CAPE TOWN – It’s the go anywhere, do anything car that people said Land Rover should have made to replace the Defender. Well, they didn’t, and the merits of that decision have been discussed ad nauseam but what it did do is open a gap in the market that chemical billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe took to put his money behind the Ineos Grenadier.
Conceived in the Grenadier Pub on a napkin, the original drawing has pride of place on the wall of the bar and after a couple of court cases and thousands of social media posts later, a handful of pre-production models are in South Africa.
We got to see them in the metal and drove along in it with an instructor and despite the short stint as a passenger, I think they have a winner here.
There’s no denying the similarity between the old Defender and the Grenadier with it’s rugged square looks and I think in doing that, Ratcliffe gently sent a middle finger to his countrymen at JLR (Jaguar Land Rover).
Never mind though the Grenadier is here to stay, they say, and more than 100 South Africans have put their money where their mouth is, sight unseen, and paid their holding deposits on a vehicle that will retail at almost R1.4 million.
Ineos is not a manufacturer but they did go out and source some of the best equipment to ensure that they kept their initial promise of a vehicle that would be rugged, bullet-proof and ready to tackle some of the toughest terrain in the world.
The six-cylinder BMW petrol (285kW, 450Nm) and diesel (183kW, 550Nm) engines are widely considered to be two of the best mills in the world, so that’s under the bonnet connected to an eight-speed automatic ZF gearbox, that also has critical acclaim.
Magna makes some of the toughest differentials in the world, especially for the agricultural sector, and they’ll now be making them for the Grenadier too, both front and rear while your backside will slide into Recaro seats.
That’s comfort and the drivetrain properly sorted then.
Inside most of the switchgear is analogue with chunky buttons and controls (all waterproof so you can steam it after a safari) simulating more of a helicopter cockpit than a car because it’s easier to deal with in icy conditions when you have gloves on.
Low range is selected via a lever on the centre console and rear, front and centre difflock initiated by a switch in the roof.
Interestingly, there’s no instrument cluster in front of the driver which they say is designed to keep the driver’s attention focused on the tricky road ahead while off-roading. Instead there’s a touchscreen that displays the gauges and features normally found on the dash.
You get 258mm of ground clearance, 35.5 degree approach angle, 27.8 degree breakover angle, 36.1 degree departure angle and a wading depth of 800mm while there’s decent body protection covering the bits that traditionally take a hammering.
For those who want to add winches, bullbars, solar panels and anything else to individualise their Grenadier, the switches have all been wired already.
A rear ladder comes standard and the roof is built to hold 100kg while there’s an option to attach fastening strips on the doors for extra Jerry cans.
Sitting in the rear seats there was enough space for my long legs behind the driver who wasn’t a small man either.
The route wasn’t tough enough to really test the car but in normal all wheel drive it had little difficulty climbing over obstacles and fitted with coil suspension all round the drive was very comfortable, the BMW engines providing a perfect accompaniment especially when floored considering we were in pre-production model number 5.
South African and Africa Ineos Grenadier boss Tim Abbot says they’ll be profitable once sales hit the 40 mark which considering local interest, sounds easily attainable.
Initially there will be three dealerships; Joburg, Durban and Cape Town while an agreement has been reached with BMW dealerships in Polokwane, Mbombela, George and Gqeberha to act as service centres when the vehicles land in August.
Abbot says they are also looking at introducing a double cab as well as a Game Viewer and possibly a short wheel base version.
I like the fact that the Ineos Grenadier was conceived in a pub over a couple of beers and has now come to fruition after testing for 1.8-million kilometres in some of the toughest terrain in the world and while it’s aimed at a fairly niche market I have no doubt that it will be a success locally as long as the business model remains sustainable.