The second-generation 4x4 offers greater sophistication and more creature comforts.
The Mahindra Thar is an SUV that evokes emotions like few other cars can, embodying the spirit of the original Jeep and the 75-year-old legacy of India’s original SUV maker. This iconic SUV with its legendary 4x4 capability also embodies the freedom of (and off) the road, so it was rather appropriate that the reborn Thar was shown to the world for the first time on Independence Day.
The New Thar is a modern interpretation of the previous model, with wider and squatter proportions.
Evolution or Revolution?
We’ve been seeing spy photos of the new Thar for some time now and in the run up to the unveil, some thinly camouflaged images surfaced, so we had a fair idea of what to expect. But when it finally broke cover, the immediate thing (or things) that sprang to mind were that it’s a neat and modern interpretation of the previous Thar and noticeably bigger too. It also has a distinct resemblance to the Jeep Wrangler with which it shares a common heritage. So is the Thar good enough to be the Indian answer to the Wrangler?
Metallic plaque on the dashboard reminds you that you’re travelling in an iconic off-roader.
For starters, it’s a quantum leap ahead of the old Thar. Everything is completely new – the design, chassis, engines, gearboxes, cabin and dashboard have all been developed grounds-up, with almost no parts carried over from before. In fact, Mahindra has chosen the Thar to debut the company’s latest engines, a 152hp, 2.0-litre, direct-injection turbo-petrol and 132hp, 2.2-litre diesel. Both these state-of-the-art, all-aluminium engines are brand new and will power future Mahindras, like the next-gen XUV500 and Scorpio, albeit in different states of tune.
What Thar owners will love is the way the new model looks. The proportions are wider and squatter, the edges have been softened but it retains the classic look of the original. The massive 255/65 R18 tyres, which boast of a 790mm diameter, play their part in giving the new Thar its 226mm ground clearance and its street, or rather off-road credibility.
The new Thar ditches the older model’s tubular ladder chassis and gets the company’s ‘hydroformed’ (hence stiffer and lighter) ‘Gen-3’ body-on-frame chassis that also underpins the Scorpio. As a result, the suspension configuration is the same as the Scorpio too – a coil-sprung, independent double-wishbone front, and a coil-sprung, multi-link live axle at the rear, replacing the old Thar’s setup that consisted of a torsion bar or leaf-sprung front (depending on the engine) combined with a leaf-sprung rear. The turning circle is not as tight as the previous Thar’s and wheel articulation too not as generous. However, mechanical rear diff locks and huge suspension travel promise to make the new Thar every bit as capable.
Locked and Loaded
The ancient almost ‘post-war’ feel of the earlier Thar cabin is now history. In its place is a space that is hardy, comfortable and modern. In fact, Mahindra says you can hose down the cabin. While that may be something of an exaggeration, the cabin still comes with removable drain plugs, and it even has a touchscreen that it calls ‘drizzle resistant’. However, the washable hard plastic floor covers become particularly slippery when wet, which is the last thing you want when you’re operating the pedals.
The cabin no longer feels utilitarian, with the addition of modern necessities like a 7.0-inch touchscreen and more.
Also well executed is the design of the dash. The quality of materials and the general fit and finish are light years ahead of the previous Thar. The cabin is not luxurious or plush, but is well-finished with hard-wearing materials and solid switchgear. There’s a row of nicely executed buttons below the chunky centre console that has a nice rubberised feel, and in front of the gear lever is a nice, large, rubber-lined storage area where you can put your phone and other odds and ends. The power window switches sit between the seats and there’s a reason for that; the doors come off.
The Thar comes with twin airbags, and integrated into the dash ahead of the front passenger is a nice chunky grab handle; for when the Thar is canted over while driving off road. There’s also a nicely executed metallic plaque placed below that, and you also get a small, lockable glovebox, which secures small items and papers when the hood is down. Steering-mounted buttons that operate the infotainment system and cruise control are from Mahindra’s vast parts bin, but the instrument panel is quite new and frankly looks quite ordinary compared to the hooded dials of the previous Thar.
Front seats are large and even get lumbar support on the LX trim.
The doorpad on the driver’s side is a bit too close to your shoulder, the footwell feels a bit narrow and the steering only adjusts for height. But apart from that, the Thar is ergonomically quite well executed. Even the seats are large and come with good side bolstering. However, the cushioning felt inconsistent and not as even or comfortable as we would have liked.
Forward facing rear seats a first for the Thar; legroom is decent, but low seat height compromises comfort.
Accessing the rear seats, though, isn’t easy. Space is so tight with the front seats folded down that you’ll have to hold your breath, pull in your stomach and everything else, to squeeze through. In fact, many will find climbing into the rear from between the front seats much easier. The forward-facing seats, another first for the Thar, aren’t hugely comfortable either, and are only for two. Legroom is decent, but the low seat height compromises comfort. However, compared to the previous Thar, passengers who have suffered riding military style in the unpleasant side-facing seats of the previous Thar will find the new forward-facing bench a reason to rejoice.
Front seats fold forward for access to the rear seats, but the aperture is quite narrow.
The new Thar is available with a hardtop that makes it feel like a regular car, or a removable soft-top. There’s a cheaper, permanent soft-top too; but we’ll concentrate on the two we drove. The soft-top gets noisy past 60kph, and past 100kph, the loud flapping of the canvas top feels like cyclone Nisarga wants to come in. So, if you are planning some long highway drives, the well-built hard top, which effectively cuts out road and wind noise, would be a better option. A torrential downpour gave the soft top a good soaking, and apart from a few drops, we stayed dry and comfortable.
Once you remove the plastic windows and canvas surround from the side, you can even unhitch the roof from the top of the windscreen, via two levers, and push it all the way back. Held by two bent arms, it folds away in a bit of an untidy pile behind the nicely padded roll-over bar – another all-new addition. The soft-top mechanism is a bit fiddly and needs a bit of practice to operate smoothly, but it’s well engineered and takes a just a few minutes for a single person to open and close. The new Thar also has a permanent roll over bar at the B pillar, and this is where the rear speakers are placed, safe from the rain and close to your ears. You also get – pinch yourself – kit like Hill Hold, Hill-Descent control, a tyre pressure monitoring system; the Thar really has grown up!
Thar now gets the option of a factory-fitted hardtop roof for the first time.
Even features like a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now on offer.
The new Thar will be sold in two versions – AX and LX. The Thar AX is geared towards the hardcore off-roader and will come with the fixed soft top, side-facing rear seats, 16-inch white steel wheels, a mechanical locking differential, power windows, power steering, a manual air-con, central locking and rear parking sensors. The AX will get both engine options, but will only be available with a manual gearbox.
True to the DNA, both petrol and diesel versions of the Thar have part-time 4x4 with a low-ratio transfer gearbox.
The LX we are driving, on the other hand, will target the lifestyle buyer and have on offer more creature comforts like an 8-way adjustable driver’s seat, the 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system and LED DRLs. You’ll also find dual-tone bumpers, fog lamps, ESP, the tyre pressure monitoring system and 18-inch alloy wheels shod with 255/65 R18 all-terrain tyres on this version. The LX gets a choice of petrol-auto, diesel-manual and diesel-automatic powertrains, and of a convertible soft-top or hard top. The 4-seat layout with a front-facing bench is standard on this version.
Range-topping Thar LX gets 18-inch alloy wheels shod with 255/65 R18 all-terrain tyres.
The biggest surprise is the 2.0-litre ‘mStallion’turbo-petrol engine, seen for the first time under the Thar’s hood. It’s the Thar’s first petrol engine and what an engine it is! The specs only tell you part of the story, and it’s when you press down on the accelerator pedal that you know how good the engine is. What takes you aback is the throttle response. It’s immediate and lunges the heavy Thar forward like a hot hatch.
The Thar's new 152hp, 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine.
On part throttle, the petrol Thar feels remarkably sprightly, like it has a surplus of power. It’s only when you floor it that you feel a slight hesitation before the turbo kicks in. The mid-range is strong too and there’s no let-up till the modest 5,500rpm rev limit. This long-stroke engine doesn’t relish being revved and hasn’t been tuned for top-end performance, but then you wouldn’t expect that from a mud-plugging 4x4.
What the petrol Thar has also highlighted is Mahindra’s engine calibration philosophy, which priorities performance over squeezing every drop of fuel for efficiency. As a result, Mahindra engines never feel ‘throttled’ or flat in the way they deliver power, which makes them such a delight.
Thar’s on-road manners have seen a huge improvement with the second-gen model.
The 6-speed Aisin automatic, the same unit as in the XUV500 (albeit placed in a longitudinal configuration) works in perfect tandem with the engine. There’s a bit of hesitation under full throttle, but once you’ve got your foot in there, it upshifts smoothly. It’s not a particularly quick-reacting gearbox and there’s a slight delay when you stomp your right foot for a quick kickdown, but driven in a leisurely fashion, the gearbox makes the most of the engine’s superb low-down grunt.
The 132hp, 2.2-litre turbo-diesel unit on the new Thar.
The diesel engine too is all-new and kicks of the next generation of diesels from Mahindra, which get a lightweight all-aluminium block. This 2.2 mHawk engine will also power Mahindra and Ford’s future range of medium-to-large SUVs, with different power and torque outputs. In Thar spec, the mHawk delivers 132hp and 300Nm of torque, which on paper may seem unexceptional, but again it’s the way this diesel drives that tells a different story.
Thar feels pretty stable and reassuring at high speeds.
What stands out about this engine is the wide torque spread. It pulls cleanly from around 1,000rpm in a fairly smooth and linear way. There’s no sudden spike of power, but just a consistent and even shove all the way to the pretty high 4,700rpm rev limit. The engine is rather refined too and at low revs, you can only just tell there’s a diesel under the big hood. It’s when you stretch the motor beyond 3,000rpm that the diesel’s distinctive drone makes itself heard.
The 6-speed manual gearbox has a light shift, but the long throw doesn’t encourage shifting in a hurry. But you don’t need to. The ample torque lets you shift gears lazily, be it in town or on the highway. True to its DNA, both the petrol and diesel versions of the Thar have 4x4 gear with a low-ratio transfer gearbox for serious mud plugging. We didn’t have a chance to test the new Thar’s off-road capabilities, which we hope to do when we properly test the car.
Ride on tarmac is not flat or settled like a soft-roader, but it’s not uncomfortable either for everyday use.
Thar on tar
What we did get a chance to sample on our drive from Mahindra’s Kandivali plant to South Mumbai and back, was how good the Thar is in on city streets. True, tarmac is not the Thar’s natural habitat, but in this new avatar, aimed at urban customers, it’s of vital importance.
The high unsprung mass and beefed-up suspension have made the low-speed ride quite lumpy and though it crushes potholes without even flinching, you do get tossed around a bit, especially over expansion joints and sharp edges. The ride is not flat or settled like a soft-roader, but it’s not uncomfortable either for everyday use.
On the Eastern Freeway, the closest we came to a highway, the Thar felt pretty stable and reassuring at high speeds. There is a slight tendency to wander and the steering felt a little soggy, but that could be down to the all-terrain tyres, which blunt dynamics on tarmac. What we did find a big issue with was the brakes – they grab suddenly and you need a lot of pedal travel for them to bite. Curiously, we experienced this problem with the brakes on the petrol-automatic, but not the diesel-manual, which had a more linear and effective brake pedal feel.
Should you buy one?
The Thar has matured from a pure, no-frills off-roader to a more complete package designed to double up as an everyday car, without diluting its core appeal. The addition of a petrol automatic will make it attractive to a wider set of customers looking at the new Thar not so much for straying off tarmac, but for making a statement. Prices will be announced at the launch on October 2, but expect it to be substantially more than the outgoing Thar and a notch below the Scorpio, in the Rs 12-15 lakh bracket. The Thar is more of a lifestyle vehicle now and one that has no competition, because frankly, there isn’t anything quite like it.
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