We pitted Ineos' hotly-anticipated off-roader against the challenging tracks of Adelaide Hills 4WD Park to see how the chemical company's first vehicle performs in its natural habitat.

The Ineos Grenadier has to be one of the most fascinating and hotly-anticipated vehicles of the past few years. Despite the British company being best known as a chemical producer, in recent years the brand has expanded its business operations to other industries that are seemingly only concerned with having fun. It started with an expansion into sports including Formula 1, association football, and cycling, but now the brand has expanded into making 4x4s.

The Grenadier is the brainchild of Ineos chairman Sir Jim Ratcliffe who is certainly my kind of billionaire – and not just because of his recent acquisition of a 25 percent stake in my favourite football club, the stricken Manchester United. Named after the London pub in which he and a group of friends came up with the idea to address the gap left in the market after the retirement of the original Land Rover Defender, a vehicle which Ratcliffe is a fan and owner of, the Grenadier perhaps showcases his sense of humour: The new Defender isn’t utilitarian enough for you? Fine, I’ll build a spiritual successor to the old one myself.

While it’s always exciting to get a taste of a brand’s first-ever car, my first taste of the Grenadier would fittingly be right where it’s designed to go: off-road. Ineos put out the invitation to take it for a spin at the recently reworked Adelaide Hills 4WD Park, and even though I only had a bit over an hour of seat time, the entirety of it spent in low-range, I was able to really put it through its paces in that time. This also presented the opportunity to test both the petrol and diesel engine options, both fitted to the five-seat station wagon body style in Trialmaster trim which comes priced from a not insignificant $123,000 before on-road costs.

Designed and developed in conjunction with Austrian automotive giants Magna Steyr – the company responsible for building cars such as the Toyota Supra and, more fittingly, the Mercedes G-Wagen – it may look undoubtedly familiar in its design language to say the least, but it features some unique touches that others lack. Consider the vast array of flexible mounting points along its sides; the standard rear ladder to climb up onto the roof; and the optional compartment inside the spare wheel, pop-out safari windows, and integrated winch straight from the factory.

Despite the development partnership, it’s surprisingly not Magna Steyr that builds the Grenadier but rather Ineos itself at a factory in Hambach, France which was previously where Smart cars where built before Ineos purchased it. At a time when the number of new car brands entering the market is at a high, it’s clear that Ineos is not wanting to do things by halves.

Another clear testament to that is that the Grenadier comes fitted with some quality brand-name hardware, too, which continues its multinational development theme. Both engine options are 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-sixes provided by BMW, with the single-turbo B58 petrol producing 210kW and 450Nm while the twin-turbo B57 diesel trades power for torque, offering up 183kW with a brutish 550Nm.

As a side note, the old Defender was actually available with a BMW straight-six in South Africa between 1997 and 2001 while the second- and third-gen Range Rover were available with BMW engines globally, meaning the decision to choose BMW as an engine supplier isn’t as strange as it may seem in some regards – even if Ineos is a partner of Mercedes’ F1 team.

The transmission is another heavy-hitter, with this ZF 8HP eight-speed automatic being fitted to everything from BMWs to Alfa Romeos to the RAM 1500 and even its chief rivals such as the Land Rover Defender. Through the rest of the driveline, the transfer case is a bespoke unit provided by Tremec, the CVs and propshafts are supplied by Dana, and the brakes are Italian Brembos. Both vehicles tested here were also fitted with BFGoodrich KO2 tyres to boot.

The thing that becomes most immediately apparent when you hop behind the wheel is just how direct the steering is, which is particularly pleasant to find since many 4x4s can have somewhat uncommunicative tillers. Not only does it have a meaty feel when it comes to how it’s weighted, but the clock spring doesn’t try to re-centre it much at all, allowing you to confidently place the vehicle and hold your line through more difficult sections of a track. Taking 3.85 turns lock-to-lock and with a 13.5-metre turning circle, it does require quite a lot of input, but that also allows for even clearer command over where the front wheels are pointing.

It’s also clear how thoroughly well-engineered the Grenadier is based off the way its suspension coped with some of the trickier sections of this test circuit. The spring rates are right on the money, ironing out the bigger hits and rocky sections while still communicating enough information about the surface you’re on. It feels composed and, perhaps an unusual word to use in this context, premium in this regard.

Despite the wide turning circle, I actually found manoeuvring it around the hairpins on this circuit pretty easy. In addition to the weighty steering, the incredible visibility this boxy design offers allows you to place the front wheels confidently as you use the squared-off corners of its snout as a reference point while planning your line.

And even if you do get your line through a technical section wrong, there’s still no need to fear any drama. With almost identical approach and departure angles of 36.2 and 36.1 degrees respectively, along with 264mm of running clearance and 28.2-degree breakover, there’s so much room for error that you run little risk of truly getting it wrong.

On a steep 29-degree downhill, the Grenadier’s hill descent control system – with the speed controlled using the cruise control buttons – kept it at a constant 5km/h with no signs of panic while it handled the throttle and brakes, leaving me to focus on navigating the base of the slope which transitioned into a banked uphill right-hander.

Naturally, the Grenadier handled it with aplomb, even with the roll meter reading 23-degrees as I pushed it right up to the top of the bank which I was informed was the furthest anyone had managed. Confidence is a particularly important trait for any off-road vehicle, and the Ineos Grenadier has it by the bucketload.

Aside from the fitment of a few optional accessories, the only real difference between the two vehicles I drove was the engine each came with, and despite both being BMW straight-six units, their character in the Grenadier differs quite noticeably.

The one I drove first and for the lion’s share of the time was the petrol – pictured here in the hilariously-named Magic Mushroom – which as you’d expect is silky smooth and utterly refined. There’s certainly a strong enough amount of engine braking when going downhill and torque when going uphill, but the torque does start to come on just that little bit later than you’d like it to at times. Although it still performed very impressively out on these challenging red soil tracks, I think the petrol would come more into its element on higher-speed roads – something we hope to test later in the year.

As for the heavily-optioned Sela Green diesel, it felt right at home on these slopes. Between the diesel engine’s twin-turbo system and bonus 100Nm of torque, its power delivery feels meaty from the second you give the throttle a prod, while it spools up just that bit quicker than the petrol which makes a big difference on a slow uphill creep. Sure, it does get quite vocal even at only 3000rpm unlike in the BMWs it’s fitted to, but the phenomenal low-end torque makes the extra NVH a worthy tradeoff – especially so if you’ll be regularly using it for this kind of off-road work.

It’s also worth noting that the ZF eight-speed auto works wonderfully as always. Other than on the steepest inclines where I manually locked it into first, I left it in Drive the majority of the time and it did a superb job of selecting the right gear at the right time, while its shifts never felt jolty or overly rushed. It’s perhaps a bit strange to be controlling it with a stylish BMW shifter which sticks out like a sore thumb in this otherwise rugged and bespoke cabin, but there’s no questioning its performance.

Although this drive was only short, and as such I’ll have to wait until a later date to deliver a full verdict on the Grenadier after driving it on sealed roads as well, it’s utterly impressive to see just what Ineos has accomplished with this vehicle. As a debut effort from a company that had never made a car before – even if its chemical products are used widely by the automotive sector – it feels remarkably well-resolved and not to mention very well-made.

Sure, the six-figure cost of entry is high, especially after a round of significant price increases shortly after launch late last year, but there’s a premium air to it that goes some way to justifying the expense despite this being a utilitarian vehicle at its core. The price of the Jeep Wrangler and updated Toyota 70 Series variants increasing recently is also something to keep in mind.

I’ll reserve full judgement until I’ve driven the Grenadier more extensively, but as this test in its natural habitat demonstrates, Ineos is onto a very good thing here. Until then, I’ll be crossing my fingers as I hope Sir Jim can do just as good a job with turning Man United around as well…

Photography by Marcus Cardone.

Full Disclosure: The vehicles tested here were provided by Ineos Automotive ANZ at a one-day event on a closed off-road course with professional driving instructors.

Patrick Jackson
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