline, chunky exterior door handles and a spare wheel on the tailgate make it difficult not to think of the old Land Rover Defender, perhaps even a bit of Mercedes G-Wagen.
For the moment there’s just one version in two-seat Utility trim priced from £55,000, or a five-seat station wagon from £58,000, with a couple of better-equipped Belstaff-inspired special editions of the latter, the Fieldmaster and the Trialmaster, both from £69,000. Our Fieldmaster test vehicle, with a fair few bells and whistles, has a retail price of £73,000.
It’s 4,896mm long, 2,146mm wide with the mirrors out (1,930mm without them), 2,036mm high and has a 2,922mm wheelbase. It weighs between 2,644kg and 2,740kg when fully specced.
While a crew-cab pickup is slated for arrival later this year (and eventually a smaller battery electric SUV) for the moment this is it, although the waiting list means that even if you ordered now, you’d have more than 300 sleeps before you got your Grenadier.
It’s based on a massive, ladder-frame separate chassis, all Metal Inert Gas (MIG) welded and fully reinforced with flitch plates, with side members up to six inches deep. Coil springs and telescopic dampers keep the front and rear solid axles in check and there’s a steering box rather than rack and pinion. An all-BMW engine choice consists of a 3.0-litre, straight-six available as a twin-turbo 245bhp/406lb ft diesel, or 281bhp and 332lb ft single-turbo petrol, with a ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox.
There’s permanent four-wheel drive, with a two-speed transfer case to give a set of crawler gears for strenuous off-roading, with a locking centre differential as standard and optional locking differentials in the front and rear; these are part of the £1,765 Rough Pack, which includes specialist off-road tyres.
There’s also a £1,435 Smooth Pack, which contains a rear-view camera (although this will soon be a legal requirement), front parking assistance, powered and heated door mirrors, heated windscreen washers, a lockable centre storage box, puddle lamps and ambient door lighting, as well as auxiliary charging points.
Wheel choice is between 17 and 18 inches with Bridgestone all-terrain, all-season tyres, or the aforementioned optional off-road covers which were fitted to our test vehicles. The Grenadier is also festooned with brackets to accept extra options and equipment.
For off-roaders, separate frames and solid axles give theoretical better axle articulation, ground clearance and are tougher than independently-sprung monocoques, although some of those drawbacks can be assuaged with air suspension and compact suspension design, but not all of them. The Grenadier’s ground clearance is 264mm, wading depth is 800mm, the approach, breakover and departure angles are, respectively, 35.5 degrees, 28.2 degrees and 36.1 degrees and it’ll tow up to 3.5 tonnes and winch up to 5.5 tonnes.
Climb in (and you really do have to climb) and your first impressions are of a lofty driving position with decent views out to the front and sides, but not so much to the rear. There are clanky mechanical seat controls, a dashboard filled with really big switches and a feeling that this really isn’t as other vehicles.
The driving position is reasonably comfortable although rearward seat travel is limited for the tallest drivers and the seat and steering wheel are offset from the pedals, so your right leg is hitched outwards. The rear seats are comfortable and just about have enough room for three abreast and two six footers to sit one behind the other, only brushing the seat backs with their knees. The rear back splits 60/40 per cent and folds onto the benches, but the load bed is uneven and there’s no ski hatch so you’ll have to put them on the roof or on one side of the cabin.
Luggage capacity is 1,152 litres with the rear seats in place, 2,035 litres with them lowered. Equivalent figures for the five-door new Defender 110 are 499/1,946 litres. Our test car had seat warmers as standard but on everything else they’re an additional £320, which seems a bit of a swizz, and leather upholstery can be had for just under £1,800.
It seems all quite plausible, with its aircraft-style overhead click switches and BMW-sourced touchscreen in the centre of the tough plastic facia. Well, it is until you start to use it. “Rugged simplicity” is how Ineos puts it, which is shorthand for the kind of robust plastics which will take the knocks and gain an attractive patina along the way, but isn’t very kind to knees and elbows if you’re in a hurry – and it also doesn’t look very upmarket for what is a £73,000 car.
Ours had the optional £655 saddle leather covering for the steering wheel and one of the three passenger grab handles. Nice, but why doesn’t it cover the other two handles? Besides, if the front passenger gets a grab handle to help climb in, then so should the rear-seat passengers, who are left jumping up and down outside like a Jack Russell after a biscuit.
There really isn’t enough storage room in the front and what there is hasn’t been that well thought out. The shallow depression on the driver-side dash top could have held a mobile phone, but it isn’t deep enough and has a slippery lining. The door pocket is similarly unlined and mean. At the bottom of the door is a bottle-sized space, but again unlined and not the easiest place to access. There’s also a phone-sized slot in front of the gear levers, which is equally obscured.
Although the test cars were pretty much production vehicles, they suffered more than a few glitches: the passenger-side door mirror failed to defrost itself; doors that required very different levels of slam to shut; an intermittent whine from the front differential; the centre differential/transfer box which sometimes didn’t engage, differential locks which also failed to engage and then failed to tell the software they’d disengaged; the transferable software for the Pathfinder satnav which failed to transfer; wipers which left the top half of the screen dirty and the washers which almost comically didn’t squirt in the right place; and poor aerodynamics meant the side window quickly became opaque with road dirt so you couldn’t see the door mirrors…
These are all niggles and sort-of fixable, but not a good portent for a brand-new car…
Then there are the idiosyncrasies, such as an asymmetrically-split rear door, which leaves a bisected and obstructed view in the interior mirror. The overhead switches are hard to identify in a hurry: believe me, when you’re sliding backwards down an icy track with the brakes on, a sheer escarpment on one side, you’ll want to find the differential locks quickly.
There’s a strange mix of mechanical and electrical control, which isn’t all Ineos’s fault (the BMW engines require their screen-based electronic architecture or they’ll fail to start), but did itreally require an old-fashioned stubby transfer-box lever which requires equally old-fashioned brawn to operate? Or what about the plain weird optional winch (£3,345) that lurks behind the front bumper and is covered by a plastic panel with the registration plate on it. Which is all fine if you do all your winch recovery off the King’s Highway…
The Grenadier starts with the twist of a key and the BMW diesel growls into life and stays growling even when you start moving. The familiar BMW gearlever is simple enough, release the beefy manual handbrake and head for the hills.
Except we don’t, as snow has closed the high passes, so it’s 40 miles of snowy-and-slushy grind on the A9, the longest stretch of average speed camera-monitored road in the known universe. It’s clear from the off that this isn’t the Grenadier’s most favoured terrain, the heavily treaded 17-inch tyres adding a buzz to the interior, wind buffets the top of the windscreen and the 3.0-litre turbodiesel rattles in the separate chassis like the bones of an uneasy ghoul.
Floor it and the engine adopts a typical BMW, all-guns-blazing fire and brimstone and does it’s not inconsiderable best to inject some pizazz into this 2.8-tonne Behemoth, although at low speeds it feels sulky.
Whichever engine is chosen the driving experience is broadly similar; the petrol unit has less low-down torque and more refinement, but worse fuel consumption. For the record, the top speed is 99mph with 0-62mph in 8.6sec for the petrol and 9.9sec for the diesel. Fuel consumption is at best 21.4mpg for the petrol and 27.4mpg for the diesel – we saw 19.5mpg during freezing off-road and some road work.
The progressive rate springs work really well, with a relatively soft response to bumps and undulations and quite a comfortable ride quality. The handling, however, particularly on these tyres, isn’t up to much. The steering box is very low geared with almost no self-centring and quite a bit of free play – apparently the slow gearing was a requirement for German autobahnen, although it’s difficult to understand why.
So in a straight line the Grenadier wanders around the road, displaying vague and uncertain turn in to corners, which often requires several corrections once you’ve made the initial movement of the steering wheel. It’s very antiquated in that respect (think original Land Rover, or first Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen) and somewhat less than confidence-inspiring on slippery, winding roads. Like heavy trucks, the Grenadier is best driven with one hand on the wheel so you don’t inadvertently input yet more wander into the system. The brakes, which are twin-piston ventilated discs at the front, with single-piston solid discs at the rear, are powerful and progressive, even at high speed.
A new Land Rover Defender would suffer on such tyres, too, but not as much, so the question is does the Grenadier make up for it when the going gets, well, sticky? As soon as we turned off the road onto the ethereally beautiful Ardverikie Estate, the Grenadier felt at home, stable, its wheels dug into the light snowy surface and never less than a stout place to be. That initially soft suspension response keeps things calm but not tippy. Excellent wheel articulation keeps the tyres in contact through the most cross-axling terrain and the lugged tyres grip like a speed climber’s fingers.
In either petrol or diesel form there’s plenty of low-down power and superb accelerator response and the whole car “walks” along a rough track with the best. While tricky to engage and disengage, the low ratios and three differential locks allow progress on slippy climbs. The hill descent control might be fiddly, but it provides a sense of security on steep, icy slopes.
Would an original Defender manage as well on comparable terrain? I have my doubts. Would a new Defender do as well? Difficult to say, but I can attest to having done some pretty serious off-road work in the latest model and it disported itself brilliantly; on some tracks it might have a slight edge over the Grenadier, the opposite on others.
For a company that has never built a car before, it’s an impressive debut, and if the majority of your driving/work is demanding off-road stuff, then a Grenadier should cope fine. However, as Bill Brock, my first road test editor, used to growl: “You do the test on the day and you write about everything, because if they can’t get it right for you, then God help their customers.”
Not one of the Grenadiers failed to proceed, but if Land Rover, Jeep, Mercedes-Benz or Isuzu had presented a vehicle with this number of silly errors and faults we’d have their guts for garters. It’s almost as if despite the experience of the contributors to the project and the build team there’s been no hard-nosed and beady-eyed test department reporting straight to the board saying: “This simply won’t do.”
What the Grenadier does well it does really well, but you simply can’t sell a new car from a new company with this many niggles and design howlers to a discerning public, farmers, utility companies, experienced adventurers and off-roaders; they won’t come back and they’ll tell all their friends why.
Ineos has a great story and the Grenadier is a charismatic vehicle with a great heart and a single-minded purpose. But despite that and the hard work that’s gone into making it, as it stands now Sir Jim’s Awfully Big Adventure only just scrapes a three-star rating.
If they wanted to produce the old Defender, they’ve achieved it in every way, for better and for worse.
On test: Ineos Grenadier Fieldmaster
Body style: five-door utility SUV
On sale: now
How much? from £55,000 as tested £73,000
How fast? 99mph, 0-62mph petrol 8.6sec, diesel 9.9sec
How economical? petrol 18.5-21.4mpg, diesel 23.9-27.4mpg, 19.5mpg in the diesel on test
Engine/gearbox: 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo diesel or petrol, eight-speed torque converter automatic gearbox, centre transfer box and lockable centre differential, four-wheel drive
Electric powertrain: n/a
Maximum power/torque: 245bhp/406lb ft diesel, or 281bhp and 332lb ft petrol
CO2 emissions: 299-346g/km petrol, 268-308g/km diesel
VED: £2,365 first year, £520 next five years, then £165
Warranty: 5 years/unlimited mileage
Some will think it sacrilege that for its latest Defender JLR put its sturdy original onto a monocoque structure based on strengthened Range Rover framing and didn’t build it in the UK. Yet it certainly provides a more modern driving experience and more elbow room at the wheel, but it’s simply not as charismatic.
The Defender’s off-road geometry is the most extreme Land Rover produces and the figures (with the Grenadier’s in brackets) are: ground clearance 291mm (264mm); approach angle 38 deg (35.5 deg); ramp breakover angle 28 deg (28.2 deg); departure angle of 40 deg (36.2 deg); and a wading depth of 900mm (800mm). The Defender is more luxurious than the Grenadier and as (or almost) good off-road, but there’s much less space and really it isn’t somewhere you’d want to carry a sick sheep.
Even a ratty old Defender 90 will cost something over six grand these days and some of them need a lot of remedial work. South West Defenders (find them on Facebook) is typical of the sort of workshop that will undertake a full restoration, although James at SWD says the skies can be the limit if you go overboard on replacing everything. I’ve seen his work and it’s very good, but expect a bill somewhere north of £35,000 for a body, chassis and drivetrain restoration, but for some that’s a small cost to drive an original.
The 4x4 of choice for UN peacekeepers and pretty much everyone else, although we don't get the full-size Amazon version in the UK any more. If you want to go into the Outback, the Aussies say, get a Land Rover, but if you want to come out again get a Land Cruiser. You get a 204bhp, 2.8-litre four-cylinder diesel and a basic-spec cabin festooned with huge, simple buttons, though it’ll only tow up to 3 tonnes. A five-door seven-seater with the same drivetrain and snazzier trim and wheels costs £49,295. Pug ugly, with old-fashioned body-on-frame construction like the Grenadier, but super reliable and good off-road.
Crew-cab pickup built for work, with VAT-inclusive prices starting at £33,779 and the well-equipped V-Cross model coming in at £40,199 with VAT. Tough and surprisingly good to drive, with a 164bhp 1.9-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engine and manual or automatic transmission, four-wheel drive and an option rear differential lock, the D-Max is likely to be the choice of working farmers although it won’t scale the peaks like a Grenadier.
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