ELLENVILLE, NY – The Grenadier SUV was brewed up in a pub.
That was where Jim Ratcliffe, founder and chairman of petrochemical giant Ineos, was hanging out with colleagues a few years ago when they came up with the idea to build an old-school SUV in the same spirit as the original Land Rover Defender, which had just been discontinued ahead of the launch of its high-tech and more luxurious successor.
The British billionaire even tried to buy the rights to the Defender to keep it in production, but decided to go his own way after the offer was declined.
Tapping into the expertise of running one of the largest chemical companies in the world, his team enlisted auto industry specialists to bring the vehicle to fruition. Magna helped with the engineering, BMW supplied the engines and Ineos bought a Mercedes-Benz factory in France in which to build it.
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The result is a hard top four-door SUV that is just a little larger than a Jeep Wrangler or Ford Bronco and very much a truck.
It is built on a frame, has solid axles and body panels made from aluminum and steel. The latter used for the hood “so you can stand on it,” Greg Clark, the company’s executive vice president for the Americas told Fox News Digital during a test drive event in New York’s Catskill Mountains. The boxy body can accommodate a roof rack and be equipped with “utility belt” attachment points around its belt lines that tools and storage containers can be connected to.
The interior is just as utilitarian and features a central panel of physical buttons and switches that are easily operated with gloves on, a design element Ratcliffe was involved in. Along with visits to both the North and South Poles, he often goes off-road driving in places like Iceland, and the trucks have been tested at Ineos facilities around the world. A second set of auxiliary controls mounted on the ceiling between twin sunroofs comes on some models.
The cabin is roomy and utilitarian, but in a premium way. The seats were designed by Recaro and can be upholstered in either water and stain resistant cloth and vinyl, or leather. There is a ball-topped shifter for the standard two-speed 4×4 transfer case and next to it the familiar BMW gear selector that controls its eight-speed automatic transmission. Front and rear locking differentials can be specified for customers looking to use their vehicles as intended.
The trucks provided for the test drive were prototypes and not registered for U.S. roads, but I was able to take one for a ride on several miles on muddy and rocky trails that were as difficult as 95% of the people who buy one of these will likely encounter.
With the tires aired down for extra traction, the Grenadier handled it all as well as I would’ve expected a Wrangler, Bronco or Toyota 4Runner to perform, let alone the latest Defender.
It definitely has a truck-like feel, with that solid front axle and stout steering that requires nearly four turns lock to lock, but that can be welcome on a trail with jarring obstacles. The 282 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque provided by the smooth turbocharged inline-six-cylinder more than up to the challenge of moving its roughly 6,000 pounds through the woods with refinement.
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Rather than trying to be fancy, Ineos chose the award-winning BMW engine for both its performance and commonality. Versions of it have been used in a variety of vehicles ranging from the BMW X-series SUVs to the current Toyota Supra, which means parts and service for it are widely available.
Ineos is planning to sell approximately 10,000 Grenadiers a year in the U.S., which is a drop in the bucket compared to the over 500,000 Wranglers, Broncos, 4Runners and Defenders that will be delivered this year. The starting price is $71,500, which puts it in the mix with high-end versions of those competitors. More upscale Trialmaster and Fieldmaster Editions start at $79,190 and borrow their names from Belstaff brand jackets, another outdoorsy company that recently joined the Ineos family, because Ratcliffe was a fan.
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As far as the Grenadier name is concerned, it was not a direct reference to the soldier, but to that pub where this project all started.
All the best ideas come over beers, right?