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Road test: The superb Rs 5.99-lakh Mahindra Thar

Last updated on: February 18, 2011 13:31 IST

Road test: The superb Rs 5.99-lakh Mahindra Thar

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CarWale.com

People crossing the road eating ice cream simply lost control of all locomotive ability and stood fixated right in front of the car till I had to yell and make way.

At a traffic-signal policemen came darting, I quickly reached for my license but all they had to say was, "gaadi kaisa hai? (What is the car like?)."

Attention is one thing but when you get it in form of catcalls and a whistle on the road you should know you've been doing, sorry driving, something right.

A few hours ago, a certain Mahindra Thar CRDe 4X4 had been driven out of the factory and in 10 minutes flat the hysteria around an 'open-top jeep' began to make sense.

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Road test: The superb Rs 5.99-lakh Mahindra Thar

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The few that are out on the road are dictators of their road-space and only automobiles five times their price manage to gather half as much interest.

"So you have the Thar that hates tar?" a friend said.

Quickly I did a recce on what the car had to offer. 4x4. Tick. Open top. Tick. Large, torque-producing diesel engine. Tick. Rugged build. Tick.

So this Thar in question promised some serious off-roading ability, plus it looked the part but I didn't have a first-hand story to tell. So I simply said, "I'll let you know," and drove on.

An open-topped jeep, a convertible off-roader, a 4x4 with a 2.5litre engine and 48 hours. With the Thar, the possibilities were endless.

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Road test: The superb Rs 5.99-lakh Mahindra Thar

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Exterior

After all is debated and discussed, the most appealing feature of this car is the way it looks.

The Thar is based on the classic MM540/550 design which was derived from the CJ-5 series and exudes the same confidence as the jeep of the yesteryears.

The A-line and silhouette remain true to the original, so does the side profile and front fascia.

The MM540 had an overall length of 4868mm and overall width of 1854mm while the Thar has an overall length of 3920mm and an overall width of 1710mm, thus making it more compact and streamlined.

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Road test: The superb Rs 5.99-lakh Mahindra Thar

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The extended front grille adds to the gait and the high rear wheel archs add to the structure of the car.

The strakes on the hood add to the rugged look while keeping the shape of the car compact.

There is no brightwork on the body and no glossy paint you'll be afraid to scratch in the woods.

The car is available in four practical colours: black, mist silver, toreador red and arctic white.

Our car came with Bridgestone Dueler HT, 16-inch tubeless tyres, however the high wheel archs let you upgrade to terrain suitable tyres at the cost of limiting suspension travel.

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Photographs: Courtesy, mahindrathar.com
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Road test: The superb Rs 5.99-lakh Mahindra Thar

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There are a few issues which can be evened out. The roll bar (add-on accessory) is lower than the B-pillar, in case of a rollover the B-pillar would take a hit as opposed to the roll bar.

The engine sump is bereft of a guard and the catalytic converter is placed at a very vulnerable position (see picture) so it has a good chance of getting hit.

However, the Thar's tough steel body promises durability and follows the quintessential jeep's traits.

If you think the structure looks cool on road, off-road the design makes a lot more sense.

The exterior of the car maybe bare and basic but it is bold enough to mean serious business.

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Road test: The superb Rs 5.99-lakh Mahindra Thar

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Interior

On the inside the car follows the bare and basic theme. In the name of an instrument panel you get an AC blower and heater, a few slots for a music system but there is no charger port.

But the 'wind in the hair experience' as the Mahindra brochure calls it, leaves you with no time to fiddle with the barely there instrument panel.

Who wants an electronically operated panel when you can look at the birds or stars in the sky anytime.

Power steering comes as standard on the Thar and that is of some comfort to the driver.

The steering wheel too is tilted but that is only to add to a comfortable off roading experience. The front cab gets two rexine covered bucket seats.

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The dash incorporates a large glove-box because you obviously can't keep anything on the dashboard.

For a car without a hardtop, the glove-box lacks an essential - a lock.

The hazard light indicator seems inconveniently positioned and we could swap those wipers for something better.

The center console came in the way of the lever operation and you must pay attention while shifting from 2WD to 4WD high or low.

You get a tachometer, odometer, speedometer but a 4WD high - low range indicator on the dash would have added more value to the unit.

The plastic quality and overall fit and finish are crude but they do not undermine the driving experience in any a way.

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Photographs: Courtesy, mahindrathar.com
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Road test: The superb Rs 5.99-lakh Mahindra Thar

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You don't really think of the Thar as a seven-seater but it really is.

Four people can seat themselves comfortably at the back while the fifth person will have to wedge in.

The rear benches are pushed further to accommodate the roll bar which sadly reduce the already less legroom even more.

Luggage, in terms of flexible cloth bags, can be stored under the seats at the back. The interiors are need based but sufficient, though a soft top is absolutely essential for an Indian summer.

You can go on complain that the car doesn't have a hardtop, an air-conditioner or such other comfort inducing things, but if that is what you want you'd just buy one of two six letter SUVs.

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Photographs: Courtesy, mahindrathar.com
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Road test: The superb Rs 5.99-lakh Mahindra Thar

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Powertrain

The Thar displays an excellent combination of an engine and gearbox.

The diesel engine takes off-roading a step ahead and helps haul the vehicle with lesser effort.

The Thar has two engine variants - the BS-IV 2.5 CRDe(4x4) and the Di(2WD).

The 2.5CRDe produces 103bhp and generates about 247 Nm torque @ 1800-2000 rpm which provides the low end grunt needed for tackling tough sections off-road.

Compared to it predecessors the engine is also much quieter.

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It houses a five-speed Borg Warner - Manual Shift with twospeed gear reduction; high ratio being 1.0:1 and low ratio being 2.48:1.

The manual 4WD shift mechanism minimises complexities when compared to an electronic 4WD shifter found in Scorpio and Safari.

We didn't notice a body roll even at speeds above 90kph and the engine impressed us with a mileage 14kpl on road and 10kpl off road.

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On and off road handling

To see how it fared on its USP, we took the Thar on an off-roading trail to Rajmachi (in Pune) and we have to say that the Thar is definitely not meant to court roads, a tryst with a mountain here and an edgy terrain there is more like it.

Over stones, ditches and mangled mountain-sides the car glided and we weren't disappointed.

The power steering added to the overall comfort level. The high approach angle (46 degrees) and departure angle (30 degrees) made climbing obstacles easier with a long travel suspension for traction.

The ride was comfortable and there was limited articulation at the front due to Independent Front Suspension (IFS).

This makes the Thar leapfrog from the older leaf spring suspensions found on the Jeep and Gypsy.

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However, fixing the IFS could prove to be an expensive affair if it breaks down while off-roading.

Off-road purists might be disappointed by IFS as it limits the axle articulation (though we never faced a patch which maxed out the suspension travel).

The 9-inch booster with disc brakes in front and drum at the rear were precise and forceful.

The LSPV brakes aid in preventing wheel lock up and loss of control.

The Thar has a body weight of 1.75 tonne and a short wheelbase of 2430 mm which add to the off roading experience.

The 4WD low is strong, but the crawl ratio could have been lower, as it enables precise crawling through a tough terrain.

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Photographs: Courtesy, mahindrathar.com
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We didn't expect the car to be an easy drive on road, an avid off-roader amongst us said, "Even if I put my Jeep in the top gear on the steepest descent, it will not go beyond 60kph."

But Thar has a different story to tell, the engine actually lets you cruise at a speed in excess of 100kph.

A short turning radius(5.25m) is a boon for city driving.

So, you needn't reserve the car for the once in a blue moon off-the-tarmac trip, you can comfortably take it out for a spin in the city. A macho air off-road it and an uber-cool attitude on road is what the Thar is about.

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Photographs: Courtesy, mahindrathar.com
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CarWale verdict

There is something absolutely exhilarating about an open-topped jeep that a 90 lakh SUV can't touch with a 10 feet beanpole.

We'd like those SUV like safety features to show up. But With a price tag of Rs 599,000 (ex-showroom Delhi), the car does pack in a real deal.

It has those looks and the latest in technology. It is 'the' second car to buy.

In India the only real competitors are the Maruti Gypsy and Force Gurkha.

The Thar can easily do 95 per cent of what a Jeep can do off-road; the difference lies in the on-road behavior and that is a game-changer for Mahindra.

It may not be as hard hearted an off roader as the MM550 but the Thar is contemporary, younger and versatile. It is meant to do more and be more.

The Thar, you don't buy to drop the kids to school (though you can, and you'll have some really popular kids in school) nor go groceries shopping.

You buy the Thar hoping for a little of the car's oomph and machismo rubs on to you.

Inside the Thar you are a somebody. It gives you enough confidence to take on 10 villians Rajnikanth style. And there is no reason for you to not deprive yourself of the pleasure.



Photographs: Courtesy, mahindrathar.com
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