There’s been an inescapable trend over the past couple of decades: the gradual demise of the hardcore, built-for-purpose off-roader, which has been usurped by a more genteel breed of “soft-roaders”. These are designed more for boulevard cruising than ploughing through muddy swamps or crawling over boulders.
Swimming against the proverbial tide is the all-new Ineos Grenadier, the brainchild of company chief executive Jim Ratcliffe, a British billionaire who began his career as a chemical engineer before turning industrialist and financier.
Ratcliffe was captivated by the original Land Rover Defender and had long harboured the ambition to build a spiritual successor to the venerable all-terrainer that ceased production in 2016. Context here is provided by the fact that Land Rover’s own Defender replacement, which launched in 2020, is a premium lifestyle-focused offering, rather than the unpretentious workhorse its predecessor was.
Given this background, you can comprehend why the Grenadier looks so much like the boxy Defender, even though there’s not a single screw that’s common to the two. The Grenadier is a clean-sheet design. Rather than falling in line with the modern SUV horde and designing the vehicle around a car-like monocoque chassis, Ineos has stuck with an earthy format — a rugged steel ladder-frame backbone with robust beam axles that provide generous wheel articulation.
Manufactured in a former Mercedes Benz-owned production facility in Hambach, France, the Grenadier is nearing completion of a preliminary production try-out phase (PTO1). Production of saleable vehicles commences in July, and Adamas Motors — the UAE and Bahrain distributor — will receive its first Grenadiers in October. Pricing is yet to be confirmed, but company insiders suggest the vehicle will cost between Dh290,000 and Dh320,000, depending on specs.
Adamas Motors operations director Chris Buxton says there are currently more than 200 firm pre-orders (with deposits paid) for the Grenadier in the UAE and Bahrain. “The number of pre-orders is very encouraging, especially given that the Grenadier hasn’t been officially launched yet. Ineos Automotive is doing things very differently — something that traditional OEMs don’t — that is, testing in plain sight, and involving potential customers and off-road enthusiasts in the development process from day one,” says Buxton.
“There has been an exceptionally high level of interest in the vehicle at the prototype customer events at XQuarry [an off-road adventure park in the Mleiha mountains] and BIC [Bahrain International Circuit], #nofilterdxb and Hudayriyat Island displays, plus the dedicated off-road enthusiast showroom events that have been staged so far,” Buxton says.
The National was recently invited to visit the Grenadier production facility in Hambach and get some wheel time in a prototype at a muddy wasteland in Carreau de la Mine — a site that’s normally used to train operators of heavy earthmoving equipment. There’s not much to see here, only piles of mud and gravel, but it presents a decent test of off-road ability.
The vehicle we’re driving is a PTO1 prototype, so its interior trim isn’t reflective of the final production model, and it also makes do without locking front and rear differentials that will be available in the latter.
Two Grenadier models will be on sale initially: the five-seat station wagon driven in prototype guise here, and a two-seat commercial vehicle. Shortly afterwards, Ineos will launch dual-cab pick-up and seven-seat station wagon models, both using a longer 3,175-millimetre wheelbase. It’s this variety of formats with which Ineos aims to target not only lifestyle buyers and off-road junkies, but also corporate fleets, NGOs and farmers.
The Grenadier’s bespoke ladder-frame chassis is produced in Bielefeld, Germany, by Gestamp — the same company responsible for the ladder-frame structure used by the Volkswagen Amarok, while the solid beam axles are manufactured by Italian firm Carraro. These robust building blocks enable the Grenadier to offer a payload of up to one tonne, a braked trailer towing capacity of 3,500 kilograms, and a 150kg roof load rating. Clearly, this is no show pony.
Motive power comes from a choice of two BMW-sourced six-cylinder engines — a diesel and a petrol — both of which have been remapped to provide strong low-end torque rather than massive peak power. The petrol motor, designated B58 within BMW, is the only unit that will be offered in our market, and this unit ekes out 287hp and 450Nm. Drive goes to all four wheels via the same eight-speed ZF automatic used by BMW, and even the shift knob perched on the centre console is identical to the one you’d find inside a BMW X3 or X5.
Today’s drive is brief, but informative just the same. First impressions are of how supple the Grenadier’s ride is, even over choppy, muddy terrain, while the BMW drivetrain provides smooth, seamless pulling power. More remarkable still is how effortlessly the Grenadier — shod here with BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A tyres — finds grip on a slimy surface that seemingly provides none. There’s no wheel-spinning histrionics or drama. Simply lock the centre differential, apply the requisite amount of throttle and imperiously barge over or across whatever stands in your way.
What also bodes particularly well is the Grenadier’s impeccable build quality — even in these pre-production vehicles. It’s in a different universe to the original LR Defender in this regard. All that remains to be seen now is whether Ineos is able to meet its target of shifting 25,000 to 30,000 vehicles annually on an ongoing basis. The Grenadier may be able to consume all the obstacles that come in its way, but can it find enough buyers with the same insatiable off-roading appetite?