The good news for jeep lovers, off roaders and college kids looking for a fun ride is that Mahindra has brought back the Classic. Well, almost! With its all-new Thar, M&M for the first time has incorporated truly modern mechanical bits. So while you get the wide stance, bulging bonnet and drooping front fenders or mud guards, underneath it all, the Thar is practically a Scorpio.
Modern common-rail motors have a massive number of high-tech systems and hitching them onto the old MM540 was going to be no easy task. Mahindra went ahead with the CRDe unit in place of the mHawk engine as it had a flatter torque curve from start up, very important when you’re stuck in the mud. After looking at various solutions, the engineers settled on using the Scorpio’s ladder chassis, as this presented the simplest solution to help integrate the independent suspension, power steering and various other systems of the car. However, plonking the MM540’s body on to the Scorpio proved to be difficult because of packaging issues at the rear. This was finally sorted by using a Bolero rear end; chassis, suspension and all.
While the exterior skin panels and the rear floor have been taken from the MM540, there are plenty of bits from the Bolero as well. To give the exteriors that custom look, the Thar boasts elements like chunky tyres, flared wheel arches and a chrome bull bar. And undoubtedly, the Thar does look very attractive.
Unlike the motor however, the interiors are old school. The cut-to-size by hand Bolero dashboard is minimalist, non-adjustable steering is too close to the dashboard, and you have bits like basic window-winders. Other ergonomics disasters exist as well. The manual-selector lever for the four-wheel drive is placed too low and near the pedals. The manual seat adjust is crude and though you get a heater, air-con is not standard. You also get parallel bench seats at the rear, and this of course rules out comfortable long distance travel for more than two.
Now with a strengthened chassis, and a powerful and modern diesel motor, this rugged Mahindra’s off-road skills have moved on to an all new level. 25.18kgm of torque on tap gives it more than adequate pulling power over steep inclines. And once you engage low range, it feels unstoppable on firm ground. Power delivery is linear and instant, and the Thar ascends steep inclines with ease. The 200mm ground clearance gives it the ability to pass over most obstructions which would leave other SUVs with a scraped belly. Navigation through rough trails is hassle-free, thanks to the power-steering. Its Borg Warner transfer case (chain driven) features a four-wheel low and a four-wheel high mode for off-road driving. Also missing on the Thar is a limited slip differential or lockable front and rear differentials, which would make getting out of slushy and sandy conditions so much easier.
The Thar isn’t a vehicle that’s optimised for the tarmac, but does a respectable job anyway. It manages three-digit speeds without breaking into a sweat and you can cruise quite comfortably. A real speed of 138kph can be attained after a bit of patience, but the Thar doesn’t feel very stable when running at higher speeds. With its independent suspension at the front and leaf springs at the rear, the Thar however rides pretty well with only some amount of bouncing over broken surfaces detectable.
The 2498cc, 105bhp common-rail CRDe motor is not as well insulated in comparison to the Scorpio, Xylo or even the Bolero for that matter. The old style MM540 body allows the clatter of the diesel and the noise of the fan to seep out.
Its linear power delivery makes it pretty driveable in the city though and with close to zero turbo-lag, the Thar shoots into the gaps without any hesitation. In terms of flat-out performance, the Thar takes 17.05sec to reach the 100kph mark and thanks to the torquey nature of the engine, in-gear times are impressive too. The five-speed manual gearbox has a bit of an odd gate though, but once you get used to it, banging through the gears is not an issue. Also the brakes have a nice bite to them and give the Thar good stopping power.
The car we tested came without the hood, and that means we can’t tell you how good or bad the rag top is. Expect it to be a bit drafty, more than a bit flappy at speed and difficult to take on and off. However, the Thar will get a soft-top as standard. Mahindra has provided a list of options so you can customise the Thar.
The Thar is not practical enough to be used as everyday A to B transport. The build of the vehicle is crude, refinement in general is poor and that’s a shame. With a price tag of Rs 5.99 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), the Thar CRDe isn’t great value too; but then it isn’t exorbitant either. Targeted at the niche market looking for a proper off roader, the Thar however will service that small section of customers pretty well. Yes, the Thar, with its common-rail motor and independent front suspension, is a much improved version of the dedicated off roaders from Mahindra’s past. However, M&M should have made a more concerted effort by bringing it fully up-to-date, and engineering it to modern standards.