Grenadier: First Drive

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Form follows function, but Grenadier undoubtedly has a distinctive style of its own : credit: © Ineos Automotive
LRM gets an exclusive invitation to join the first media drive of the new Grenadier. Gary Pusey draws the short straw…

I’m looking forward to a very interesting couple of days that will begin and end in the comfortable and familiar surroundings of my 1990 Range Rover. SYD’s contribution is to get me to Heathrow, where it will spend 36 hours in the long-term car park before taking me home to Hampshire by midnight the following day. The bit in the middle involves a flight to Frankfurt, two hours in transit from there to Hambach in France, an overnight stay, and then back to Frankfurt for the flight home.

Why? Because INEOS has asked me if I would like a tour of its new factory. Actually, that’s not strictly true because it’s a new-to-them factory that was recently vacated by Mercedes-Benz, which built Smart cars there. You might remember the intense interest a while back when the press announced that INEOS was going to build its new Grenadier at a factory in Wales. I was quite excited about that, but business is business and when the fully operational Mercedes plant became available, complete with an experienced workforce, no doubt hard-nosed commercial considerations kicked in at INEOS and sadly the Welsh plan was dropped. Picking up an operational plant probably saved the company a year.

I’ve tried to stop myself getting emotional about this ‘built in Britain’ stuff, and it isn’t easy. But if JLR can build its new Defender in western Slovakia, why should it matter if INEOS builds its Grenadier in north-eastern France? I’m looking forward to seeing the production facility taking shape, but that’s not really why I’ve braved the tangled Covid travel restrictions to get here… The real reason is that I’m going to be one of the first journalists to drive the Grenadier.

If the Grenadier proves to be impressive off-road, Gary wonders whether his Land Rover mates will ever speak to him again

And why am I writing about it in LRM? It’s simple. I’m a lifelong Land Rover fan and the chances are that if you’re reading this you are too. And like me, you will be very interested in the vehicle that has only come to pass as a result of JLR’s decision to scrap the original Defender and replace it with something that is not really comparable.

But before any of this can happen, it’s time to navigate my way through the Covid-induced bureaucracy that makes overseas travel such a deeply unpleasant experience nowadays. NHS Covid Passport? Check. Pre-departure Covid lateral flow test? Ordered, delivered, taken and negative. Check. Digitale Einreiseanmeldung document to allow me to enter Germany? After several attempts and much grumbling, check. EU Passenger Locator Form to get from Germany into France? Check. A seriously weird Sworn Undertaking To Comply With Rules For Entry Into Metropolitan French Territory? Check, although the last time I had to commit to anything like ‘I hereby declare on my honour that I…’ was probably in my primary school playground. And finally, my UK Passenger Locator Form that allows me to get back into the country by promising to take another lateral flow test within 48 hours of arrival. Check. Small wonder that fellow LRM contributor Steve Miller decided to take his recent holiday break in Wales rather than venturing across the Channel. Sensible chap.

It’s worked out well and the German border officials have let me in. I’m on the coach with some other UK scribblers and we’re on our way to Hambach. Needless to say, we trundled across the border into France without stopping and it was a shame there wasn’t someone to inspect my lovingly created ‘on my honour’ document.

Distinctive two-part rear door is a neat idea. Five-seater can be ordered with or without rear windows​​​​​​

We’re up bright and early the next morning and at the INEOS factory before 09.00am. All the Grenadier top brass are there to meet us and as we set off on the factory tour, I can’t help but notice the well-used Defender 110 in one of the director’s parking spaces. Turns out it belongs to Grenadier CEO Dirk Heilmann who is a very keen off-roader and owns a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon as well as his 110. I find myself strangely delighted by this news and wonder if there is anyone on the JLR board who goes off-roading for fun, but after thinking about it for a few seconds I realise I probably know the answer already…

The factory tour is impressive and state-of-the-art, and its obvious that a lot of money has been invested. INEOS continues to build Smart cars here under contract to Mercedes – over 27,000 last year, apparently – which must have generated some welcome cash while Grenadier production is ramping up.

Data sheet identifies this as Prototype 2B number 124 ​​​​​​

I’m inspired by the passion for the product and the excitement that comes across loud and clear from everyone. Dirk wants to build “a proper 4x4 that will work for the world” and is clearly very proud of what his team has accomplished in what is, in car industry terms, an impressively short period of time. It’s fascinating to learn that his Hambach workforce has an average length of service of 20 years. The plant was only opened 25 years ago. A lot of effort has gone into reconfiguring the factory to make the Grenadier, which is obviously a tad bigger and heavier than the two-seater Smart EV.

By the time production begins in early summer, over 80,000 hours of training will have been completed and it’s gratifying to see the huge focus on ensuring zero-defect ‘best in class’ quality at every step in the design, build and delivery cycles. INEOS might not be claiming that the Grenadier is a car for life, but it probably could.

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Optional high-level air intake

I’m told that 130 ‘Production Try-Out Phase 1’ prototypes are currently being built but we’ll be driving earlier prototypes this afternoon. They aren’t to final production standard but INEOS is happy to let us drive them anyway. Most manufacturers would be hiding vehicles like this behind camo wrap and darkened windows. The INEOS approach is refreshingly different. Production vehicles are expected to appear in July.

And now it’s time for another bus ride to the off-road site. It’s raining now, and the cloud is down to tree-top height when we arrive at what could pass for a post-apocalyptic film set. Apparently, it used to be a coal mine but it’s now used for a variety of things, include off-road driving. It’s not owned by INEOS and my guess is they will create their own facility in due course. The sea of glutinous black mud looks like it might actually have come out of the coal mine. There are a couple of huge JCBs in the distance operating a training course, and a couple of Frenchmen playing with an industrial-sized telehandler, and the only shelter from the biting wind and the intermittent drizzle is the INEOS hospitality trailer. I am seriously grateful for it as I nurse a coffee and wait my turn to get behind the wheel for the first time.

Aircraft-inspired overhead instrument panel and twin sunroofs

So what can I tell you? My allotted vehicle has just had the copious mud from its previous drive washed off and is dripping gently. It looks squat and purposeful on its steel wheels and BF Goodrich tyres, and all the better when it is seen in an off-road setting. It looks like it means business, just as an old Defender does. Every aspect gives you a sense that it has been designed and engineered with functionality and capability in mind. It is a bling-free zone.

But it has bags of character and a distinctive style of its own, and in the flesh you can appreciate that it isn’t a simple copy of a Defender 110. It’s also easy to see why the design will have irritated JLR, but it’s worth remembering that it is only here today because of its decision to end Defender production and not replace it with something comparable, as Mercedes-Benz did with its G-Wagen.

My instructor, Sven, is a leading German off-road driver and he spends a few minutes running through the controls before giving me the key. Yes, a key! And then we’re off. It’s an interesting test route with plenty of ups and downs… And ruts. It certainly has ruts. I notice with deep satisfaction that the Grenadier has a centre locking diff and Sven tells me that production vehicles will also have front and rears as well.

Gary finds the interior is as comfortable as it is functional, and beautifully designed. Twin emergency stop buttons will not make it into production​​​​​​

I do my best to get the Grenadier stuck. I drive up heavily rutted inclines too slowly. I drive at an angle across the ruts. I go off-piste into serious gloop. It copes with everything and feels perfectly balanced, with equal weight distribution front and rear, and provides tremendous feedback to the driver. In fact, the realisation comes to me that I am driving rather than being assisted by a battery of electronic aides. I can feel where the wheels are and what they’re doing, and I don’t need a camera to show me what I’m driving over. It’s very impressive.

No manufacturer can make a compliant vehicle for production at scale to sell around the world without using ECUs. It’s just a question of whether they restrict themselves to the ECUs they really need or whether they get carried away and load the vehicle with extraneous tech. My sense is that the Grenadier has exactly what it needs and no more. I certainly couldn’t find a switch for interior mood lighting.

Could the Grenadier be a legend in the making? I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to driving my own legend home to Hampshire. That’s after the two-hour bus trip, the three-hour wait at Frankfurt, running the gauntlet of ‘papers please’ officials, and the flight back to Heathrow.

 

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