FIRST deliveries are due in October of Australia's latest four-wheel-drive wagon which seeks to gain traction in a market where six of the 10 best-selling cars last year were models with four-wheel or all-wheel drive variants.
The INEOS Grenadier aims to appeal to "back to basics" buyers looking for a practical, capable, no-nonsense, permanent four-wheel-drive vehicle that offers "up-to-the-mark" safety, emissions, economy, comfort and driveability, according to INEOS Automotive staff at a ride day at Logue Brook Dam last week.
Orders are being taken from yesterday, Wednesday, May 18, in Western Australia by Magic Enterprises group which operates Perth Mahindra in Burswood and the multi-franchise Midwest Auto Group in Geraldton.
Magic Enterprises, which also sells Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Subaru and Suzuki brands, was appointed earlier this month as INEOS's official WA Grenadier distributor - two retail outlets of 32 across Australia and New Zealand and 160 worldwide.
INEOS Automotive senior aftersales manager Australia and New Zealand, Glenn Boyd (left) and head of Asia-Pacific region, Justin Hocevar with the Grenadier prototype at a ride day at Logue Brook Dam. The bonnet remained firmly closed while Farm Weekly's camera was around, but a three-litre, six-cylinder, 24-valve twin-overhead-camshaft BMW twin-turbo diesel engine reportedly lurks under there.
Buyers can order a five-seat 'station wagon' with 30:70 split rear seat or an identical-bodied two-seat 'utility wagon' as base models, with 'Fieldmaster' and 'Trailmaster' editions of each which bundle different optional extras into their standard equipment lists.
According to INEOS staff at the ride day - put on for prospective customers and press - lengthened dual-cab-chassis and dual-cab tub ute variants will soon arrive to join the wagons, with INEOS acutely aware of the importance of such variants in the Australian market.
"We've received incredible feedback (in Australia) and the numbers (of pre-order Grenadier reservations) are there to support that Australia is really interested in this type of vehicle for work and for leisure," said INEOS Automotive head of Asia-Pacific region, Justin Hocevar.
"We've (Australia) now gone to be the third largest market in the world for (Grenadier) reservations.
"We passed Germany last year, so we're pretty pleased with that - US, UK and Australia are potentially our three biggest markets."
INEOS already offers a comprehensive suite of factory-fitted optional extras and, according to Mr Hocevar, is working with local after-market accessory manufacturers to further expand the off-road options range.
A standard European pallet will fit between the wheel arches and there are 10 sturdy steel cargo tie-down points built into the floor, rear seat back and rear doors. The two-seat 'utility wagon' has an even more cavernous cargo area with 12 tie-down points.
Factory options include off-roading focused 'roo' bar, rock sliders, 3.5 tonne capacity winch, snorkel and front and rear ELocker differential locks, with cargo management options including roof rack, ladder, storage box, gas bottle holder and specialised carriers for bikes or kayaks.
Some of the off-road enhancements, plus BF Goodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tyres, are included in a 'rough pack', which is standard on 'Trailmaster' editions and a $2875 option on the rest of the Grenadier range.
While the Grenadier clearly puts function ahead of style, there are some concessions to modern convenience and comfort levels with items like leather trim, floor carpets, heated front seats and front parking sensors (rear sensors are standard) as options.
Some of these are bundled with 'puddle lights', auxiliary charge points, lockable central storage box, heated external mirrors and advanced anti-theft alarm and immobiliser, into a $2875 'smooth pack' for base 'station wagon' and 'utility wagon' models, but are standard equipment on 'Trailmaster' and 'Fieldmaster' editions.
Buyers have a same-cost choice of BMW three-litre, six-cylinder, 24-valve double-overhead-camshaft engines - a twin-turbo diesel producing up to 183 kilowatts and 550 Newton metres of torque from 1250 revolutions per minute or a single-turbo petrol producing up to 210kW and 450Nm from 1750rpm.
Both are coupled to eight-speed ZF automatic gearboxes with a two-speed Tremec transfer case with 2.5:1 low ratio bolted directly on the back of them.
Flat floor with drain plugs, rubber mats and water resistant fabric seating mark the functional but comfortable and roomy standard interior. An overhead switch panel between driver and front-seat passenger comes standard with extra auxiliary switches fused and pre-wired to eight locations throughout the vehicle, ready for fitting accessories.
A separate lever on the centre console selects high or low range and engages one or both differential locks, if fitted, with a simple H-pattern action.
A lockable centre differential is standard and the Grenadier has twin-piston, 316 millimetre diameter ventilated disc brakes up front and single-piston, 305mm solid discs at the rear.
To be built in a modern former Mercedes Benz assembly plant at Hambach in north-east France - adjacent to the Stuttgart manufacturing precinct just over the border in Germany - Grenadiers ride on 17-inch steel wheels as standard, except for 'Fieldmaster' editions which get 17-inch alloys.
On most versions, 18-inch steel or alloy rims are extra-cost options.
A full-size spare wheel is standard.
Recently announced recommended retail pricing is $84,500 before on-road costs for the 'utility wagon', $85,500 for the 'station wagon', $95,495 for 'Trailmaster' and 'Fieldmaster' editions of the 'utility wagon' and $96,495 for 'Trailmaster' and 'Fieldmaster' editions of the 'station wagon' Grenadier.
Some 60 Western Australians who had shown an interest in the Grenadier, came along ahead of Farm Weekly on the ride day to sit in the eight-way manually-adjustable Recaro front passenger seat as INEOS senior aftersales manager Australia and New Zealand, Glenn Boyd, drove them around a makeshift test track at Logue Brook Dam.
A contrasting colour wrap for the nose and the back doors are two of the numerous options across the Grenadier range. LED headlights, daytime running lights, auxiliary high-beam lights, tail lights and rear fog lights are standard on all models.
The ride loop took in some rutted forest tracks, corrugated dirt roads, a 'whoop-de-doo' on the lake shoreline to demonstrate wheel articulation and a short section of narrow asphalt, but was mild enough to be driven in normal road-going mode without differentials needing to be locked.
The Grenadier prototype used for the ride day was a five-seat diesel 'station wagon' with base 'hose-out' water resistant utility trim on the seats and rubber floor covering.
According to Mr Boyd, it lacked sound deadening and door linings and dashboard were black plastic replicas of production items, but lacked the soft padding and fabric trim of the finished item.
A magnificently crafted, knurled aluminium grab handle directly ahead of the front-seat passenger on the prototype, unfortunately, is unlikely to make it into production models for Australia, Mr Boyd said.
The rectangular, upright 'two box' wagon body atop a sturdy galvanised separate chassis suspended on variable-rate coil springs above solid axles housings at each end of the vehicle, placed a wheel at each corner for excellent approach and departure angles.
A comfortable but relatively upright seating position offered good forward visibility and plenty of space for passengers front and rear, while still leaving generous luggage space in the back with 10 sturdy steel tie-down points to secure cargo.
Despite the claimed lack of soundproofing, the ride over all surfaces on the makeshift test track was surprisingly quiet.
Within the relatively low-speed constraints of the ride loop, the square-frontage upright design with drip rails above the doors and 'utility rails' along the sides, did not generate wind rustle and a foot flat-to-100kmh standing start on asphalt only provoked subdued induction and exhaust roar.
But one aspect of the Grenadier clearly stood out on the ride day - its well-sorted ride and body control.
With road pressures in Goodrich KO2 tyres on the prototype, it provided a subtle, compliant, well-controlled ride without body roll on direction change or disconcerting body lurch and wallow over undulations - like the 'whoop-de-doo' - that is sometimes associated with long-travel coil-spring suspension.
Mr Boyd explained variable spring rates carefully matched to shock absorbers, sway bars and five-link suspension - two parallel lower links, two upper links and tucked up out of the way above the axle, a Panhard rod - controlled body movement and axle movement at each end of the vehicle.
He said extra complication like sway bars that decoupled for off-road action or supplementary air-bag adjustment for heavy loads, as on some other 4WD vehicles, was not needed with the Grenadier's simple but well-engineered system providing ample wheel movement and articulation.
The first few millimetres of coil compression provided initial ride suppleness, Mr Boyd pointed out, while progressive stiffening of spring rates as the coils were further compressed prevented body lurch and sway or rear-end sag under load.
According to my backside - a fairly sensitive instrument - the suspension worked well with road shocks not transferred through to the seats, even on corrugations, but the ride was firm enough to inform driver and passengers of exactly what was happening under the car.
Based on these observations, the Grenadier should prove a comfortable and capable highway cruiser on its way to off-road adventure destinations.
There was no sudden body sways or lurches on the ride and I only had to reach for the numerous grab handles around the cabin as an aid to climbing in and out.
Another Grenadier feature likely to meet buyer approval is its ability to carry and tow big loads at the same time.
"It can tow up to 3500 kilograms (braked trailer) with a downball weight of 350kg and importantly, the GCM (Gross Combination Mass) - the combined mass of vehicle and towing - is seven tonnes," Mr Hocevar said.
"That puts it right up there among the best.
"The GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass) on the Australian spec vehicles is a little higher too - at 3550kgs.
"The maximum payload on the utility wagon is more than 900kg and more than 800kg on the station wagon.
"So if you loaded the vehicle to the maximum 3550kg, you can still tow up to 3450kg," he said.
LIKELY to be the most debated aspect of the new INEOS Grenadier is its 'old before its time' appearance.
To me, the Grenadier looks remarkably like a 1990-2016 Land Rover Defender 110 Estate, which took most of its styling cues from Land Rover station wagon models dating back to 1955.
From the windscreen back I also see Grenadier styling similarities to some of Jeep's Wrangler models, which deliberately hark back in styling to Jeep Wagoneers of the late 1940s and 1950s.
Slab-sided rectangular 'two-box' shape, flat glass front, rear and sides, high roof, exposed door hinges, spare wheel hung on the rear, tail lights standing proud of the body, flared wheel arches proud of the body and a bonnet line higher than the top of front mudguards are old-fashioned signature style features common to the Grenadier, Defender and Wrangler.
INEOS staff at the ride day declined to comment on whether the similarities to Land Rover Defender and Jeep Wrangler were an appearance compromise brought about by functional design taking priority, or a deliberate attempt to capitalise on those vehicles' continuing support amongst some hard-core four-wheel-drive enthusiasts.
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