Some of us have our best ideas after a couple of pints, or think we do. For Sir Jim Ratcliffe – Britain’s richest man, with an estimated net worth of £13.3bn – his light-bulb moment happened at The Grenadier pub in Belgravia, back in 2017.
Disillusioned by the direction Land Rover was taking with his beloved Defender, Ratcliffe resolved to build his own vision of what the iconic 4×4 should have become. And he named it Grenadier, after the pub (which, inevitably, he also now owns).
As Sir Jim readily admits, the road to this point has been rocky. Grenadier production was originally destined for Bridgend, creating up to 500 Welsh jobs, then relocated to a former Mercedes-Benz plant in Hambach, northern France. Land Rover also tried – unsuccessfully – to sue Ineos over design similarities to the classic Defender.
Factor in Covid, the war in Ukraine and the worldwide shortage of semiconductors, and it turns out starting a car company from scratch isn’t easy. Who knew?
Ready for adventure
In case there was any doubt, this isn’t a typical school-run SUV. The Ineos Grenadier uses an old-school ladder frame chassis with beam axles, a low-range gearbox and a locking centre differential. Target customers include farmers, aid organisations and people with a penchant for extreme sports. No doubt you’ll see a few with window-tints and oversized alloys around Belgravia, too.
Power comes courtesy of two 3.0-litre straight-six BMW engines, either 286hp petrol or 249hp diesel. They drive all four wheels via an eight-speed ZF auto ‘box and will canter to 62mph in 8.6 seconds or 9.9 seconds respectively.
I sampled the Station Wagon, which is priced from £58,000 – or £69,000 for one of the swankier Belstaff editions, a tie-up with the British outdoor clothing brand (another business owned by Ratcliffe). There’s also a work-focused Utility Wagon with blanked-out rear windows, plus a pick-up version coming soon.
The resemblance to a Defender 110 is obvious, but the Grenadier doesn’t look ‘styled’ as such. Its boxy shape maximises interior space and helps you position the vehicle more easily off-road, and short overhangs provide superb approach and departure angles. Protruding parts, such as the unpainted plastic door mirrors, are designed to be easily and cheaply replaced.
Sockets hidden in the roof rails can be used for exterior lights or providing power to a roof tent, while the optional ‘utility belt’ along the doors offers mounting points for jerry cans, a GoPro camera, a picnic table and various other accessories.
On the flight deck
The no-nonsense approach continues inside, where the Grenadier fits five and a whopping 1,152 litres of luggage, or 2,035 litres with the back seats folded down. Its floor is covered in rubber mats and the chunky switchgear can be operated by gloved hands, although there’s still infotainment – a 12.3-inch touchscreen running a reskinned version of BMW iDrive – along with Apple and Android phone connectivity. Perhaps the one stylistic flourish is the aircraft-inspired roof console, which contains most of the buttons for going off-road.
My drive started on the road in West Sussex, where the Grenadier felt far more at home than an old Defender. Its petrol engine pulls calmly and confidently from low revs, despite battling a kerb weight of 2.7 tonnes. Ride quality is very good and the handling is less roly-poly than you might expect.
It’s certainly not perfect, though: the transmission tunnel obstructs your left foot, the wipers miss a large area of the windscreen and the steering – a recirculating ball system, designed for durability rather than precision – simply refuses to be rushed. A ‘sports’ utility vehicle this is not.
Grenadier at Goodwood
We then attempted some off-roading on the Goodwood estate (in the woods beyond the top of the famous hillclimb). Now, this wasn’t exactly the Rubicon Trail, but nor was it terrain a Nissan Qashqai could have tackled, particularly in the aftermath of heavy rain.
The Ineos Grenadier made it feel effortless. With hill-descent control, optional locking front and rear diffs and rugged BF Goodrich tyres, it ploughed along muddy ruts, clambered over tree stumps and clawed through deep ditches. Granted, the upmarket new Defender could do this, but would you really want to?
I suspect the Grenadier may be more reliable than a Land Rover, too – backed up by its five-year, unlimited-mileage warranty. Still, let’s not get carried away. Ratcliffe has delivered on his dream, but this is a niche vehicle with a particular set of priorities.
His next 4×4, we’re told, will be smaller, cheaper and have an electric powertrain. The Ineos Red Lion, perhaps, or Dog and Duck? It all hangs upon which pub Sir Jim visits next.
Tim Pitt writes for Motoring Research
PRICE: From £58,000
TOP SPEED: 99mph
FUEL ECONOMY: 18.9-19.6mpg
CO2 EMISSIONS: 325-336g/km