WORDS: ELLIOTT HUGHES | PHOTOGRAPHY: INEOS
The honesty and purity of the upcoming Ineos Grenadier are traits that Jim Ratcliffe’s petro-chemical giant has been keen to emphasise from the very beginning. Named after the London pub in which the idea for the car germinated, its boxy, retro-analogue styling suggest that if you’re a fan of touchscreens, smart features, air suspension or frivolous styling touches, then you should respectfully look elsewhere.
So, when Ineos Automotive invited Magneto for a passenger ride through muddy trails and boggy woodland in the grounds of Duncombe Park in Helmsley, North Yorkshire, we were naturally keen to find out if the Grenadier’s capabilities matched the company’s no-nonsense agrarian attitude to off-roading — and car building.
The venue and format of the Ineos Grenadier event certainly fits the bill. The wet, misty surroundings of the Yorkshire countryside are a far cry from the glossy, opulent corporate ‘do’s’ that legacy marques usually throw; there’s not a canapé, immaculately waxed car or promotional video in sight.
Instead, there’s a brazier sitting in the middle of a wet field, tents erected with parka-clad journalists huddled underneath eating bacon sandwiches, and a mud-caked Grenadier awaiting its next passenger for a demo run. So far, so good.
After a swift coffee and a chat with the PR team about what to expect, it’s time to climb aboard the faithful prototype Grenadier to see what sort of challenge can be conjured up by Duncombe’s sodden grounds.
The drive begins down what can only be called a road if you’re feeling generous. Even so, the cracked, potholed and uneven concrete is barely noticeable in the Grenadier, and the ride is surprisingly composed for a car underpinned by girder-like beam axles and traditional coils and dampers. Had Magneto not taken a wrong turn on the way into the event, and so had the misfortune of driving an ordinary hot hatch down this very road, this initial part of the journey would not have stood out at all.
A pause to lock the differentials forewarns that the going is about to get a whole lot tougher. Rob, our driver, is a seasoned off-road driver who served in the fire service. He plunges the car into sodden, leaf-strewn woodland without hesitation, before heading down a narrow, muddy track — the moist, compacted soil churned from previous runs. A glance through the left-hand window reveals an unsettlingly steep drop, with the canopy of birch trees growing below emphasising the peril. To the right, there’s a 60-degree slope — certainly not the ideal place to get stuck.
Rob then nonchalantly reveals that he’s locked the diffs only to prevent churning up the ground for future runs, and in a matter of minutes the Grenadier’s first obstacle is in the rear-view mirror.
Next comes a descent down a steep, muddy mound, sprinkled with orange autumnal leaves. As the Grenadier’s nose creeps over the summit, the digital inclinometer’s needle tilts towards an increasingly lurid angle and the view out of the windscreen is dominated by an intimate view of the ground below. The Grenadier is unphased, and its short overhangs refuse to scrape the earth as the car resolutely creeps down the slope.
Once the inclinometer has returned to somewhere near zero degrees, our meander through the woods continues, before opening into a grassy plain. Rob then proceeds to demonstrate the car’s surprising acceleration from its BMW-sourced straight-six engine, as well as the suspension’s refinement over the choppy surface of the field. Again, it is remarkably smooth, going some way to validate the Ineos’s scepticism towards the current vogue for complicated air-suspension systems. We suspect, though, that asphalt would likely expose any shortcomings in on-road refinement and handling.
On-road composure was never the point of the Grenadier, however; it was born precisely for the environment it finds itself in today, which is a refreshing ethos in 2021. This no-nonsense, utilitarian philosophy is evident throughout the car, in the smallest of design details. Take the spare wheel mounted to the rear door, for example; it’s mounted backwards so that the inside of the wheel can be used to store muddy boots. Then there’s the two vents that frame the rear window to let dust escape from the interior, and the easily accessible roof-mounted switches — perfect for when the driver is pre-occupied with negotiating tricky terrain.
We’ve all heard the cliché that you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, and as first impressions go, the Grenadier’s is overwhelmingly positive. Hopefully that will be built upon once we’re given the opportunity to test the launch car next summer.
More information on the Ineos Grenadier can be found here, and reservations can be made for £450.
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