2023 Ineos Grenadier review: Prototype drive

Article from WhichCar

Toyota’s LandCruiser pretty much owns the bush. It’s not that the LandCruiser – either in civilian-spec 300 guise, or one of the industrial-strength 70 variants – is necessarily a great thing to drive. But it’s become an article of faith that a LandCruiser will get you where you want to go, no matter how remote the destination, how rough the road. More importantly, it will also get you back home again.

The all-new Ineos Grenadier might look like a love letter to an old Land Rover Defender 110. But a brief off-road drive suggests the Grenadier has more than a touch of LandCruiser about it. The live-axle coil-sprung Grenadier is a confident and comfortable off-roader that feels, at first acquaintance, to be as solid and unstoppable as Toyota’s benchmark 4x4s.

You could call the Ineos Grenadier a passion project. Land Rover Defender enthusiast Jim Ratcliffe wasn’t happy when JLR finally stopped production of the classic off-roader in 2016, ending a 68-year run that had seen more than two million of them made. He’d heard the all-new Defender, then under development, would be an expensive, slickly styled, high-tech 4×4 with independent suspension. That wasn’t going to be, he thought, his sort of Defender.

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So Ratcliffe, founder and two-thirds owner of the sprawling Ineos Group of chemical companies, did what any self-respecting billionaire would do in that situation: He decided to make his own version of the Defender. Only better.

Six years later, the first pre-production Ineos Grenadiers – the name comes from the pub in London’s posh Belgravia where Ratcliffe and his mates hatched the idea over a few beers – are now rolling off the line at what was once Mercedes-Benz’s Smart car factory in Hambach, France.

The Grenadier’s off-road credentials start from the wheels up – literally. It rolls on six-bolt, 17- or 18-inch steel or alloy wheels, each of which can be fitted with either Bridgestone Dueler A/T or BF Goodrich T/A KO2 tyres in 265/70 R17 or 255/70 R18 sizes.

While the Bridgestones were developed specifically for the Grenadier, the KO2s were chosen because of their proven reputation in the aftermarket as a high capability off-road tyre. Regardless of which combination you choose, generous sidewalls ensure off-road comfort, capability, and durability.

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It has a separate chassis like a LandCruiser 70, but with coil-sprung live axles front and rear to ensure maximum articulation in extreme off-road conditions.

The variable-rate Eibach springs have been calibrated to deliver a comfortable ride and maximum wheel travel at slow speeds off-road but are firm enough to ensure good body control at highway speeds and are assisted by oversized shocks designed to keep the damping oil cool over long stretches of rough road.

Under the bonnet is a choice of BMW turbocharged inline six-cylinder engines – the petrol B58, which develops 210kW of power and 450Nm of torque, and the diesel B57, which makes 183kW and 550Nm.

The driveline comprises a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission with a Tremec two-ratio transfer case and permanent all-wheel drive with a lockable centre differential. Lockers for the rear and front diffs will be available as options.

Despite design cues unashamedly borrowed from the old Defender – such as the headlights in the front fenders, the rounded shoulder on the bodyside, and the cutouts in the roof that echo the famous Land Rover ‘alpine light’ windows – on closer inspection the Grenadier is quite different.

It’s much wider in the body, and with the front wheels set further back, the touchdown point of the A-pillar is closer to the front axle.

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At 4927mm, including rear-mounted spare wheel, the Grenadier is 53mm shorter overall than a LandCruiser 300 and 17mm longer than a LandCruiser 76 wagon. Its 2922mm wheelbase is 72mm and 192mm longer, respectively, than that of either Toyota.

Ground clearance is 264mm, compared with 235mm for the 300 and 215mm for the 70, and it will wade through water 800mm deep without the optional snorkel fitted. The Grenadier’s 35.5-degree approach angle, 36.1-degree departure angle, and 28.2-degree ramp over angle are all better than those of the Toyotas. It’s built to go off-road.

The Grenadier’s snout protrudes between the headlights, in part a legacy of the decision to use inline six-cylinder BMW engines instead of the originally planned four-cylinder units, and in part to package the heavy-duty cooling system.

Its front bumper extends further from the bodywork than that of the old Defender to enable the car to meet modern pedestrian protection regulations.

Access to the rear load space is via a two-thirds, one-third vertically split rear door, similar to that on the LandCruiser 76 wagon. The door handles are robust push-button types similar to those used on the old Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen.

Deep swages in the doors are for rubbing strips or an optional clip system Ineos insiders call ‘The Utility Belt’. Along with clips installed under the rearmost side windows, the system enables accessories to be affixed to the side of the vehicle.

The ‘alpine lights’ in the roof are not windows, but recesses with a tube running through them that can be used to secure loads on the roof, or a canopy to the side of the car when parked.

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Other smart details include a lockable storage unit that fits into the spare wheel, which is mounted on the larger of the two rear doors with its outside face closest to the car. A hefty three-rung ladder, available as an option, can be fitted to the narrower of the rear doors to allow access to the roof.

Inside are Recaro seats, trimmed in hard-wearing cloth or leather. The steering wheel is a simple two-spoke item, with thumb controls for audio and cruise control on either spoke. Behind it is a small screen inset into the dash that shows all the major warning lights. The speedo, tach and other readouts are on a configurable screen in the centre of the dash. Different display configurations and functions are actuated via a rotary controller on the centre console.

The HVAC system is controlled via large buttons or rotary controls on a vertical panel under the central air vent that looks vaguely like it was styled by the guy who did those aeronautical Bell & Ross watches.

Continuing the aircraft cockpit theme is a roof panel that includes the off-road mode and diff-lock controls, as well as 10-amp switches for interior and exterior power outlets. Order the optional high-load wiring pack, and you get additional switches that handle 25-amp and 500-amp loads. Four exterior power outlets are situated in the lower forward corners of the ‘alpine light’ roof cutouts.

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It didn’t take long for the Grenadier to establish its off-road credentials on our test loop through an abandoned coal mine near Créhange in France. It grunted through the deep mud, eased down steep slopes, traversed tricky inclines, and walked across deep gutters with insouciant ease.

Although the B58 BMW engine doesn’t have the same low-end torque as the diesel B57, there was no need to rush obstacles in order to maintain momentum – good axle articulation kept the wheels on the ground and the ZF eight-speed automatic always seemed to be in the right gear.

Such is the traction, and the sensitivity of the feedback through the chassis, the throttle can be used to deliver precise dollops of power and torque, precisely when needed.

The off-road ride is controlled and comfortable, with relatively little head-toss or jolting. The steering feels a little light and low geared but production cars will have a different steering tune, says chief engineer Oliver Schilpf.

We’ll wait until we drive it on the road and spend more time exploring its capabilities off the road but at first acquaintance, the Ineos Grenadier is a viable alternative to the 300 and 70 LandCruisers, particularly in terms of ride and refinement.

And unlike the computerised, click-and-point new Defender, the Grenadier feels warmly analogue rather than coolly digital in its responses.

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The first customer-ready Grenadiers are scheduled to roll off the line at Hambach – which has the capacity to build 32,000 a year – in July, with the first Australian-spec vehicles arriving before the end of the year.

Based on current enquiries, Ineos says Australia is on track to become the Grenadier’s fourth-largest market behind Britain, the United States and China.

Volume-seller is expected to be the five-seat Wagon, which is the main ‘civilian’ variant. Two commercial versions will be available – the five-seat Utility, which has its rear seat moved forward 700mm to increase load space, and the two-seat Utility that has no rear seating at all.

Both Utility versions can be quickly identified by the steel panels in place of the Wagon’s rearmost side windows.

A crew-cab Grenadier ute rolling on a longer 3227mm wheelbase is currently under development and will be available with either a pick-up bed or as a cab-chassis model at some point in 2023. A three-row, seven-seat version of the Wagon is also under consideration, driven by demand from potential US customers.

Final pricing has yet to be confirmed but Ineos sources suggest the entry-level two-seat Utility will start at $84,500 before on-road costs. If Australian pricing follows the rumoured UK model, that suggests the five-seat Wagon will start at less than $100,000.

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