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Ineos Grenadier.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

Jacques Maillet, a retired RCMP officer from Ottawa, woke up early on June 1 and drove five hours to Toronto just to see the Canadian debut of the Ineos Grenadier, an unabashedly utilitarian new SUV that picks up where classic off-roaders like the old Land Rover Defender or vintage Mercedes G-Class left off.

Maillet said he’s not just looking for a new car, but for adventure, like the one he took in 2014 with his wife. They spent three weeks in a Land Rover Defender driving across the vast Namib Desert along the southwestern coast of Africa. ”I would buy an old Defender, but it’s very hard,” he said. It is hard to buy because the vehicle is rare, needs to be imported if you can’t find one locally and prices keep going up. And, like many other potential Grenadier customers I spoke to, he isn’t fond of Land Rover’s softer, more suburb-friendly new Defender. So, the idea of a tough, back-to-basics, go-anywhere SUV appeals to Maillet.

The idea also appealed to British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the founder and chairman of global petrochemical giant Ineos Group Holdings SA. When Land Rover discontinued the boxy old Defender in 2016, Ratcliffe felt it left a hole in the market for a utilitarian SUV. He started a new company, Ineos Automotive, and has been heavily involved in the creation of its first vehicle, the Grenadier.

The Grenadier has one central screen on the dashboard and a rear-view camera.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

Ratcliffe’s initial concept dates back to 2017, but now, finally, in the summer of 2022, Ineos Automotive is taking a nearly complete Grenadier prototype on a tour across the United States and Canada to show would-be customers. Toronto was the first Canadian stop, with roughly 100 people coming out to see it in the metal over the course of a day.

Greg Clark, executive vice-president for the Americas at Ineos Automotive, told the assembled crowd that Canadian prices will be announced before the year’s end, with the first customer cars arriving in the latter half of 2023. (The original goal was 2022, but he cited changing manufacturing plans and design tweaks as reasons for the delay.)

In the U.K., buying a Grenadier similar to the one we’ll get in Canada would cost about £55,000, Clark said. For reference, without the 20 per cent VAT or sales tax, that translates into roughly $70,000.

Finally, before letting customers climb into the vehicle, Clark politely reminded them to be gentle with his tough SUV, because this particular example is a prototype, the only one in the country, and it has many delicate 3-D-printed parts.

Jeanette Gallagher and her husband David James came from Etobicoke, Ont., to see the Grenadier. “I’m a Benz driver, but I feel the rarity of the G-Wagon is gone,” Gallagher said. “Part of the appeal [of the Grenadier] would be to have something unique.” They already have one reserved.

Behind the seats of the Grenadier, a split tailgate swings out to reveal the trunk opening.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

The couple ordered a Ford Bronco – a similarly retro-looking SUV – but weren’t impressed with the vehicle after a test drive or the lack of communication from Ford after putting down a deposit. “The customer experience [with the Grenadier] in terms of the reservation process is so much better,” James said. “You get regular updates and invitations to events like this. With Bronco, it’s like, give [the dealer] the deposit and that was it. You didn’t hear anything.”

At least among the self-selecting crowd in Toronto, the Grenadier was tempting drivers away from the Bronco, Jeep Wrangler, Mercedes G-Class, GMC SUVs, Range Rovers and the new and old Land Rover Defender.

In North America, Ineos has taken about 5,700 deposits, with roughly 10 per cent of those coming from Canada, Clark said. The company is looking for existing third-party dealerships to sell and service the vehicles. The first showrooms will likely be in or around Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary or Edmonton.

“[Customers] love the blend of analog nostalgia with 21st-century relevance; the Grenadier has just enough technology,” he added.

With a shorter wheelbase than the Ford Bronco and Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, rear-seat legroom in the Grenadier is more cramped than you might imagine.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

The SUV’s engine is a BMW-sourced straight-six turbocharged unit making 281 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque. (Only the gasoline engine will be available in Canada, not the diesel.) Four-wheel drive, three locking differentials, two solid axles and a two-speed transfer case add up to an SUV that should have serious off-road ability. The body-on-frame chassis was engineered with help from Magna International Inc., which knows plenty about tough SUVs having produced the G-Class on behalf of Mercedes for nearly 40 years.

“There’s some disappointment that the diesel’s not coming here,” Clark said, “but when [customers] realize the towing capacity is 3.5 tonnes (7,700 pounds) they say, ‘Okay, so I can tow my boat, my horse box, my caravan or whatever.’”

As for technology, the Grenadier has some; there’s one central screen on the dashboard, and a rear-view camera, as required by law, but there’s no fancy 360-degree-view cameras or Autopilot-like driving assists as you’d find on a new Defender or G-Class.

If you squint, the Grenadier does look like a classic Defender or a Mercedes G-Class from the 1990s. The Ineos is taller, longer and slightly wider than a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited or Ford Bronco, but with a shorter wheelbase than either. As a result, rear-seat legroom is more cramped than you might imagine.

Behind the seats, a split tailgate swings out to reveal the largest trunk opening I’ve ever seen. It’s cavernous.

From the driver’s seat, the industrial aerospace-looking switchgear on the dashboard and roof panel will make any suburban commuter feel very outdoorsy. The Grenadier has all the aesthetic charm of a nice ratchet set; you’ll either get the appeal or you won’t, but Ineos isn’t looking to dominate the SUV market.

In North America, Ineos has taken about 5,700 deposits, with roughly 10 per cent of those coming from Canada.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

Grenadiers will be made in an ex-Mercedes plant in Hambach, France, despite the fact that Ratcliffe was pro-Brexit and initially planned to build the cars in Wales. The facility has the capacity to make 30,000 to 35,000 Grenadiers annually once things are up and running.

The SUV you see here is just the beginning, if all goes according to the company’s plans. It is looking into a hydrogen-fuel-cell version in partnership with BMW and Hyundai. There is also a longer, three-row model and a short-bed pickup version in the works. Most recently, Ineos Automotive announced plans to build a smaller, fully electric SUV, but Clark couldn’t put a date on when that might arrive.

Ineos still has a lot of work to do before it can sell its SUV in Canada. It has yet to commence full production at its factory in France, then it must sign up local dealers and train personnel and get the vehicle certified by regulators for sale in Canada and the U.S. Nevertheless, before driving back to Ottawa, Jacques Maillet said he’s planning to talk to his wife about putting a deposit on a Grenadier.

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