The reckoning


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The Highlands came good with appropriate weather : credit: © Ineos Automotive
LRM finally get to experience the Grenadier, both on and off-road, when we join Expedition 1.0 in the Scottish Highlands

I’ve really missed my regular road trips. I enjoy driving my Land Rovers on long journeys to interesting places far more than I like taking them to shows and events, but I haven’t had a decent road trip since before the pandemic. That’s why I was rather excited last autumn to receive an invitation to join the first global media drive for the Ineos Grenadier in Scotland.

Gary returns to the terrain he loves, this time to experience a different sort of 4x4

The Highlands are beautiful in the autumn, so I hatched a plan to drive north in SYD, my 1990 3.9 Range Rover, play with the Grenadier for a couple of days, and then call in to see some old friends before returning south. SYD has spent a lot of time in Scotland, either as transport and occasional overnight accommodation back in the days when I was a serious hillwalker and Munro-bagger, or when we were visiting all the major Scottish off-road driving centres. And then there was the memorable Trans-Scotland Tour in 1993, from Inverbervie on the east coast all the way across to the west coast, via the Corrieyairack Pass and with plenty of interesting off-roading along the way. I was quite excited at the prospect of such a wonderful trip down memory lane!

The Grenadier looks very at home away from the tarmac

But then Ineos announced it would be deferring the event until the New Year, and the final dates clashed with long-standing family commitments. SYD would therefore be relegated to transporting me from Hampshire to Heathrow, were it would languish in the long-term car park for two days while I took a flight to Inverness.

The Grenadier global media drive goes by the name of Expedition 1.0 and Ineos describe it as ‘an adventure that will run from the wilds of Scotland to the London pub where the Grenadier story began’. Luckily, my invitation is for the ‘Heart of the Highlands’ bit, because I’m not sure I’d have enjoyed being in the group that was going to drive through central London to a pub in Belgravia.

The Grenadier convoy on it's way North

Our journey will take us from Inverness to Nairn and then south across Dava Moor to Speyside, and then off-road through the private Ardverikie Estate, immortalised as the fictitious Glenbogle House in the BBC1 series Monarch of the Glen, and more recently standing in for Balmoral in The Crown, as well as an appearance in Daniel Craig’s final Bond movie, No Time to Die.

From there we head to Glencoe, where we will stay the night at the Kingshouse Hotel. The following day we will drive on the tarmac to Loch Lomond, before heading off-road again through the private Luss Estate, ending our day at Glasgow for the flight back to London. We will drive around 180 miles in the Grenadier on-road and, more importantly, over 50 miles off-road. It will be a great road trip, even if SYD will be stuck in the car park at Heathrow.

Cabin looks complex but turns out easy to master

Before I set off to catch my flight to Inverness, Ineos send me my welcome pack with a detailed route map and I’m asked to watch a video entitled Getting to Grips with your Grenadier, which will apparently introduce me to the controls and teach me how to drive the vehicle. I watch it twice. I had hoped for a 4x4 that isn’t overloaded with tech, so my initial impressions after watching the video are not very encouraging.

There seem to be plenty of buttons to push and lots of indicator lights that will flash up on the dash, and many of the important controls seem to be in the roof panel above the driver’s head. I’m starting to think about the wisdom of driving off-road while looking up at the roof panel, but then I wonder whether I am guilty of allowing my antipathy towards gratuitous in-car tech to get the better of me? I guess we’ll find out soon enough!

Testing weather conditions were welcome in such a vehicle

So here I am in Inverness after an uneventful flight and a pleasant night in the hotel. It’s -5 outside and snowing, so it seems sensible to start the day with a Full Scottish and yes, I will have the haggis, please. When I walk outside there are over twenty Grenadiers in the car park. It’s probably the largest gathering ever and they look purposeful and impressive. I’m allocated a 3-litre petrol Trialmaster model, and I’m pleased to see steel wheels and BF Goodrich All-Terrain tyres.

Before we set off, we discover that the authorities have shut the snow gates on our intended route south from Nairn, so we head in convoy down the A9 instead. The snow gets worse as we climb to the summit at Slochd, and there’s no chance to explore the Grenadier at anything more than the tightly controlled speed limits.

It certainly looks the part

Top speed of both the petrol and diesel variants is 99mph, with 281bhp/332lb-ft and 245bhp/405lb-ft and 0-62mph times of 8.6s and 9.9s respectively. Both versions have the 8-speed ZF auto transmission, and fuel consumption is around 19mpg for the petrol and 24 for the diesel, which is not surprising for something weighing over 2.6 tonnes.

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As we drive through Speyside, I’m reminded of the wonderful day spent at the Highland Drovers off-road driving centre at Boat of Garten in the early 1990s, where I was persuaded by Nick Dimbleby to drive SYD into one particular bog for the sake of a good photograph. It took a long time to get unstuck, not helped by the winch packing up, and the whole experience led to a lengthy conversation about the benefits of aftermarket diff-locks.

Grenadier finds traction on the rutted, frozen ground

At Kinloch Laggan we turn off into Ardverikie. We’ll drive right across this vast estate on a variety of tracks, and also visit the area known as ‘The Golf Course’ which turns out to be an interesting off-road challenge on an exposed hillside that offers heavily rutted and steep descents and ascents. I’m impressed by what we’re invited to drive through, because this is a genuinely wild route rather than a manicured off-road course that has been prepared to suit the vehicle, as is so often the case with off-road vehicle tests. It’s made all the more interesting by the snow and the sub-zero temperatures. There is ice everywhere.

Ineos happy to let journos tackle extreme conditions

We continue southwest along the tracks and the snow eases, the cloud breaks, and the sun bursts through. The scenery is majestic and among the best that Scotland has to offer. We drive across a snow-covered beach and into the loch, reaching what must be close to the 800mm wading depth, while waves whipped-up by the wind are breaking over the bonnet.

It’s getting dark as we drive through Spean Bridge and Fort William to our hotel in Glencoe. The buzz among the scribblers as we gather for dinner is the steering, which many think is too vague on the road. I know what they mean, but as a hardened driver of old Land Rovers I suppose it’s something I’m used to. On-road compromise is what you get when you go for off-road perfection, but I’d love to have the opportunity to do some everyday driving in the Grenadier: motorways, country lanes, trips to the supermarket, ordinary driving, to really get a feel for the vehicle on the tarmac.

Test route involved about 50 miles off-road

The following day I’m given the 3-litre diesel version, and we head to the Luss Estate and two more off-road routes using hill tracks that are much more challenging than yesterday, with some seriously steep and rocky ascents and descents, and plenty of ice. There’s real jeopardy here. Getting things wrong could have serious consequences!

The Grenadier copes with it all without any drama. It is supremely accomplished off-road. A centre diff-lock and front and rear diff-locks make it pretty much unstoppable, and I delight in feeding it up and down the steep and very slippery inclines at barely more than tick-over. It feels solid and well-engineered. It inspires confidence.

The 'real' modern Defender?

It strikes me that it is essentially pointless to think about comparing it to the old Defender, because the Grenadier is a thoroughly modern vehicle that makes the old Defender look and feel like precisely what it is: a vehicle that was destined to be forever compromised by the limitations imposed on it in 1948 that continued through all of its iterations until production ended in 2016.

Don’t get me wrong. None of this takes away any of the things I love about the old Defender and its Series ancestors. I cherish my 1997 300Tdi 90 and my 1981 88in Stage 1 V8, and I have no plans to part with them. But they are now old cars. The 88 is officially a Historic Vehicle and exempt from MoTs and road tax, and neither it nor the 90, or SYD for that matter, are vehicles I really want to be relying on as year-round daily drivers. I also don’t want a ‘laptop on wheels’, as JLR’s new Chief Digital Officer recently suggested we should call his company’s vehicles.

Gary is won over by the new machine

As for the controls, all I can say is that Ineos needn’t have bothered with its video, because Getting to Grips with your Grenadier isn’t remotely challenging. There’s an automatic transmission selector in the usual place with a manual over-ride, and a high-low transfer case selector which also operates the centre diff-lock. A couple of buttons on the roof panel operate the front and rear diff-locks, and two more activate off-road and wading modes. If you’re reading your route ahead, you won’t need to be fiddling around with the roof panel while you’re on the move. Oh, and there’s a key to start it, a pedal to make it go and one to make it stop. And no gratuitous electrickery. It could well be the answer to my search for a new daily-driver. We’ll see.


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