2023 Ineos Grenadier Review: Work to be done on this workhorse
Six years is about par for the course for development of a new vehicle and so it has proved with the new Ineos Grenadier. It would be unfair, however, to compare Ineos, the petrochemicals giant owned by Sir Jim Ratcliffe, with smoke-stack car makers, because it really isn’t like them.
To recap, the Grenadier is a rather unusual thing in this day and age: a new 4×4 that has the proportions of a hay barn and the rugged construction of a farmer’s favourite tractor. It is named after the pub where it was conceived after Sir Jim failed to secure the rights to remanufacture the old Defender model which Land Rover stopped building in 2016.
Huddled in that Belgravia boozer, a tiny former officers’ mess (which Ratcliffe now owns) the basics of the Grenadier were sketched out on a beer coaster—aren’t they always? Mark Tennant, Ineos Automotive’s amiable commercial director, shows me the triangle-structure concept. At the top is design, bottom left durability and reliability, and bottom right off-road capability. There is no sign of the modern marketing jargon of “paradigm shifts,” or “lighthouse projects,” “customer experience,” or for that matter, monocoque structures and independent suspension. No, the whole thing was conceived to be as simple, straight-forward and satisfying as a pint of beer, although Ratcliffe apparently favors a gin and tonic.
Reality, however, proved slightly more complex. First off, Ineos Automotive looked at producing the Grenadier in Wales in Bridgend close to Ford’s engine plant, which closed for good in September 2020 with the loss of 1000 jobs. It had looked at the Mercedes-Benz plant Smart plant in Hambach in Lorraine in Eastern France, but at first sight that didn’t look like a good option. Then Ratcliffe received a telephone call from Ola Källenius, Mercedes boss asking him to think again. What hadn’t been exactly clear first time around was that the plant had been fitted out with a new production line and paint shop to make the Mercedes-Benz EQB SUV, which was now going to be built in Hungary. So Hambach had a 1300-strong Mercedes-trained workforce, a warehouse full of body robots still in their plastic wrapping, rail links with suppliers including BMW for the engines and most likely, as the deadline for closure fast approached, a big discount. So, Hambach it was; good news for the workers, Mercedes, the French government and Ineos, but not quite so much for Wales.
But make no mistake, this is a serious effort. The design from Toby Ecuyer, a former yacht designer, has been engineered by Magna, the Canadian/Austrian specialists which built the first Mercedes-Benz G-wagen. The separate chassis is built by German specialists Gestamp, and the front and rear beam axles are designed and built by Carraro in Italy. In the last couple of years Ineos Automotive has had to build not just a production line, but also a production system and train a workforce. They’ve set up a brand-new sales and service network to sell and look after these vehicles round the world as well as writing service and parts manuals and holding off eager customers and the press.
Covid took a big bite out of that preparation, with a shortage of electronic components such as semi-conductors holding up the launch which should have taken place last autumn as well as the first deliveries of cars to customers. But now we’re here, in Inverness travelling down the spine of the England and taking in some of the toughest terrain the country and weather can throw at it.
It’s snowing (of course it is) and in the flood lights with a light dusting of snow over the clamshell bonnets, flat windscreens, exterior door handles and the heavily waisted side panels, the array of Grenadiers looks like a parking lot full of Defenders, maybe with a bit of Austin Gipsy thrown in.
Sizing up the Grenadier
The Grenadier is 4896 mm (191.6 inches) long, 2146 mm (84.5 in) wide with the mirrors out (75.9 in without them), 2036 mm (80.1 in) high and runs on a 2922-mm (115-in) wheelbase and weighs between 2644 kg and 2740 kg (5829–6050 pounds) when fully specced. There’s a crew cab pickup and chassis cab slated for deliveries to select launch markets later this year and eventually a smaller battery-electric SUV based on Magna’s skateboard structure, but for the moment, this five-door 4×4, five-seat version is it. And if you ordered today for Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Australia or New Zealand, you’d get your Grenadier at the beginning of next winter. U.S. order books will open in 2023, but interested buyers can hold a spot with a reservation.
The vehicle is based on a massive, ladder-frame separate chassis, all Metal Inert Gas (MIG) welded and flitch-plated, with side members up to six inches deep. Rising-rate 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-liter straight-six available as a twin-turbo (245-hp/406 lb-ft) diesel, or 281-hp and 332 lb-ft single-turbo gas engine, with a ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox. The U.S. market will only get the gasoline version. Top speed for both is 99 mph, with 0-62 mph in 8.6 seconds for the gasoline and 9.9 seconds for the diesel. EPA ratings will come later, but WLTP fuel consumption is 18.5 to 21.4mpg for the petrol, 23.9 to 27.4mpg for the diesel.
There’s permanent four-wheel drive, with a two-speed transfer case to give a set of crawler gears, with a standard locking centre differential and optional locking differentials in the front and rear; these come in the £1765 Rough Pack, which includes BF Goodrich KO2 off-road tires.
There’s also a £1435 Smooth Pack, which contains a rear-view camera, front parking assistance, powered and heated door mirrors, heated windscreen washers, a lockable center storage box, puddle lamps, ambient door lighting and auxiliary charging points.
Wheel choice is between 17 and 18 inches with Bridgestone all-terrain, all-season tires, or the aforementioned optional off-road shoes which were fitted to our test vehicles. The vehicle is also festooned with brackets and sockets for which Ineos will sell you a host of extras, but which it also hopes will be taken up by outside suppliers for their extra kit.
This is the sort of spec, with a separate frame and solid axles with low-range transfer cases and locking differentials, which normally underpins a serious cadre of hard-working utility vehicles sold in Europe, like the Toyota Land Cruiser or an Isuzu D-Max pickup, as well as American versions like Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco. For the dedicated off-roader, this configuration gives theoretical better axle articulation, ground clearance and is 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.
Grenadier’s ground clearance is 264 mm (10.4 in), wading depth is 800 mm (31.5 in), 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 (7716 pounds) and winch up to 5.5 tonnes (12,120 pounds). For the record, Land Rover’s 110 Defender model has a ground clearance of 291 mm (11.4 in), a wading depth of 900 mm (35.4 in), approach angle of 38 degrees, breakover angle of 28 degrees, departure angle of 40 degrees and will tow 3.5 tonnes (7716 pounds). On paper then, the Land Rover is more capable, but off-roading is a highly inexact science depending much on the tires, the drivetrain, the driver and the day, and besides, you can’t put a value on toughness.
But the fact that Grenadier is here at all is something of an achievement. What Sir James Dyson, the hoover knight, failed to do when he quit his plan to build a battery car, Jim Ratcliffe the chemicals knight is carrying off, or is he?
What the Grenadier gives you
U.S. pricing is for the moment unavailable but should be revealed later this year. For the moment, in the U.K. at least, there’s just one version in two-seat Utility trim priced from £55,000, or a five-seat station wagon priced from £58,000, with a couple of better-equipped Belstaff-inspired special editions of the latter, the Fieldmaster and the Trialmaster both priced from £69,000—not at all coincidentally, Sir Jim owns Belstaff. Our Fieldmaster test vehicle, with a fair few bells and whistles retailed at £73,000.
Clamber up into the cab and from a lofty perch, you get decent views out to the front and sides, but not so much to the rear. Clanky mechanical seat controls move the seat back and forward, though probably not rearward enough for the tallest drivers. The dash is filled with huge push buttons, there’s an aircraft style overhead switch panel pre-wired for emergency lighting and light bars, and overall there’s a distinct impression this cabin is different to anything else out there.
The driving position is reasonably comfortable and certainly better than the previous Defender, though the pedals are offset from the steering. Rear seats are comfortable and there’s just enough room for three six footers to sit across the bench with head room but not much knee room to spare. The rear back splits 60/40 percent and folds onto the seat 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 40.6 cubic feet with the rear seats up, 71.8 cu ft with them down. Equivalent figures for the Defender are 17.6/68.7 cu ft. Our test car got seat heaters as standard but on everything else they’re an additional £320, which seems a bit unnecessary, and leather upholstery can be had for just under £1800.
There’s a slightly strange dichotomy between the tough plastic fascia and rubber floor mats on the one hand, and the touch screens and digital displays on the other, but apparently BMW’s engine systems have to be used in their entirety including the screens, or the six-pot simply won’t start. Those plastics aren’t built for comfort, though and knock knees and elbows during a day’s off roading. Nor are they particularly easy on the eye for a £73,000 car. Some will welcome this stripped-to-the-bone look, others will prefer the cabins of some of the opposition. Our diesel Fieldmaster had the £655 option of saddle leather covering for the steering wheel and one of the three passenger grab handles, which was really nice, but what about the other two handles? Moreover, why does the front-seat passenger get a grab handle (on the A-pillar) to help access the seat, but no one else?
There’s also a distinct lack of storage space in the Grenadier and those spaces that are there haven’t been well thought out. The door pockets are unlined and small (apparently, they had been bigger but couldn’t be accessed with the door closed). There’s a shallow depression on the driver-side dash top, which could have held a mobile telephone, but isn’t deep enough and has a slippery lining. The top door pocket/handle might have been useful as storage space for odds and ends, but it’s too small and also unlined, and the phone slot in front of the gear levers is difficult to access.
Glitches with the Grenadier
My first-ever road test editor on Commercial Motor magazine used to growl that you do the test on the day and mention everything, “because if they can’t get it right for you, then God help their customers.” So in the spirit of Bill Brock, here goes: the passenger-side door mirror failed to defrost itself; the doors on these cars all required very different efforts to shut; there was an annoying whine from the front differential; the center differential/transfer box didn’t always engage; the differential locks also didn’t always disengage and even if they did eventually disengage they failed to tell the vehicle electrics that they had done so which blocked off other functions; the transferable software for the Pathfinder navigation unit failed to transfer; and the windshield wipers which left the top half of the glass dirty and the washers didn’t squirt enough screen wash and the meager amount of fluid they did squirt was aimed at the wrong place; oh and the non-existent aerodynamics meant the side screen quickly became opaque with road dirt so you couldn’t see the door mirrors.
Yes, these are all fixable trifles, and yes, Ineos provides a five-year unlimited mileage warranty which is competitive, but they don’t augur well for a brand-new car which is currently being delivered to customers.
And the Grenadier, it has to be admitted, is idiosyncratic. Those asymmetrically-split rear doors (like those on the old Isuzu Trooper) give you a bisected and obstructed view out of the back in the rear-view mirror, with only one part having a screen wiper. The overhead switches might seem a good idea, but they are very hard to identify in hurry. The stubby lever which engages the transfer box and the centre differential lock is really hard to move and didn’t always disengage. Oh, and the optional front winch (£3345) lurks behind the front bumper behind a removable plastic panel with the registration plate on it, which is fine and dandy if you do all your winch recovery off the King’s Highway.
You start up with a real ignition key and the big BMW six growls into life and stays growling, which seems an indication of at least harder engine mounts than its BMW model applications. There’s a big manual hand brake and a familiar gear selector for the ZF eight-speed and the throttle control is accurate as you pull away. With the snow gates closed on high passes we started the day on the A9 motorway where the windscreen stayed dirty and the engine settled to a high-geared cruise. Heavily cleated BF Goodrich tires set up a noisy uneven fizz in the cabin.
The driving experience is broadly similar from engine to engine: the gasoline unit has less low-down torque and more refinement, but worse fuel consumption. Stand on it and the ‘box changes down a couple of ratios and the revs soar. It’s not fast exactly, but brisk considering the 6173-pound weight.
The ride’s good, though, with those progressive rate coils giving a soft response to bumps and undulations. The handling, however, particularly on these tires isn’t up to much. As we noted on the prototype drive, the steering box is very low geared with almost no self-centering and quite a bit of free play—apparently the slow gearing was a German autobahn requirement, though it’s difficult to see why. In a straight line, the Grenadier wanders around on the road, with vague and uncertain turn in to corners. You often have to correct it several times and on dark, wet and winding roads later in the day, it’s neither confidence-inspiring nor much fun. On the plus side, the brakes (twin-piston ventilated discs at the front, with single-piston solid discs at the rear), are powerful and feel progressive.
On this evidence, the new Land Rover Defender (reviewed here) would eat it alive on the road, but there is an intermediate tire option which should improve things, though these weren’t available to drive.
Into the rough stuff
Turn onto the quite lovely Adverikie Estate, in the Scottish Highlands, and the Grenadier felt a lot more at home; stable, its wheels dug into the light snowy surface and the car felt never less than a stout place to be. That initially soft suspension response keeps things calm, but not tippy as the spring rates and damping soon catch up with the body roll. First-rate wheel articulation keeps the rubber in contact through the most brutal terrain and those cleated tires grip an icy rock surface like a lion’s claws on its prey. Clearly the diesel is the better lugger in these circumstances, but the gas engine isn’t bad and the accurate throttle control means you have no need to take a run up; both engines will tackle most things at idle speed.
The way the Grenadier walks on a rough snowy track is quite lovely, and with low ratios and three differential locks, you can ascend most slopes at the speed of the wheel with most grip and the hill descent control is excellent. Trouble is, the diff locks weren’t always working.
Would an original Defender traverse this stuff as well? Probably not, though it would be darn close. Equally close, too, with a new Defender in which I’ve tackled some very serious terrain and mud and ruts you couldn’t even stand up in.
For a company that has never built a car before, this is an impressive debut and if the majority of your work is in off-road, tough conditions, then Grenadier is competent and probably worth a look, but then so is the Isuzu D-Max, Toyota Land Cruiser, Jeep Wrangler and dare we say it, Land Rover’s Defender.
And while not one of the ten test Grenadiers stopped working, there were too many faults and daft design decisions to pass muster; if any of the competition had turned up with this many howlers they’d have been pilloried.
It’s nice to think there’s a market for roughy toughy vehicles like this, but the truth is more nuanced and Grenadier, like its rivals, needs to appeal to the all-hat-and-no-cattle-brigade as well as the beady-eyed farmers, strait-laced military procurement boards, penny-pinching utilities and so on. And those business customers are rightly demanding.
From coaster to vehicle, this is a great story, but there’s a hell of a lot more work to do to make Grenadier credible. At the moment, it’s far too like the old Defender model for the good, but most of all, the bad.
Specs: 2023 Ineos Grenadier
Price: U.S.: TBD; UL: £55,000 / £73,000 (base / as-tested)
Engine: 3.0-liter, six-cylinder turbocharged diesel or gas (U.S. only gets the latter)
Power: 245 hp (diesel); 281-hp (gas)
Torque: 406 lb-ft (diesel); 332 lb-ft (gas)
Gearbox: ZF 8-speed torque converter automatic, center transfer case and lockable center differential, four-wheel drive
Curb weight: 6173 pounds
0-60 mph: 9.9 seconds (diesel); 8.6 seconds (gas)
Top speed: 99 mph
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