What is it?
The Gurkha manufactured by Force Motors is a serious off-roader – and by serious, we mean serious; its natural environment begins where other SUVs get stuck. Right off the bat, it makes its intentions clear; how many SUVs have you seen that come factory-fitted with a snorkel? But what exactly is it?
Let’s begin with the looks. Looks are subjective, so the G-Wagen-inspired lines and flat panels (with corrugations) will divide opinion. But yes, all kitted out, the three-door SUV (there’s a larger five-door version as well) with the longish wheelbase, flared wheel arches and wide stance does look attractive in its own way. And say what you will of its origins and ancestry, it does have that much sought-after rugged look sorted. This is especially true on this version; kitted out with all manner of accessories such as a roof-mounted shovel, an axe and a declaration that it’s ‘Built for War’. More significantly, it comes with a hard-top roof, so that there's no buffeting at high speeds that you’d get on the soft-top Mahindra Thar. You can also sleep easier at night knowing that someone can’t just saunter in and pilfer stuff, or just take off with the car. No surprises as to what lies beneath. The Gurkha is built on a ladder-frame chassis though a sticky point for off-road purists might be the independent front suspension.
What’s it like on the inside?
The right word to describe the Gurkha’s interiors would be 'disappointing'. They look about as contemporary as a black and white movie; and that’s no exaggeration. Sure, everything is functional, the front seats are reasonably comfortable and there is even a small tachometer – but that’s about it. Otherwise the insides look as well put together as something built by bus-body manufacturers. Quality, fit and finish are atrocious to the point of being comical; and all we can say about the rear is that it has seats that face each other, a roof-mounted handle you can easily whack your head on and no seat belts.
What’s it like to drive?
The retro experience carries on when you hit the road. Yes, the ride is good even over the most badly bombed-out roads and the Gurkha is actually rather fun when you are on the gas, flying down a dirt road. However, for everyday driving, the Gurkha is way out of its depth. The engine is loud, controls like the gear lever need more than a little effort and performance from the 85hp engine is glacial; but this is no luxury vehicle. Designed to trample across terrain that only tractors and off-road trucks can drive over, the Gurkha only limbers up when you get to a dirt track. Truth be told, finding suitable terrain to challenge it, is a challenge in itself. Putting it through a regular off- road course without sand, slush or snow is like challenging Roger Federer to play against a 10-year old. Most of the time you don’t even need the four-wheel drive; forget low-range or locking differentials. And it didn’t disappoint when we finally found a few serious challenges. The Gurkha is in its element crossing ravines and climbing up steep embankments.
The Gurkha’s talking point is its manually lockable differentials on both front and rear axles. Engaging and disengaging the diff locks is a bit of a wrestle with the levers but what you get for your effort is incredible low-speed off-road ability. The Gurkha crawls its way out of seemingly difficult terrain with surprising ease. But some more power from the engine would always have helped. Seat-of-the-pant feel suggests the Gurkha might just be better than the Thar in the rough. The Gurkha is also more flood-ready with a factory-fit snorkel.
Should I buy one?
If you are looking for a regular SUV that can do a bit of off-roading too, you had better look elsewhere. The Gurkha is a hardcore and very focused off-road machine that scores low on mainstream concerns of comfort and value. At Rs 10.23 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), the Gurkha is expensive for what it gets you and is also pricier than the Thar, which delivers something of a similar experience. But if you are on the lookout for an off-roader that has your back in the roughest of scenarios, the Gurkha could just be it. Is it the best of the off-roaders though? You’ll have to wait a wee bit longer till we bring the Gurkha and Thar together.