Taking shape over the past five years has been a newcomer to the off-road vehicle market which is being built by an offshoot of the INEOS group – the Grenadier.
The company is a worldwide supplier of chemicals, oils and lubricants, and it has the financial muscle to attract the right partners in a bid to fill the gap left by the much-loved old-style Land Rover Defender.
Bringing back a legend
Land Rover has often been accused of abandoning its roots and switching to the production of boutique off-roaders and, looking at the latest models, it is not a charge that is easily dismissed.
INEOS Automotive was formed specifically to address this complaint by reproducing the Defender, in spirit and capability, if not in name, which is a major consideration when creating a new brand.
To tackle this issue a poll was held within the off-roading world where it was pointed out that the answer lay in the name of the London pub in which the idea was first discussed.
The pub was called the Grenadier, and so the new vehicle now carries that name, which, by happy coincidence, enlarges upon the military theme by homing in on a type of soldier chosen for his size and robustness.
The tick-list of features
Apt title aside, it does carry enough of the hallmarks of the old Defender to make any Land Rover traditionalist purr in their sleep.
First and foremost, it has a proper ladder chassis – none of this messing about with a fancy monocoque affair that renders body and frame as one and hugely restricts the ability to adapt it, one of the great features of the old Land Rovers.
Unfortunately, another great feature of the old Land Rovers was that this very same frame was prone to tin rot, and here INEOS has taken special care to protect it from corrosion through tough coatings and internal waxes.
Second is the unfussy styling. It is a box with a wheel almost at each corner, every one of which is driven – the better to take it to where slick roadsters fear to tread.
Having said that, the designers have taken great care to recreate the look of the departed Defender, with the rounded bonnet edges and sticky outdoor hinges being replicated with loving attention to detail.
A mix and match of materials
One major detail that is not copied throughout, is the material used to make the body.
The original Land Rover came into being as a stopgap measure for the Rover Company which could not obtain enough steel in the post-war years to keep the factory going by making saloons.
However, low-grade aluminium from surplus bombers was available, and so it was this that formed the bodywork of the general-purpose farm vehicle that it was originally designed to be, and the habit stuck for the next 68 years.
In the Grenadier, galvanised steel is used for the major body panels with a nod towards its legacy through the use of pressed aluminium for the doors and bonnet.
If the body and chassis hark back to the 1980s, then the axles delve even further back in time to the very birth of the legend, for they are solid beam axles, instead of all-round independent suspension.
Reassuringly, for the farming component of its customer base, these items are made by Carraro of Italy, purveyor of axles to just about every European tractor manufacturer, and itself a builder of compact 4WDs in the form of vineyard tractors.
The designers defend the use of this seemingly rearwards-step by claiming that axles are more rugged, have a greater load-carrying capacity and are easier to service than an independent suspension system.
They also point to the greater ground clearance and articulation possible with the design although, praise be to the stars, they have chosen coils over the prehistoric leaf springs of the 1948 original to provide the cushioning.
INEOS selects up-to-date driveline
So far so good, and the traditionalist’s comfort zone is further soothed by the two-speed transfer box with a diff lock as standard.
But, further up the drivetrain, there is cause to raise an eyebrow, for the transmission is an automatic, which, for those who consider gear selection as being at the very heart of off-roading, might appear the most grievous betrayal
All is not lost however, for the eight speeds it provides can be selected in either automatic or manual mode.
If that was not shock enough, the other collective eyebrow of the British Land Rover cognoscente will doubtless shoot skywards when it is realised that the ZF box is a direct descendent of those that drove the Panzer divisions across Europe.
Straight six from BMW
Gone too, is any sign of a UK-sourced diesel engine which, up until the turbocharged direct injections (TDIs) of 1986, were always an affront to the morality of the modern motorist.
Now there is a 3L, straight six BMW unit lurking under the bonnet that boasts two turbochargers and 281hp in petrol form, and 245hp from the diesel variant.
This should not come as too great a shock for a BMW engine has been used before, in a South African variant of the Defender; INEOS Automotive is simply picking up where Land Rover left off.
There is certainly the power there that the older Defender lacked, but that is true of modern cars generally, yet we are told that these motors are detuned to provide greater lugging power rather than spine-tingling acceleration. Just the ticket for towing the 3,500kg trailer it is rated for.
INEOS buys a factory
Another departure from the past is the location of the factory. No longer is it built with pride, and any number of bodges, in Solihull, its home is now in France.
Hambach is the town concerned and it is here that Mercedes Benz had its smart car production facility which was greatly under-utilised despite the promise of being kept busy building battery-powered cars.
It was purchased by INEOUS Automotive for €470 million and has since had a further €50 million spent on upgrading the production line in readiness for the Grenadier.
One of the reasons given for the demise of the Defender was because it was unsuitable for robotic assembly. This has now been overcome and full-scale production has just started, following on from around 130 prototypes built over the summer.
The Grenadier, in all its various configurations, is now rolling off the production line and into the hands of those who have been patiently awaiting a proper replacement for the much lamented, but by no means flawless, Land Rover Defender.