FIRST DRIVE | Ineos Grenadier is an old-school off-roader with serious ability

08 February 2023 - 16:04
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The Ineos Grenadier is an impressively capable adventure vehicle that excels off the beaten track, while its boxy styling and analogue charm are a foil to the aerodynamic, digitised SUVs ipopulating our roads.
The Ineos Grenadier is an impressively capable adventure vehicle that excels off the beaten track, while its boxy styling and analogue charm are a foil to the aerodynamic, digitised SUVs ipopulating our roads.
Image: Supplied

I haven’t seen Skyfall, but the trip to Scotland to drive the new Ineos Grenadier included a photo shoot at one of the James Bond movie’s famous scenes.

Of more interest was the British vehicle’s off-road ability, and in the bonny Highlands, with its scenic lochs and lush forested hills, through slushy mud and water crossings, this fledgling brand’s newcomer leaves one feeling mostly stirred and seldom shaken.

Perhaps the Grenadier needn’t have been such a styling cut-and-paste of the last-generation Land Rover Defender (for the record Land Rover lost its copyright infringement case against the Grenadier), but the vehicle is aimed at the same type of customer: one who seeks serious off-road ability in an old-school design and finds the new Defender a little too modern and sanitised.

On both fronts the Grenadier hits the mark. It is an impressively capable adventure vehicle that excels off the beaten track, while its boxy styling and analogue charm are a foil to the aerodynamic, digitised SUVs increasingly populating the pavements at shopping malls.

The Grenadier is the gritty, unshaven adventurer in rumpled khakis hacking its way through jungles with a panga vs a Gore-Tex-clad traveller wandering well-marked trails with trekking poles.

It channels the robust old-school feel and off-road ability of the old Defender in a much more refined package. The vehicle has no direct peers but think of it as a cross between a Mercedes G-Wagen and a Toyota Land Cruiser 76.

The ladder-framed vehicle has solid front and rear axles and a five-link suspension set-up. The chassis is steel (and available in a choice of colours, including red) while the doors and bonnet are corrosion-resistant aluminium.

The Grenadier is more refined than its archaic progenitor and easier to live with as a daily commuter, but it has quirks.

Chief among them is the driving position which needs more reach adjustment in the steering column to accommodate long legs, while the door armrests are set too far forward to serve their purpose, affecting driving comfort over longer journeys.

The Grenadier’s chunky buttons are designed to be used with gloves. Picture: SUPPLIED
The Grenadier’s chunky buttons are designed to be used with gloves. Picture: SUPPLIED

The seats are comfortable and supportive and there’s plenty of room in the cabin for four tall adults plus a big stack of luggage.

Vague steering is another issue. It works fine in off-road driving where you don’t necessarily want razor-sharp reactions, but on Scotland’s narrow, twisty tarmac lanes I’d have preferred a more responsive tiller.

As part of the Grenadier’s “keep it real” analogue vibe, the transfer case has an old-style gear lever instead of the electronic switches used by most modern 4x4s, but the gears don’t always engage properly when shifting from high to low range, leading to some grating as I wrestled with it.

The doors also require a hefty slam to close, but perhaps this, along with some of the Grenadier’s other foibles, may be overlooked due to its formidable off-road abilities and charm.

Despite some dodgy ergonomics there is plenty to like about the British off-roader. A central touchscreen displays information for the driver but the large array of buttons contrast with the heavily digitised cabins found in most modern SUVs. The Grenadier’s chunky buttons are designed to be used with gloves. Similarly robust switches in the aircraft-style overhead console operate the diff locks and off-road modes, and the overhead panel also has pre-wired auxiliary switches for winches and other optional components.

Powered by a choice of 3.0l six-cylinder BMW turbo engines — either a 183kW/550Nm diesel or a 210kW/450Nm petrol — the Grenadier feels adequately spirited and there’s no driving situation where we longed for more power. Both engines schlepped the  2.7-tonne vehicle around with decent gusto and good refinement. At sea level the turbo engines feel brisk and lag-free and the auto transmission helps keep things on the boil.

Wind noise is impressively well contained for such a chunky, unaerodynamic vehicle and long miles passed without intrusive noise.

The best feature of the Grenadier, apart from its formidable off-road ability, is its ride quality. I doff  my cap to the suspension engineers for getting this level of waftiness without resorting to air suspension.

The Grenadier churned through muddy trails without breaking a sweat. Picture: SUPPLIED
The Grenadier churned through muddy trails without breaking a sweat. Picture: SUPPLIED

OFF-ROAD

Scotland’s hilly off-road trails were slick and muddy, but the Grenadier churned through it without breaking a sweat. It felt like an unstoppable force driving in muddy tracks and the vehicle’s 264mm ground clearance kept its belly from beaching on middelmannetjies.

Full-time four-wheel drive and a centre diff lock are standard, but the Grenadier Trailmaster I drove off road also had front and rear diff locks (they aren’t available on every version) that provided extra traction on steep and slippery ascents, allowing us to pick our way slowly up bumpy climbs instead of having to rush up them and risk vehicle damage. The descent control was also very effective, keeping the Grenadier slow and safe down slimy slopes.

It is designed to take on the toughest trails with its 36.2° approach angle, 28.2° breakover angle and 36.1 ° departure angle.

We also tested its 800mm wading ability in a loch, and with water up nearly to the top of its wheel arches there were no cabin leaks. Interior drain valves mean owners can hose out the floor without concerns of damaging interior materials.

The Ineos Grenadier is an impressively capable adventure vehicle. Picture: SUPPLIED
The Ineos Grenadier is an impressively capable adventure vehicle. Picture: SUPPLIED

Notwithstanding its vague steering and ergonomic quirks, it is a formidable expedition vehicle without being too heavily compromised on the road, and it has more than decent comfort and refinement.

The vehicle is assembled in Hambach, France, and Ineos Automotive SA will have three retail and service sites in the country: SMH Group in Gauteng and SMG dealers in Cape Town and Durban. Additional BMW dealers will be added as service centres.

The standard Grenadier is a stripped-back, no-nonsense workhorse, while the higher-spec Belstaff Trialmaster and Fieldmaster editions are configured with specific purposes in mind. 

First deliveries of the Ineos Grenadier are expected in South Africa by May.

Pricing:

Station Wagon (petrol or diesel) — R1,513,100

Station Wagon Trailmaster edition (petrol or diesel) — R1,630,560

Stagion Wagon Fieldmaster edition (petrol or diesel) — R1,630,560

Prices include a five-year/100,000km warranty.

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