The Grenadier is a little pub in a small cobbled street in one of the wealthiest parts of London. It’s rumoured to have a ghost named Cedric in its cellar and even today many of its punters pin money to the ceiling in a bid to pay off the spirit’s gambling debts. Among them is a five pound note from Britain’s wealthiest man, Sir Jim Ratcliffe.
Sir Jim owns Ineos, the huge petrochemicals company that is principal partner of the Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 team and that owns one of the most successful international cycling teams and a sailing team. He’s currently bidding to buy Manchester United and was also rather fond of the original Land Rover Defender, so much so that when the model was canned, he tried to buy the tooling to keep making it. Jaguar Land Rover said no, but the courts said they couldn't retain the trademark to the original design and so Sir Jim sat down in his favourite little pub and came up with the idea to build his own. He sketched it on that five pound note and then named the first model from Ineos Automotive, the Grenadier. Then he also bought the pub.
The Grenadier SUV is the ultimate in chairperson’s folly and since that initial idea, Sir Jim has bought the Smart plant in France from Mercedes-Benz to build his new vehicle. We recently drove it through some of the most exclusive private estates in England, places that belong to the likes of the Getty family for example, the kind of estates where gamekeepers and estate managers are likely to use a Grenadier to run around chasing pheasants.
It’s not just about the estate staff of the well-heeled though. The Grenadier has been built to satisfy those with a thirst for adventure, the kind who prefer to cross the Kalahari rather than cross town. Its traditional design is utilitarian, but it’s not short on creature comforts.
Ineos hasn’t rewritten the rule book here: the exterior design is unashamedly Defender and there are plenty of off-the-shelf parts. These include the BMW straight-six petrol or diesel engines and ZF’s eight-speed automatic gearbox complete with BMW gearstick.
The interior has Recaro seats available in a range of hard-wearing materials, but as comfortable as they are, they aren’t the main talking point. That goes to the aircraft-style centre console with its large buttons and dials designed to be able to be used while wearing gloves. There are more above your head too, with 21 buttons for off-road modes and accessories, but you need to learn what each does because the labels are barely legible. That array of buttons sits between two sunroofs that provide not just plenty of light in the cabin, but can be removed so you can stand with your head outside and survey your land or look out for animals in the desert.
There’s basic functionality like the 4x4 selection lever, which requires strength to engage, but the Grenadier is not devoid of tech. Sitting on the top of the dash is a touchscreen infotainment system that provides basic off-road information like your direction of wheel travel, but also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and the ability to leave a virtual breadcrumb trail for others to follow.
There’s even a nod to the days when cars had two horns, one to blast in the countryside and the other a more polite toot so as not to scare gentlefolk in the city. Were it not for the fact that Ineos is so involved in cycling, it would be easy to judge them for putting a picture of a bicycle on the “toot” button.
There’s plenty of space for five, and open the split tailgate and you’ll find a boot that’s wide enough to load a standard pallet should you ever need to do so. If that’s not enough, you can always bolt on the optional roof rack if you need to strap on jerry cans for that long-distance trip to Cairo.
We didn’t drive that far, in fact we stayed within proximity of London, but when you’re the wealthiest person in Britain, people let you into places others are not allowed. This included the magnificent estates of Stonor Park, inhabited by the same family for over 850 years; the famous sporting estate West Wycombe and Wormsley Estate, one of the homes of the famous Getty family and which has its own cricket ground designed by the head groundsman of The Oval.
None taxed the Grenadier’s box-section ladder-frame chassis or four-wheel drive system too much, but we ploughed along muddy forest tracks, waded through picturesque rivers and descended slippery slopes. It was enough to hint at the old-school capability of the SUV, a vehicle engineered to be easy to drive and easy to repair wherever your adventure takes you.
The steering is precise, though it does fail to return to dead ahead on its own and we often found ourselves having to look to the screen to check which way the wheels were pointing when off-road. Like other issues with the Grenadier, it’s a minor thing, one which we imagine owners will get used to.
They’ll get used to the slightly bumpy on-road ride too, though admittedly we were on the full off-road BF Goodrich all-terrain rubber. That came into its own off-road, as did the Grenadier, which, after a prototype drive last year, again showed how incredibly comfortable it is when off the tarmac. The suspension swallows bumps in a way that would have a luxury sedan raising a headlamp eyebrow. There’s little danger of your passengers spilling their G&Ts in this one.
Priced from R1,513,100, the Grenadier will initially only be available as a five-seater station wagon with accessorised models like the Belstaff, Trialmaster and Fieldmaster editions. There’s a Utility Wagon, a double-cab bakkie is in the final stages of development and there will be both full electric and hydrogen fuel cell versions in the years to come. Ineos isn’t done there though, with plans for other models including a short wheelbase and a smaller SUV.
Outside China, a new automotive brand is a rare thing and while the Grenadier has undeniable familiarity in its looks, it’s an exciting arrival for those who have an adventurous spirit.
It all feels on the one hand very childhood adventure story, a sort of Enid Blyton Five Go Grenadiering. On the other, it’s decidedly old school upper-class, the kind of vehicle in which you pack whisky and sandwiches into the back and head down a track to a tented camp, where you swap stories with your chums about your latest exploits. It’s purposeful, capable and very much a grown-up’s Tonka toy, but it has a charm about it that you won’t find in the latest Land Rover Defender, Mercedes-Benz G-Class or Toyota Land Cruiser. For many that will be its appeal.