Mud is like a badge of honour for four-wheel drives. And the car I’m looking at has enough browned earth to justify a spot on the 4×4 enthusiasts’ mantle piece.
With Defender-esque lines and a tough stance, there’s a very different badge on the grille. And those in the 4×4 know will recognise the Grenadier name slashed down the bonnet.
It’s the first car from Ineos, a company best known for manufacturing chemicals and sponsoring the Mercedes F1 team.
Conceived over pints in a British pub (the Grenadier) by executives who were adament the spirit of the Land Rover Defender should live on, the soon-to-arrive newcomer adopted the name of said watering hole.
Not that it’s here just yet. This is the sole example in Australia and it’s very unfinished.
Interior plastics lack the grain of a finished part and there’s a rawness to the surfaces that won’t exist once the car starting from $84,500 plus on-road costs make it Down Under. It’s all part of the Grenadier’s testing-in-plain-sight ethos that aims to create a highly capable 4WD that can not only deal with those muddy lanes the Defender does so well but also corrugations, red dirt and rocks.
Being up close and personal reinforces the engineering-focused ethos. Exterior mounting points are designed to take all manner of accessories or extras, for example, rather than just looking tough. And the grab handle in front of the passenger feels like it would take the weight of the entire car.
There’s acres of ground clearance and plenty of solid chunks of steel underneath for the obligatory impacts with nature.
Complementing the mud outside is a well trodden interior finished in rubber flooring and more brown stuff. Smooth plastic surfaces replace the typical grain, showing the shape but not the finished product.
Stickers warn of everything that’s not working and a couple of red buttons are ready to shut things down if one of those prototype parts doesn’t do what it’s supposed to.
My first taste of the Grenadier is from the passenger seat.
A high, slim windscreen gives enough of a view of the bonnet with its outer corners falling away. Broad, flat-topped door trims are tailor made for a wayward elbow on a long drive and grab handles make the lofty journey aboard that little easier.
It’s a wagon that’s clearly designed for ability over pampering, although there’s enough of the comfort built in – including Recaro seats – to ensure an easy ride.
Plus there’s tech to burn. Instead of an instrument cluster is a tiny display with warning lights.
Like a Tesla Model 3 an all-encompassing screen houses speedo and tacho as well as infotainment displays that incorporate a detailed inclinometer.
The vast collection of buttons and dials that spreads all the way to the roof is more aircraft than car. Glass panels above the front occupants screams of fighter jet inspiration
Despite the utilitarian flavour there’s comfort, too.
Seats push and cosset in all the right places and there’s excellent head room in the back with the five-seat layout (the Grenadier will also be offered as a two-seater, which reinforces its work ethos).
The Grenadier also uses BMW power in either petrol or diesel flavours.
The prototype is a diesel and there’s little of the refined smoothness characteristic of one of the great six-pot diesels.
Instead there’s a husky grumble accompanied by some mild vibration. That sort of rawness may be engineered out by the time customers start taking delivery late in 2022, although it’s somehow alluring and suits the character of the Grenadier.
There’s only so much you can learn from the passenger seat, especially when all roads are rough.
But the way the chunky BF Goodrich tyres dispense of rocks strewn through rollicking grass suggests it’s a 4WD that doesn’t shy away from harsh terrain.
Live axles front and rear mean there’s squishiness on direction changes. And while the suspension has an edgy firmness, there’s compliance and travel to ensure it disposes of big hits adeptly.
Our ride is brief, but it’s long enough to learn there’s some serious DNA in the bones of the Grenadier. It’s an off-roader that’s designed to get down and dirty. And by the time it hits Australian roads late in 2022 it should be engineered to cope with just about anything.