New Mahindra Thar First Drive Review: No longer a compromise
The wraps are off the all-new Mahindra Thar! It has been an endless wait punctuated by a million spy pictures, but the new Thar is finally here and it looks bloody fantastic! Of course, the flood of spy images ensured we had a fair idea of what the Thar would look like and it does not disappoint in the least. It looks like a Thar, which means it traces its visual DNA all the way back to the WW2 Willys Jeep, which also means it is a dead ringer for the Jeep Wrangler. Mahindra’s design team haven’t done anything radical, haven’t messed with the tried-and-tested formula. The focus has been on updating and modernising the classic lines and proportions and the end result is bang on the money. But first we must address the elephant in the room.
Mahindra Thar’s visual lineage
Social media will be awash with howls of protest, saying Mahindra have copied the Wrangler. And while the visual similarities are blindingly obvious, I want to highlight the fact that Mahindra also traces its lineage back to the WW2 Jeep. This visual identity is very much part of Mahindra’s DNA, and I see nothing wrong in Mahindra milking their back story. The striking similarity to the Wrangler is also the reason why the grille is blacked-out and visually understated — to avoid any legal wrangling with Jeep’s trademark 7-slot grille. Not to worry though, a million after market parts will soon be available to spruce up the styling (and make it even closer to the icon, if you wish).
All new in every single way
The old Thar was a skunkworks project, cobbled together by a bunch of enthusiasts at Mahindra using whatever parts they could get their hands on. It was rife with rough edges; always felt unfinished.
This new Mahindra Thar is brand new from the ground up. Let’s start with the chassis. It is Mahindra’s third-generation ladder frame chassis and now finally runs on coil springs, consigning the leaf springs to history. It meets new crash safety standards and has twin front airbags, ESP and even hill descent control. It is still a 3-door and though a 5-door is on the drawing board it isn’t coming anytime soon. The proportions are superb, a proper four-square stance that sits well on its wheels and the fit-finish is indescribably better than the outgoing Thar. The doors shut with a quality thud, not a tinny clap. The panel gaps are tight and consistent. The paint finish is excellent. And it now has a factory-fitted hard top where the roof panel comes off to make it a convertible when the mood strikes you.
We are driving the soft top and it comes off in less than a minute. Unzip the two side and the rear panel, unhinge the two clasps hidden under the sun visor, and the whole shebang drops back behind the spare wheel. The Thar has an in-built roll cage and of course doesn’t compromise on off-road cred. These are the important figures:
650mm water wading depth.
37 departure angle.
27 ramp over angle.
42 approach angle.
226mm ground clearance.
Basically, nothing really is going to stop a Thar.
The new Thar has air-conditioning. It has power windows. It gets a touchscreen infotainment system with an Adventure that has displays for on-road, off-road and even a customisable setting. You will get all the mandatory connectivity options and the system is water proof. The speakers are on the roof, on the roll cage and I’m assuming is also water proof. In fact the entire cabin can be hosed down, it has plastic floor mats, and I’m assuming drain holes like the Wrangler to drain the cabin when you hose it down. Unlike the Wrangler there are no bolts that you can undo in seconds to take off the doors, though I’m sure that will soon appear on the after market.
The seats are nice and comfortable and the driving position is spot on (the steering only adjusts for rake, not reach). Forward visibility is excellent, the wing mirrors don’t create big blind spots and rear visibility is not a big worry. This top-end variant gets reverse parking sensors, no camera.
And it gets an automatic gearbox!
New turbo-petrol engine and 6-speed automatic
Words I never thought I’d use when talking about a Thar! This new Thar gets a brand new 2-litre turbo-petrol engine and is mated to a new 6-speed torque converter. There’s also the 2.2-litre mHawk diesel upgraded to BS6 emission norms. And all engines and transmissions get the low-ratio 4-low transfer box as standard. The Thar might have grown up but it has lost none of its go-anywhere capabilities and there isn’t going to be a cut-price non-4x4 version. I also like that the 4x4 lever is a proper lever next to a proper gear lever, not a switch like what other brands are doing. On the fly you can shift from 2-High (rear-wheel drive) to 4-High and you have to stop to shift to 4-Low.
Let’s focus on the new petrol engine. The direct-injection, 16-valve, turbo-petrol motor makes 150bhp of power, 320Nm of torque and delivers — for the first time ever in a Thar! — silence. Crank up the Thar and you barely hear it. You do not feel any vibes. The differences from old Thar to new Thar is night and day, and I’m not overstating it in the least. And it delivers a proper turn of speed, making the g-force meter work. It even sounds good when revved, a nice quality sound that reminds me just so much of the Wrangler.
Our first drive was from Mahindra’s Kandivali plant to South Mumbai and back, 50-odd kilometres and four hours and so I will only deliver a very basic initial impression. This is nowhere close to a road test and of course we didn’t even scratch the surface of the Thar’s off-road abilities.
But I can tell you, right off the bat, the Thar feels bloody brilliant. It is civilised. It goes round corners without scaring the daylights out of you. No longer does it hop, jump and rattle your brain; there is a pliancy and sophistication to the ride. The ladder-frame chassis gets independent front suspension and a multi-link rear setup and rides on big 18-inch all-terrain Ceat tyres — none of which is a recipe for a magic carpet ride. Typical of short wheelbase ladder-frame setups the ride is never plush or fully settled and you do feel all the road imperfections and ripples. But it is not uncomfortable. Far from it! This is something that you will comfortably live with on a daily basis. And when you hit a broken patch you turn into the destroyed tarmac and speed up while others crawl out of your way. The suspension feels tough and capable. And the Thar delivers that king of the road feeling, allied to the fact that everybody (and I mean everybody!) stops, stares and gives you a big grin and a thumbs up.
The Thar gets brake locking differentials on both axles and a mechanical locking rear differential. I will not mislead you. I do not know how the Thar will work off-road and I, of course, wait for the proper test drives to put the 4x4 abilities, high-speed stability, handling, and all the road test parameters to the test.
No longer a compromise
The old Thar was too hardcore, too raw, and you couldn’t live with it on a daily basis. It could never be your first car. No longer! The new Thar is now be all the car you will ever need. It has been tamed. It is civilised. Your passengers are no longer prisoners! The Thar now gets proper forward facing rear seats and though getting in there requires acrobatics and a slim waistline once in, there’s enough knee room, head room and shoulder space for two. The Thar is a comfortable 4-seater and if you pack your woollens in soft bags two couples can head to Ladakh in it. Oh how I miss the Himalayas!
Anyway, you can commute in the Thar all week, hit the trails on weekends and set the navigation for the Himalayas just before the snows start to form. This is now a lifestyle vehicle that appeals to both the head and the heart. Fence-sitters can take the leap. And if the rumoured Rs 13-15 lakh pricing is accurate this is sure to sell like hot cakes.
Heck, the only reason I’m not putting money down on the Thar is because a test car will be in my garage very soon. It has been ages since I’ve not been as excited about a new car! And credit where credit’s due — Mahindra have delivered on the high expectations.
The wait has been very long, but the wait has been worth it.