2021 Mahindra Thar review, road test
Rating 9 9

2021 Mahindra Thar review, road test

18th Apr 2021 3:10 pm

This second-gen Thar is far more polished than its predecessor. But how is it to live with? We find out.

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  • Make : Mahindra
  • Model : Thar
We Like
Street presence
Off-road capability
Smooth, strong engines
User-friendly controls
We Don't Like
Bumpy ride
Ingress/egress not the easiest
Slippery floor cover
Missing features

The new, second-generation Thar is hands down far better and far more modern than its predecessor – it is this verdict from our first drive review that forms the basis of this text. Because Mahindra has turned the Thar into a lot more polished and a more desirable proposition this time around, it’s been a hit from day one, instantly tugging at the heartstrings of buyers.

As a result, bookings for this niche off-roader have skyrocketed and so have waiting periods, which extend into months. But is it worth the long wait and all the hype that surrounds it? Can you live with it on a daily basis? And can it be considered as your primary vehicle? We put the diesel-manual and automatic, as well as the petrol-automatic version through our comprehensive tests to get the answers.

Mahindra Thar
Mahindra Thar

Rs 11.21 lakh * on road price (New Delhi)

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Apart from the name, there’s quite literally nothing that’s carried over from the first-generation Thar. Underpinning this second-gen is a hydroformed ‘Gen-3’ chassis (same as the Mahindra Scorpio’s) that’s much stiffer than the older one’s tubular ladder chassis, and its body shell is a mix of mild and advanced high-strength steel that’s lighter, yet a lot more rigid. Further adding torsional stiffness to its structure are stabiliser bars at the front and rear, as well as an integrated roll cage.

What’s reassuring is that the Thar has been awarded a respectable four stars in Global NCAP crash tests for adult and child protection, thanks to its sound structure as well as a host of safety features like ABS with EBD, ESP and ISOFIX child seat mounts on the rear seats, to name a few. An interesting fact is that this new-gen Thar was also introduced with side-facing rear seats for a short while (alongside the four-seater). However, as it wouldn’t have secured a score as good, Mahindra discontinued that version around the time it was nominated for Global NCAP crash tests; it is a configuration that is unlikely to return.

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Fat all-terrain tyres perform well on and off-road.
 

The new Thar’s design certainly has a wowing effect on onlookers and manages to attract eyeballs wherever it goes. This handsome SUV is both, longer and wider, sits a lot more squat and looks more proportionate compared to the older version. There’s simply no mistaking the new Thar for any other car on the road, except perhaps the Jeep Wrangler. True, both share the same heritage but the Thar looks embarrassingly similar, and no effort was made to give it an identity of its own.

The front grille has been reimagined to avoid any (legal) conflict with Jeep’s signature seven-slat design. While the Thar’s grille isn’t as bold or as powerful at first impression, it is a design that we’ve warmed up to. Exposed bonnet clips, door hinges, side steps and the body cladding have been very well executed and are rugged touches owners just love. The massive 18-inch alloys and 255mm all-terrain tyres (on the LX variant) and the full-sized tyre mounted on the tailgate is an intrinsic part of the Thar’s rugged, 4x4 appeal. There are lots of interesting design details, too, and the jerry-can shaped LED tail-lamps with Thar branding neatly embossed is particularly well executed.

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Details like these bonnet clips add to its butch appeal.
 

Owners this time around have three roof options – there’s a fixed soft-top (like before), a factory-fitted hard-top, as well as a convertible soft-top. Those planning on longer drives must opt for the hard-top, which seals off the cabin from road and tyre noise much better than the soft-top options. Owners using the Thar purely as a recreational vehicle are likely to find appeal in the convertible option for that open-top experience. The convertible’s mechanism needs some practice to operate smoothly, but it’s well engineered and takes a just a few minutes for a single person to open and close.

Sharing parts with several other Mahindras, quality and fit-finish are certainly a step-up over the previous-generation Thar. However, its interiors set a utilitarian tone, with a rather basic design and layout. Just like on the outside, designers at Mahindra have cleverly incorporated the exposed screws as a styling feature that lends ruggedness to the ambience and adds character to its interior design. The chassis plate adorning the dashboard is a nice touch which proudly flaunts this Mahindra’s Indian roots.

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Utilitarian interiors feel built to last. Fit-finish and quality is much better than the older Thar.
 

Towering over hatchbacks and other crossovers on the road evokes an invincible, ego-boosting feeling when behind the wheel. You’re sat much higher, almost at par with smaller buses and trucks. The balcony-like seating makes for a commanding frontal view, the pillars are slim, and the large outside mirrors cover the sides well. The rearward visibility, however, is hampered by the spare tyre and the rear headrests. This letter box-like view makes you rely on the sensors while parking in tight spots, and a reverse camera is sorely missed.

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Commanding seating position; healthier occupants could find these snug.
 

The front seats are perfectly fine for medium-sized adults, but larger passengers won’t be too happy about the snug side bolstering or the cup-like shape of the seat base; also, taller occupants will be left wanting for a bit more thigh support. A downside to the high seating is that you have to trek into the cabin, and the two-step climb is not something the elderly will appreciate. Getting into the second row is even more challenging – the front passenger seat tilts and slides forward at the pull of a lever, liberating just about adequate room to duck-walk your way to the back. Once seated, the backseat isn’t too bad in terms of knee- and headroom, however, the placement of the front-seat rails eats into the rear foot-room. The seat is wide enough for two adults, and what’s nice is that the backrest reclines to a comfortable angle.

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Low-set, but a spacious area; foot-room is restricted by front seat rails.
 

In terms of storage and practicality, there are bottle holders in the front doors, cup holders in the centre console and a cavity to stow your phone in front of the gear lever. The lockable glovebox is, however, too small. Mahindra could have also provided a centre armrest console for front passengers, as well as a side armrest, with charging and storage provision, for the rear passengers by utilising the space above the rear wheel wells more effectively. Boot space is scant with the rear seats in place, it’s just about enough to accommodate a couple of small backpacks. What also makes accessing the boot a bit cumbersome is the two-step process – first, the heavy tailgate needs to be swung open, and then the rear windscreen area has to be lifted up. Those purchasing the Thar for long-distance touring with more than two persons will have to purchase an additional roof carrier for cargo. 

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With the second row up, boot is only adequate for a couple of small bags.

 

Powering the new Thar is a second-generation 2.2-litre mHawk diesel engine that makes 130hp and 300Nm of torque. What impresses right off the bat is its refinement and smoothness. The diesel clatter is really well controlled and even when this motor is spun faster, it doesn’t come across as loud or coarse. This engine is responsive from the get-go and it will pick up speed from idling revs in a very linear manner without any spike in power delivery. Not only does it generate 53Nm more torque than before, it delivers max torque from just 1,600rpm, and extends till 2,800rpm, which is a 1,200rpm band, compared to the narrow 200rpm (1,800-2,000rpm) band of the first-gen. As a result, the diesel feels extremely drivable and effortless in its operation. Drop engine speeds to 1,000rpm and it will easily gain momentum without any hesitation or judder, not demanding a downshift to move on either. This low-speed drivability works great on-road, and is equally essential in off-road scenarios. Its mid-range performance is strong too, so it can effortlessly reach highway speeds or make overtakes without any need to work the gearbox. While the revs max out at around 4,800rpm in the lower gears, it isn’t rewarding to spin this motor past 3,800rpm in any case, as the build-up of speed is quite slow at higher revs.

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On-road ride is bumpy and you’ll always be aware of the road condition.
 

The 6-speed manual has rather long throws, but with well-defined gates and a smooth-shifting nature, the effort required to slot it in is really low. That, along with the relatively light clutch, makes driving around this manual quite easy. To put the diesel-manual’s performance into perspective, 0-100kph is dispatched in just 13.36sec, and rolling acceleration from 20-80kph in third and 40-100kph in fourth gear takes merely 10.28sec and 13.69sec, respectively.

Transmission duties in the automatic are carried out by an Aisin-sourced 6-speeder. Overall, shifts are smooth and seamless, and this sophisticated torque converter works well in sync with the diesel engine. In fact, the masses of torque on offer hide the slightly lazy responses of this transmission, especially while downshifting. In terms of performance, this one sprints from 0-100kph in 13.52sec, almost as quick as the diesel-manual. The automatic also gets a manual mode, and it will hold onto the first two gears (only) in this mode, which comes handy while off-roading. Because of the sheer convenience this diesel-automatic brings to the table, it is the combination that gets our vote.

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New turbo-petrol is smooth, refined and offers strong performance.
 

Making its debut in the new Thar is a brand-new 2.0-litre, turbo-charged direct-injection petrol engine, the first from the mStallion family. With power and torque figures of 150hp and 320Nm, this engine certainly makes a strong case for itself. It’s even more refined and stronger than the diesel and feels surreally smooth for a Thar. It isn’t a particularly high-revving engine and the revs max out at 5,500rpm. However, the mid-range performance in particular – with max torque being served over a thicker powerband, ranging from 1,500- 3,000rpm (300rpm more than the diesel) – and an additional 20Nm of pulling power on tap make the petrol a very potent offering. What’s interesting is that the 6-speed automatic in the petrol is identical to the one in the diesel, down to the gear ratios; although, shift points have been altered to work best with the engine’s powerband. So, just like in the diesel, here too it performs seamlessly. And when it comes to sheer performance, the petrol-automatic sprints to 100kph from a standstill in just 10.20sec, so not only is it faster than the diesel, but it is also a quicker sprinter than most turbo-petrol cars under Rs 20 lakh. Rolling acceleration times from 20-80kph and 40-100kph in kickdown are 1.20sec and 2.81sec, respectively, better than the diesel-automatic.

Sound insulation has improved by leaps and bounds in this new-gen Thar, and the hard-top version, in particular, does the best job (among the three options) to cut out ambient and wind noises to a great extent. That said, there’s simply no shying away from the excessive wind noise, which still creeps through at speeds above 100kph. In the convertible and soft-top versions, the tornado-like buffeting will force you to maintain lower cruising speeds for a quieter drive experience.

Being a ladder-frame construction, the tough-as-nails Thar has an air of indestructibility when it encounters bad road surfaces, just like its predecessor. Now, with a double-wishbone front suspension, a multi-link rear suspension, and a more rigid structure, this new one’s dynamics are much better. It feels tighter, more composed and infuses a lot more driver confidence than the first-generation Thar. But when it comes to its on-road ride comfort and its bump absorption capability, there is still a greater scope for improvement. The on-road ride is on the busier side, and there is prominent body movement felt inside the cabin at all speeds. You will always be aware of the road condition, and this body-on-frame SUV simply can’t match monocoque levels of suppleness.

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New coils springs result in lesser articulation but better grip levels.
 

It still makes-do with a hydraulic steering but the good news is that it is light and smooth, so it is easy to drive this car through traffic. Yes, you will need more locks than other cars while parking or making a U-turn, but its lightness brings down the twirling effort to a great extent. With nearly 3.36 turns lock-to-lock, what comes in handy, especially while off-roading, is the steering position reminder on the MID that informs the driver of the position of the front tyres before starting off. One thing that is carried over from the older car are the steering kickbacks after hitting sharp potholes or while cornering, although these are not as aggressive as before. Its brakes do a respectable job of shedding speed and even under panic braking scenarios, the Thar doesn’t lose its composure. However, the brake feel on the automatics lack bite and aren’t as reassuring on the manual. We are told this issue is because the spring in the brake booster system is differently tuned for the two-pedal layout in the automatics, which results in a pedal feel that is not as linear as in the manual Thar. However, the company is believed to be recalibrating the spring.

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Tyre direction reminder on the MID is a handy feature, especially while off-roading.

OFF-ROADING

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Its mountain goat-like ability to tackle hostile terrains will sweep you off your feet.
 

Take the Thar off the beaten path and you’ll truly appreciate this car for what it is. Rolling on fat Ceat All-Terrain tyres, and armed with a four-wheel-drive low-range gearbox, this one scampers over any terrain like a mountain goat. This new Thar sits 16mm higher above the ground than the older Thar; its ramp-over-angle has improved to a significant 27 degrees, and even its departure angle, at 36.8 degrees, is far greater than the 27 degrees before. Its front bumper, however, juts out a bit more than before, to comply with pedestrian protection norms, and as a result its approach angle is 41.8 degrees, 2.2 degrees lesser than before, but that’s hardly a cause for concern. Interestingly, its air intake has been repositioned, making it capable of traversing through 650mm of a water body without breaking a sweat.

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4WD lever’s placement is convenient, and it’s smooth to operate.
 

This second-generation Thar uses a modern, double-wishbone setup in the front, but the big news is the shift from leaf-springs to independent coil-springs at the rear. Wheel articulation, as a result, isn’t as generous as before, but because of this new suspension setup and a wider track (front and rear) there’s so much mechanical grip on offer that it simply claws onto the surface and sails through the trickiest scenarios, many where even the highly capable older-gen model begins to struggle. What further enhances its ability to overcome sticky situations is a host of driving aids including ESP, hill-start assist as well as hill-descent control. The clever inclinometer and other driving information display on the screen as well as the MID will certainly win praises from those who appreciate tech and gizmos.

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Hill-descent control, ESP and other safety aids now in the Thar!

 

Although fuel economy isn’t going to be a deciding factor for prospective Thar buyers, it’s an aspect that can’t be completely overlooked, especially in these times of soaring fuel prices. With a big petrol engine, a heavy kerb weight and a boxy design, the petrol-automatic’s single-digit figures aren’t surprising. This one guzzles fuel unapologetically, returning just 7kpl in the city and 9.3kpl on the highway.

On the other hand, the smooth and easy-going second-gen mHawk diesel is much more frugal in the city, returning 12kpl and 11.3kpl for the manual and automatic, respectively. The diesel’s highway efficiency isn’t quite as impressive, returning merely 12.6kpl for the manual and 11.5kpl for the automatic, and that’s down to its non-aerodynamic design. Its boxy shape actually demands that extra bit of effort from the engine to counter the significant wind drag. Interestingly, the Thar is much more fuel efficient while cruising below 90kph than at triple-digits speeds.

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Mahindra’s 7.0-inch touchscreen has a very user-friendly interface, and touch sensitivity and responses are rather good. Contrary to the popular button-less trend, this system features physical shortcut buttons as well as a rotary volume control, which is very convenient to operate while on the move. What’s nice is the inclusion of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. This system also displays certain on-road and off-road data that owners will find very useful.

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Sound quality from its roof- and dash-mounted speakers leaves a lot to be desired.
 

The new Thar includes an array of safety kit, such as ABS with EBD, dual airbags, ESP, hill-launch assist, hill-descent control, ISOFIX child seat mounts, tyre pressure monitor and a roll cage. Convenience features only include basics such as remote key entry, electrically adjustable mirrors and cruise control. It also gets a touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Because its doors can technically be removed (for off-roaders), it gets dash-mounted as well as roof-mounted speakers instead. This placement isn’t ideal for an immersive audio experience, and the sound quality in general leaves a lot to be desired.

For off-roaders there’s an inclinometer in the infotainment system, as well as a tyre position reminder in the MID. These aside, there are several smaller features that are still missing such as a rear-view camera, LED headlights, auto-dimming inside mirror, a premium audio system, electric folding mirrors, a driver armrest and a dead pedal (especially for the automatic), many of which have become the norm in a car of this price.

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A very useful inclinometer displays pitch and roll angles, among other data.

 

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Extremely capable off-road and a lot more user-friendly now.
 

The new Thar is a very desirable SUV. If the tough-as-nails construction and its mountain goat-like ability to tackle hostile terrains don’t sweep you off your feet, its butch persona and bucket loads of street cred certainly will. With smooth and strong engines, an added dose of refinement, the convenience of automatic transmissions and light controls, the new Thar is more user-friendly. Though it’s not without flaws. Getting in and out, especially into the rear seats, isn’t very easy, the boot is very small, and it misses several features like LED headlights, rear-view camera, rear wiper/washer, and more, many of which have become a norm at this price point. What could also dissuade buyers is its bumpy on-road ride quality, which isn’t as smooth or cushy as SUVs with a ‘car-like’ monocoque construction. But if you can work around its shortcomings, this is an SUV that’s oozing character and can take you places no other car at this price point can. What’s truly remarkable is that the Thar’s legendary off-road ability no longer comes at the expense of practicality, convenience and comfort. Quite frankly, there’s simply nothing like it for the money.

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Also see:

Mahindra Thar bookings cross 50,000 milestone

Autocar Awards 2021: Mahindra Thar and Royal Enfield Meteor 350 bag top honours

Mahindra W601 SUV to be named XUV700

ENGINE Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT Electric
Fuel Type / Propulsion Petrol Diesel Diesel
Engine Installation Front, longitudinal Front, longitudinal Front, longitudinal
Type 4-cyl, turbo-petrol 4-cyl, turbo-diesel 4-cyl, turbo-diesel
Cubic Capacity (cc) 1997cc 2184cc 2184cc
Bore/Stroke (mm) 83/92.25mm 84/98.5mm 84/98.5mm
Compression Ratio 9.5:1 16:1 16:1
Valve Train 4 valves per cyl 4 valves per cyl 4 valves per cyl
Max Power (hp @ rpm) 150hp at 5000rpm 130hp at 3750rpm 130hp at 3750rpm
Max Torque (Nm @ rpm) 320Nm at 1500-3000rpm 300Nm at 1600-2800rpm 300Nm at 1600-2800rpm
Power to Weight Ratio (hp/tonne) 86.4hp per tonne 73.2hp per tonne 72.9hp per tonne
Torque to Weight Ratio (Nm/tonne) 184.4Nm per tonne 169.1Nm per tonne 168.2Nm per tonne
Specific Output (hp/litre) 75.1hp per litre 59.5hp per litre 59.5hp per litre
TRANSMISSION Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT Electric
Drive Layout Four-wheel drive Four-wheel drive Four-wheel drive
Gearbox Type Automatic Manual Automatic
No of Gears 6 6 6
1st Ratio/kph per 1000 rpm 3.60/9.325 3.96/8.477 3.60/9.325
2nd Ratio/kph per 1000 rpm 2.09/16.063 2.21/15.191 2.09/16.063
3rd Ratio/kph per 1000 rpm 1.488/22.561 1.422/23.609 1.488/22.561
4th Ratio/kph per 1000 rpm 1.00/33.572 1.00/33.572 1.00/33.572
5th Ratio/kph per 1000 rpm 0.687/48.867 0.799/42.017 0.687/48.867
6th Ratio/kph per 1000 rpm 0.58/57.882 0.716/46.888 0.58/57.882
Final Drive Ratio 4.3:1 4.3:1 4.3:1
BRAKING Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT Electric
80 - 0 kph (mts, sec) 26.38m, 2.31s 26.38m, 2.31s 26.38m, 2.31s
EFFICIENCY Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT Electric
City (kpl) 7kpl 12kpl 11.3kpl
Highway (kpl) 9.3kpl 12.6kpl 11.5kpl
Tank size (lts) 57 litres 57 litres 57 litres
ACCELERATION Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT Electric
0 - 10 kph (sec) 0.47s 0.35s 0.55s
0 - 20 kph (sec) 1.02s 1.51s 1.14s
0 - 30 kph (sec) 1.57s 2.27s 1.84s
0 - 40 kph (sec) 2.27s 3.17s 2.88s
0 - 50 kph (sec) 3.32s 4.17s 3.99s
0 - 60 kph (sec) 4.31s 5.54s 5.27s
0 - 70 kph (sec) 5.47s 7.12s 6.92s
0 - 80 kph (sec) 7.06s 8.75s 8.63s
0 - 90 kph (sec) 8.53s 10.99s 10.85s
0 - 100 kph (sec) 10.20s 13.36s 13.52s
0 - 110 kph (sec) 12.50s 16.02s 16.51s
0 - 120 kph (sec) 15.13s 19.90s 20.30s
0 - 130 kph (sec) 18.29s 24.19s 26.71s
0 - 140 kph (sec) 22.20s 29.78s -
1/4 mile (sec) 16.89s 18.60s 18.50s
20-80kph (sec) 6.19s 10.28s 7.39s
40-100kph (sec) 7.77s 13.69s 10.58s
MAX SPEED IN GEAR Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT Electric
1st (kph @rpm) 51kph 5500rpm 40kph 4800rpm 44kph 4900rpm
2nd (kph @rpm) 88kph 5500rpm 72kph 4800rpm 76kph 4800rpm
3rd (kph @rpm) 99kph 4500rpm 110kph 4800rpm 87kph 4000rpm
4th (kph @rpm) 141kph 4300rpm 147kph 4500rpm 125kph 3800rpm
5th (kph @rpm) 159kph 3300rpm 158kph 3800rpm 158kph 3250rpm
6th (kph @rpm) 162kph 2800rpm 158kph 3400rpm 158kph 2700rpm
NOISE LEVEL Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT Electric
Idle (dB) 49.6dB 44.9dB 46dB
Idle with AC blower at half (dB) 58.8dB 60dB 59.5dB
Full Revs, AC off (dB) 70.1dB 77.1dB 76.6dB
50 kph AC off (dB) 62.3dB 62.1dB 63.5dB
80 kph AC off (dB) 68.8dB 68.4dB 72dB
BODY Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT Electric
Construction Three-door SUV, ladder-frame Three-door SUV, ladder-frame Three-door SUV, ladder-frame
Weight (kg) 1735kg 1774kg 1783kg
Front Tyre 255/65 R18 255/65 R18 255/65 R18
Rear Tyre 255/65 R18 255/65 R18 255/65 R18
SUSPENSION Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT Electric
Front Independent, double wishbone, coil springs Independent, double wishbone, coil springs Independent, double wishbone, coil springs
Rear Independent, multi-link rigid axle, coil springs Independent, multi-link rigid axle, coil springs Independent, multi-link rigid axle, coil springs
STEERING Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT Electric
Type Rack and pinion Rack and pinion Rack and pinion
Type of power assist Hydraulic Hydraulic Hydraulic
Turning Circle Diameter (mts) 11.8m 11.8m 11.8m
BRAKES Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT Electric
Front Disc Disc Disc
Rear Drum Drum Drum
Dimensions Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT Electric
Length 3985mm 3985mm 3985mm
Width (mm) 1855mm 1855mm 1855mm
Height 1855mm 1855mm 1855mm
Wheel base 2450mm 2450mm 2450mm
Front Track (mm) 1520mm 1520mm 1520mm
Rear Track (mm) 1520mm 1520mm 1520mm
Rear Interior Width (mm) 1430mm 1430mm 1430mm
Ground Clearance (mm) 226mm 226mm 226mm
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