Force brings back Gurkha to compete against established rivals
Force brings back Gurkha to compete against established rivalsShot by Avdhoot A Kolhe for evo India

Force Gurkha 5-door first drive review

Before the Mahindra Thar 5-door arrives, here is the Force Gurkha 5-door with a longer wheelbase, more power, more creature comforts and iconic G-Wagen styling

The Force Gurkha exists in such niche territory that you may not even have noticed that this Mahindra Thar and Maruti Suzuki Jimny rival hasn’t been on sale for the past year. Ever since BS 6.2 emission norms came into force, erm, Force Motors paused production to focus on engineering the 5-door. It is now finally here, months before the launch of the 5-door Mahindra Thar. And Force Motors’ engineers have worked on addressing the Gurkha’s shortcomings. Power or rather the lack of it; screens and again the lack of it; ground clearance during serious off-roading; 3-point seat belts for rear passengers; and an automatic transmission.

2024 Force Gurkha styling

What didn’t need work on was the styling and that has been left well and truly alone with the 2024 Force Gurkha. Available in both 3- and 5-door versions carrying the same Gurkha badging and equipment levels, the Gurkha retains the classic, boxy, Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen-inspired styling whose appeal is only growing by the day. Personally, I love the way it looks and if you’re wondering why Mercedes hasn’t sued Force Motors to kingdom come, fact is when the original Gurkha was designed Daimler held a stake in Force Motors, or Bajaj Tempo as the company was then called. The Gurkha (like the Thar) is only staying true to its roots.

The 5-door Gurkha gets 425mm added to the wheelbase, all of which goes into adding those two extra doors. The front and rear overhangs remain unchanged and visually the only real difference over the past is the 18-inch alloys that now fill out the wheel arches. In fact, stretching out the Gurkha has done nothing to diminish from its iconic styling; I’d even go so far as saying that this looks more proportionate than the 3-door.

Speaking of heritage, India’s most popular van, the Traveller range, started life as the Mercedes T1 and along with it came Mercedes’ legendary OM616 engine which was licensed to Force Motors who then made and supplied spares world over for Mercedes customers. It is this same engine, obviously heavily worked upon through the decades – from IDI to DI to common-rail and now BS 6.2 emissions compliant – that has been massaged to put out 138bhp of power and 320Nm of torque. To handle the added torque the 2024 Gurkha gets the G32 gearbox and that addresses the single biggest shortcoming of the earlier Gurkha – the 89 horses struggling to pull 2.2 tonnes of SUV with all the aerodynamics of a brick wall.

Force Gurkha has commanding boxy stance
Force Gurkha has commanding boxy stanceShot by Avdhoot A Kolhe for evo India

2024 Force Gurkha performance

The 2024 Gurkha can cruise at 120kmph and that’s a big, big improvement over the past. I must warn you though that this is no fire breather. 0-60kmph will take 11 seconds. 0-100kmph will be in the region of 20 seconds – a sight better than the 29-odd seconds the 2021 Gurkha took, but not fast by any stretch of the imagination. And the claimed top speed is 150kmph, which we had no chance of verifying in Goa where the media drives were held.

What the FM2.6 engine has going for it is a very strong bottom end. You can stick it in fifth gear at 50kmph and it will chug along all day. The engine pulls from as low as 1200rpm with peak torque coming in at 1400rpm. Take it down a notch and it will chug along lazily, all day long. However, the torque tapers off at 2600rpm while power peaks at 3200rpm, which means you are looking at a 2000rpm power band to play around. Consequently, hustling the Gurkha requires quite a lot of gear shifting, and that’s when you notice the G32 gearbox has very long throws, is not slick, has to be given a firm shove to slot in the gears, and isn’t especially happy when worked hard. Plus, it is only a 5-speed gearbox. And, I hate to burst your bubble, but there’s no automatic transmission.

The addition of more sound deadening means NVH levels are well contained and you can engage in conversation over the beep of the 120kmph buzzer with your third-row passengers. Who, in a marked difference from other SUVs, will be rather comfortable right at the back.

Force Gurkha still do not get an automatic gearbox
Force Gurkha still do not get an automatic gearboxShot by Avdhoot A Kolhe for evo India

2024 Force Gurkha 5-door gets three-row seating

Similar to the unorthodox fashion in which you entered back seats in the 3-door, in the 5-door too you climb into the third row via the tailgate. Greeting the third-row passengers are two captain’s seats, complete with 3-point seat belts. You do sit with your legs angled a bit inwards because the suspension towers intrude into the foot well but the big difference to other SUVs is you don’t sit with your knees digging into your nose. The ergonomics are excellent with an excess of head and shoulder room, while knee room is just about adequate for my 5 foot 9 inch frame. The middle row gets similar space – acres of head and shoulder room with no transmission tunnel jutting into the cabin – but only adequate knee room. I must point out that the massive ground clearance means you have to haul yourself into the Gurkha, don’t even think of getting rid of those side running boards, and the door aperture is very narrow, but Force’s designers have thoughtfully provided grab handles for the A- and B-pillars; even on the back of the third-row captain seats so you can climb in easily. And you have to climb in from the back because the middle row only gets a bench which doesn’t slide or recline. The 5-door also gets a roof-mounted blower to cool the passengers and I can confirm the Gurkha’s air-con works extremely well in cooling what is an extremely large cabin.

Knee room is just about adequate
Knee room is just about adequate Shot by Avdhoot A Kolhe for evo India

2024 Force Gurkha interiors

Up front, the seats now get foldable armrests which makes the already comfy seats even more agreeable to long hours behind the wheel. The dash architecture is unchanged, but the deep black does a good job of hiding its Trax people-mover origins. The steering wheel is now adjustable for reach as well as rake, but it still is rather too large and doesn’t get things like volume controls which is hardly a luxury these days. Twin front airbags are standard, per government regulations, as is ABS with EBD, but not ESP. What you do get is a 7-inch digital cluster and a 9-inch infotainment screen. The latter has in-built Google Maps along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. The former has an in-built tyre pressure monitoring system which takes rather too much of the available digital real estate and there are no configurable modes, only the colours change when you switch to power mode.

Force Gurkha gets a 7-inch digital cluster and a 9-inch infotainment screen
Force Gurkha gets a 7-inch digital cluster and a 9-inch infotainment screenShot by Avdhoot A Kolhe for evo India

Off-roading the 2024 Force Gurkha

The other noticeable change on the 2024 Gurkha is the disappearance of the second lever for engaging 4x4, replaced by a shift-on-the-fly 4x4 via a knob that immediately reminds me of the very first-generation Tata Safari. Stop to activate 4-low and we then put the Gurkha through its paces on a curated off-road track which barely scratches the surface of the Gurkha’s prowess. The ECU calibration includes a crawl mode – release the clutch, foot off the accelerator, brake and clutch, and it will crawl up steep slopes and get back down without any driver intervention. All you need to do is steer, it will deal with inclines up to 35 degrees without breaking a sweat.

The ladder frame chassis from the 2021 Gurkha is retained with the wheelbase stretched to 2825mm (the 3-door retains the 2400mm wheelbase). Force Motors claims the chassis has best-in-class stiffness and torsional rigidity while the big update is to the double wishbone front suspension, particularly the lower control arms, to sort out the ground clearance issue. The update has reduced the turning circle of the 3-door from 5.65 to 5.5 meters (the 5-door’s is 6.3 meters). The rear multi-link suspension is carried over with coil springs all round and wheel travel remains 155mm at the front and 232mm at the rear. 18-inch wheels are now standard which further raises the body and you now get what is claimed to be a best-in-class 233mm of ground clearance. The direct consequences are impressive 39 degrees of approach, 28 degrees of ramp over and 37 degrees of departure angles allied to 700mm of water wading thanks to the factory-fitted snorkel. And when the going gets seriously gnarly there are the locking front and rear differentials, activated via two levers on either side of the gear lever.

Frustratingly the curated 4x4 track had no opportunity to test this out.

Gurkha gets 39 degrees of approach, 28 degrees of ramp over and 37 degrees of departure angle
Gurkha gets 39 degrees of approach, 28 degrees of ramp over and 37 degrees of departure angleShot by Avdhoot A Kolhe for evo India

2024 Force Gurkha on-road dynamics

Nobody ever complained about the off-roading of the Gurkha and now with more power and better ground clearance, this clearly will be unstoppable. The focus has been on improving the on-road dynamics and you notice the suspension updates have reduced pitch, dive and roll – all relatively speaking of course. The ride quality continues to be impressively compliant dispatching speed breakers and potholes like a boss. But that soft suspension does have its consequences, and that is the body roll that is still ample. This is a very tall SUV – 2095mm and that’s without the roof rack that takes it to 2296mm – which does make it top heavy. The brakes, discs at the front and drums at the rear, are just about adequate to the task at hand while the brake pedal is soft and mushy in feel. The steering is hydraulic so it isn’t lacking in feel, but it is also vague and slow to respond – all of which means you will be advised not to drive the Gurkha like a Cayenne. But you will also appreciate that the updated Gurkha is no longer a handful. On the highway, at the triple-digit speed limit, it is stable and planted while the towering seating position, square edges and ample all-around visibility make it easy to drive. This does have a fantastic seating position; you can place this with accuracy and a side benefit is that nobody messes with anything that has the road presence of a Gurkha.

Force Gurkha side profile looks impressive
Force Gurkha side profile looks impressiveShot by Avdhoot A Kolhe for evo India

2024 Force Gurkha pricing

Considering the volumes it’s unlikely that the Force Motors will undercut the 4x4 Thar, forget the RWD Thar that has taken this segment by storm. Pricing then isn’t going to be its strength but said, the Indian buyer isn’t as price conscious as before. It is not like she or he will buy a car that is 5 bucks cheaper.

What the Indian buyer is looking for is value. And that’s what Force Motors needs to work on – making the Gurkha a cool 4x4. It is not enough to just look like the Indian G-Wagen, it should also have that draw, the genuine desirability of the G-Wagen. They need to make this a cool, old-school, machine.

It still has room for improvement – it is still not quick enough, the cabin is too basic, there’s no automatic transmission, no rear disc brakes, no ESP. They say there will be 54 Gurkha sales points, but I have yet to see one. They say there will be 100 service locations, that of course, will be shared with the vans. Having a 3-year, 1.5 lakh kilometre warranty is a good step towards offering peace of mind to buyers. Offering free roadside assistance for the first year is an added plus point, as are four free services.

Best of all though, I love that in a sea of front-wheel-drive, monocoque SUVs, you can still buy a hardcore, ladder-frame 4x4 with not one, not two, but three locking differentials. And that is a great niche to play in.

The Gurkha makes the Thar look small. Imagine what the Gurkha will do to a Jimny! And therein lies the whole charm of the Gurkha. In a sea of front-wheel-drive, monocoque SUVs, you can still buy a hardcore, ladder-frame 4x4 with not one, but two locking differentials. And that’s a great niche to play in.

Related Stories

No stories found.
Evo India