Let's talk about the Grenadier...

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Land Rover fan Mark Evans seems to have fallen for the new Grenadier : credit: © Patrik Lundin
Mark Evans tells us why he thinks the Grenadier is worthy of our interest…

Mark Evans is well-known among Land Rover enthusiasts around the world, primarily because of the TV series he produced and presented called A 4x4 is Born, which followed the construction of Hillbilly, an impressive off-roader inspired by the Land Rover 100in prototype in the Dunsfold Collection. It has been broadcast in over 80 countries.

Mark Evans and his 1994 Ninety have appeared in LRM before, back in December 2012

In fact, Mark has been a diehard Land Rover fan since childhood and connects his passion for the marque back to his father, who worked on the 2.8-litre Rolls-Royce B40-engined 81in Series I during his National Service in the REME. Mark also owns what is believed to be the second-oldest surviving 107, and a gorgeous 1984 Ninety that he bought as a wreck and rebuilt himself, with a lot of help from his friends Les Dale and Phil Hinsley, on a galvanised chassis with a 200Tdi. The restoration story appeared in LRM in December 2012, and the vehicle is currently Mark’s daily driver.

For the past two years, Mark has been the familiar face of Building the Grenadier, the series of films that chart the course of the Ineos Grenadier from the drawing board to the completion of a million-mile global testing progammme. He was undoubtedly an inspired choice for the job, combining as he does a passion for 4x4 vehicles with an in-depth understanding and fascination for the engineering that goes into them.

As the first of the films started to appear it seemed very obvious to me that I was watching more than just a consummate pro doing what he was being paid to do. Sure, it was clear that he was hugely impressed with the approach being taken to create the Grenadier, but there seemed to me to be something else going on. Was I witnessing the beginning of something akin to the emotional connection that seems to underpin all our Land Rover addictions? Was Mark falling for the Grenadier?

Mark Evans explains some of the Grenadier’s nuances to LRM’s Gary Pusey

I’m meeting him today to hear what inspires him about the vehicle and why he is so impressed with what Ineos has achieved in such a short space of time. And since you ask, the answer is no, he isn’t being paid by Ineos to talk to me. Mark wants to show me the engineering in the metal, so we need a Grenadier. Ineos has sent us Austrian-registered prototype PT2B075 in a covered truck to our meeting place, away from prying eyes in deepest Surrey. It’s a well-used vehicle and some way off final production spec, but Ineos has been refreshingly transparent from the outset in allowing access to its prototypes. Oh, and they’ve given us the keys.

The fundamental question, of course, is why the Grenadier could be of interest to Land Rover enthusiasts and why it deserves space in LRM. I know that many Land Rover fans are asking the same questions and I certainly have my own views, but I really want to hear what Mark thinks.

“Many people have referred to the Grenadier as the ‘successor’ to the old Defender,” he begins. “I don’t think that is either accurate or fair, and I actually don’t think that JLR could have built a vehicle like the Grenadier, even if they’d wanted to. The original Land Rover started as a simple utility vehicle and was only developed for the emerging lifestyle market in the 1990s. Even the last of the old Defenders were pretty basic and uncomfortable, primarily because there was only so much the company could do with the design. JLR reversed that design philosophy with the new Defender, approaching it from the outset as a luxury SUV. The result is an overly complicated machine that is far removed from the idea of a genuine utility vehicle.

Ineos took inspiration from the past, mixed with modern innovation

“Ineos took the opportunity to start with a blank sheet of paper and a new approach, and I have been genuinely fascinated by Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s boldness and ambition to build what he describes as the purest 4x4 ever made. Ineos wasn’t an established automotive player, so the company was not constrained by blinkered thinking. They could do things differently. They were able to look back and learn from the past, taking the best from what has gone before. They have spoken to their potential customers and listened to what people want. And they have also looked to the future and been innovative and creative. It’s both a refreshing and a reassuring approach.

“They started with an objective to build a vehicle that was designed to drive very well off-road, and they thought about the vast areas of the world that require a robust, reliable, comfortable and capable 4x4, but they also wanted it to look good. They envisioned a vehicle that was as good as it could be in all these areas that would be a modern interpretation of the traditional 4x4, where form follows function. They recognised that they would have buyers who chose the Grenadier as an alternative to an SUV but they did not set out to build one. Almost every manufacturer offers an SUV model nowadays, but none started their design and engineering processes in the way that Ineos did.

“Ineos set out to take the best engineering they could find, and they worked with the leading players in their fields, bringing in people from across the 4x4 industry as the team expanded. There are plenty of ex-Land Rover people working on the Grenadier. The engineering excellence of the vehicle has impressed me greatly at every stage of development, and compromise has never been accepted. Sir Jim Ratcliffe has remained very close to the project from the outset, and commentators who have suggested that the Grenadier is some sort of vanity project couldn’t be more wrong. This has always been a hard-nosed business venture to create something unique and inherently fit-for-purpose that will be at the heart of a commercially successful operation.”

Long wheelbase and good departure angles, and a hint of Defender, define the Grenadier’s body design

I’m keen to see what it is about the Grenadier’s design and engineering that impresses Mark so much, and we begin with a walk around and a close examination of the prototype that has been parked discreetly in the barn, surrounded by farm machinery and looking very much at home. Mark points out design subtleties that I probably wouldn’t have noticed, such as the almost imperceptible curve in the body side from rear to front, and the curve to the windscreen.

“It looks good, but it isn’t a show-pony,” he says. “Attention to detail is visible everywhere, from the approach and departure angles, the front bumper design, and the full-width rear door access with vertically split tailgate, and a strengthened and ribbed roof. It is designed with a purpose and everything on it is consistent with that purpose.

“The cockpit is both comfortable and ergonomic, with more than a hint of aeroplane about it. Everything is labelled with a word rather than an icon, and every switch can be removed from the fascia by undoing some screws. The whole thing screams stylish practicality. This is a bling-free zone devoid of gratuitous tech. Wipe-down upholstery and drain plugs in the floor reinforce the feeling of usability and practicality, although I’m not sure I’d want to put a hosepipe anywhere near the interior.”

Mark questions the value of the tie-down bars set into the roof

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We take advantage of the heavy-duty scissor lift that spends most of its time hoisting tractors for maintenance. Underneath the Grenadier we find the reassuring familiarity and simplicity of a ladder-frame chassis, beam axles, steel wheels and coil springs that are so well designed that every journalist who has driven the vehicle has said that it feels as good as air suspension.

Bizarrely, the chassis has not been galvanised and both Mark and I think this could be a missed opportunity; Ineos  believes that galv would be susceptible to cracks and chips if used in areas with a high exposure to repeated strikes. It has chosen to protect the chassis with a combination of KTL (cathodic dip coating) and powder-coating, with wax on the inner chassis surfaces, which it claims provides a superior level of corrosion protection compared with zinc galvanising. The body is predominantly made from galvanised steel, while doors and closures are aluminium to save weight.

Not all the details drew the plaudits

There are a few design details that are questionable, such as the equipment rails on the doors designed to hold panniers and other gear, which Mark can’t quite get his head or his heart around.  Neither of us are very keen on the tie-down bars in the roof where Land Rovers have alpine lights.

“They seem to be a bit gimmicky,” says Mark, “although it’s definitely useful to have something solid to strap things to when the need arises and you don’t have a roof-rack.” A winch behind the front bumper is an option, but Mark reckons a removable winch with a mounting both front and rear would be attractive, but in fairness these are pretty minor grumbles.

“I like the fact that it is a vehicle that can form the basis of personalisation and bespoke changes,” adds Mark, “and it will be interesting to see how the aftermarket specialists react to it. Ineos has actively encouraged the aftermarket to treat the vehicle as a blank canvas, which is exactly the approach that Rover took in the 1950s and 1960s. I also like the fact that an owner can service it and fix it. The Grenadier aftersales package is shaping up well, and the launch of the online workshop manual complete with ‘how to…’ video clips is a wonderful development. With most modern 4x4s a request for a workshop manual is met with a blank stare.”

Cabin design owes as much to the aviation industry as it does the automotive one​​​​​​

We start to talk about how it drives, and Mark surprises me. “I haven’t had the opportunity yet to really drive it, seriously, on- or off-road, so I can’t really comment on capability apart from my experience on the Prototype Tour when it was super-smooth and felt like air suspension.  I was initially a bit hesitant regarding the auto-only transmission as I have never driven an auto off-roader before, but everyone tells me that a good auto set-up is brilliant. I’m looking forward to putting it to a proper test.”

It seems that I may have driven the Grenadier rather more than Mark has done, albeit only off-road, where I found it to be incredibly capable and comfortable. I remind Mark that we have the keys and permission, and he says that he knows the farm has an extensive network of concrete and unsurfaced tracks. So Mark jumps into the driving seat and we set off to do some exploring.

It’s a most enjoyable half-hour and we can’t find anything to criticise in how the Grenadier drives and rides, but we’d both like the opportunity for a more extensive and varied test drive in due course.

Mark and Gary get to grips with the new vehicle

I suggest to Mark that the real reason that Land Rover nuts like us might be interested in the Grenadier is because JLR no longer makes the sort of vehicle we want to own. As a result, my daily driver is a 32-year-old Range Rover and Mark’s is a 38-year-old Ninety. He agrees, but we also talk about other reasons.

Clearly, there is no shared DNA between the Grenadier and the utility Land Rover, any more than there is between the Grenadier and the Land Cruiser, the Jeep or the G-Wagen. But there are shared roots, because when all of these predecessors were created they set out to be the most capable off-road utility vehicle of their time, and Grenadier seeks to be exactly that today.

Ineos have sweated the detail

Arguably, the Grenadier only exists because Sir Jim Ratcliffe did not agree with JLR’s decision to halt production of the Defender and refused to sell the tooling and production line to him. In that sense, the end of the Defender (and the end of the Land Rover utility vehicle) is the reason why the Grenadier is with us today.

Mark suggests that for all these reasons and because of the engineering excellence and the single-minded commitment that has led to its creation, it is also a vehicle that you can be inspired by.

“In my view it has all the ingredients to become an icon and a legend in its own right,” says Mark, “and that will be on the basis of how well the engineering works and how successful, reliable and accomplished the Grenadier is when it is being used in the real world.” I was right. Mark has fallen for the Grenadier.

 

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