Sherp N 1200 driven, ultimate Off-Roader that swims
Where extreme 4x4s stop, the Sherp N 1200 starts. This is the ultimate off-road vehicle, built not for recreation but life-saving rescue missions, disaster relief, border patrolling and extreme terrain encountered in oil exploration and mines. Designed and built by Quadro International in Ukraine, the Sherp UTV (Utility Terrain Vehicle) took 20 years to perfect. It is now claimed to have no parallel and was recently endorsed by the United Nations as their ‘most effective vehicle’. In fact the UN is now testing an autonomous Sherp to deliver humanitarian relief in extremely violent conflict zones. And soon you might see these beasts patrolling India’s vast and extremely difficult border regions. Chandigarh-based Sarbloh Motors, acclaimed for building RFC-winning extreme 4x4s based on the Mahindra Thar and Maruti Suzuki Gypsy, has partnered with Quadro to bring two Sherps to India. And these are now being demonstrated and trialled with the armed forces and disaster relief agencies.
We got behind the wheel, except the Sherp doesn’t have a steering wheel!
Mechanicals of the Sherp UTV
The Sherp is based on a load frame, basically a pan made entirely of Docol high strength steel which can resist deformation to the tune of 1000MPa. For reference ultra high strength steels used in critical areas of cars has a tensile strength of 550MPa. It’s virtually indestructible and this frame has a flat bottom to skid over obstacles and resist bashes. In this pan is mounted the engine and drive is sent to the four wheels via chains sealed in a hermetic chamber filled with oil so they are always lubricated and don’t need maintenance.
No maintenance and reliability are recurrent themes with the Sherp. It has been engineered to go where few women or men dare, which means there’s no Maruti service station to get anything fixed if anything were to go wrong. And if anything where to go wrong, all repairs can be done from inside the passenger compartment so no problem if you are in the middle of a blizzard or bears are mauling it.
If the latter is happening, the paint is Raptor polyurethane that is self-healing, sound proof, water repellent and protects against mechanical and corrosive damage.
Docol high strength steel is also used for the roll cage to add to safety and all parts have a zinc coating that is claimed to extend serviceable life by 30 years. The body itself is made of aluminium so there’s no worry about corrosion, and the wheel discs too are galvanised to prevent corrosion.
Sherp N 1200 is a compact SUV
This is a sub four meter vehicle with a 1.5-litre diesel engine so technically it qualifies for sub four meter excise duty breaks! Well, I am only joking because this doesn’t need road registration. It isn’t meant for tarmac, it is meant for extreme trails where even Army 4x4s cannot get through.
It is 3984mm long, 2570mm wide and even taller at 2846mm. The tyres itself constitute more than half the height being 1800mm tall. It run a 2200mm wheelbase and there’s practically no front and rear overhangs or even any gap between the wheels.
It weighs 2400kg and has a 1200kg payload and can tow a further 2350kg so it not only takes recuse forces on their mission but also all their equipment. And it has a capacity of up to 9 people.
Doosan diesel engine powers the Sherp UTV
You want a reliable engine you go to Japan. That’s what Sherp did, and they’ve installed a Doosan D18 diesel engine. It’s a compact three-cylinder 1.5-litre engine that doesn’t take much space and is extremely reliable, optimised to work from minus 40 to plus 40 degrees. Max power is 55bhp and max torque is 190Nm, but this machine is not about speed as we will soon find out.
It has a 95 litre main tank plus four fuel canisters of 58 litres each giving it a total capacity of 232 litres and an operating range of 61 hours. Average consumption per hour is 5 to 8 litres, which gives it a range of 14 hours on the main tank. And since it can tilt to crazy 35 degree angles, to prevent fuel starvation there’s a small tank above the engine to make sure fuel always goes to the engine.
I must point out the location of the auxiliary tanks. They are mounted in the deep dish of the wheel hub!
The warranty is 3000 hours or 3 years for the Doosan engine and it is mated to a Renault JR5 gearbox 6-speed manual gearbox with extremely low ratios. So low you start off in second gear.
Suspension of the Sherp UTV
Actually there’s no suspension on the Sherp, at least in the conventional sense. There are no springs, dampers, struts, or anything else that can bend and break. Sherp calls its Pneumocirculating suspension where the pressures of all the four tyres are linked in a circuit, and they adjust and compensate for loads on either side. Basically the tyres are the suspension and these are ultra low pressure tyres, running 1.5 PSI while on tarmac. And they are pumped up by the exhaust gas, which can be done from the cabin, while on the move. It takes 60 second for the tyres to inflate and that means there’s no air compressor and again that’s one less thing to break down or fail.
Getting into the Sherp UTV
There are no conventional doors on the Sherp. There’s nothing conventional on the Sherp! You entire from the front of the UTV. The windscreen tilts up and the nose section hinges down from which a ladder folds out like the door of a private jet. Passengers enter the same way from the rear, the rear window hinges up, the tail gate drops down from which a ladder folds out from the side and you climb in.
The Sherp can accommodate up to 8 passengers in addition to the driver and various configurations are available. The black Sherp here is configured for 6, all in individual bucket seats while the orange one has a stretcher at the back with a bench seat facing it.
The black one has optional air-conditioning and naturally that’s the one I jump into!
No steering wheel on the Sherp UTV
Climb in from the nose and settle into the seat on the left. This is left hand drive but, not being road legal, that doesn’t make any difference.
There’s no steering wheel to slide behind, the steering is operated via two levers on the left. The Sherp uses skid steering where the turning is accomplished by varying the speed of the wheels on either side. And the two levers control the brakes on either side. So pull the left lever and it brakes the left wheels creating a yaw that gets the Sherp to turn left. Similarly pull the right lever to turn right. And these levers are progressive, unlike extreme 4x4s which only lock the inside wheels, so you can steer the UTV. Pull hard and it locks the wheels on that side, give it full throttle and the UTV will turn on the spot. Basically turn on its own axis.
Driving the Sherp UTV
Skid steering gives the Sherp astonishing manoeuvrability, but you also have to learn how to drive it. And you brain has to recalibrate to how capable it is. Boulders? It climbs straight up and over meter-high rocks. Obstacles? It smashes and flattens everything, including trees, that might be in the way of a life-saving mission. We parked it up an incline which we later measured at 41 degrees. It is top heavy and that limits its side slope angle to 30 degrees, which is still incredible.
Like I said, there’s no steering wheel ahead of the driver. You have two pedals for the clutch and accelerator and the brakes are on the two levers on the left. Pull both together and it operates the brakes equally to stop the beast. On the right of the driver is the conventional gear lever, press the clutch, select second (you have to hunt for second!) and release the clutch to get going. Max revs is 3000 rpm and you shift around 2500rpm. Ahead and below you to the left is the digital dash that shows a whole range of temperatures and pressures, also the pressure in the tyres. Visibility is actually pretty good with plenty of glass area all around the driver and you can drive with the windscreen hinged up for a proper wind-in-the-hair experience. Apart from the wing mirrors there’s no rear visibility but there is a reverse parking camera that displays on the digital dash.
To steer the UTV you pull the brake lever on that side, give it some gas and the Sherp turns. I am not going to talk about steering feel or precision because there is no conventional steering wheel. This is as analogue as it gets. The diesel engine is noisy especially when you rev it to 3000rpm to turn but NVH isn’t the priority. Nor is speed. Getting over obstacles is what this UTV has been built for!
The tyres are running 1.5 PSI which means plenty of ride compliance in the tyres, which is the suspension in any case. On regular rocky tracks you cannot feel any of the rocks being pounded under the tyres, such is the cushioning. It actually is pretty darn conformable. You only start to feel the terrain when it gets really extreme and the nose is either pointing skywards or right down the mountain. And there you hang it over to Sergey, the 23-year-old Ukrainian who travels the world demonstrating what the Sherp can do, because you’ve run out of courage. It will take many, many hours of seat time in the Sherp to be able to actually drive it over the terrain that it has been built to conquer — terrain that even RFC-spec 4x4s find it impossible to get through.
And then you hit water.
Sherp UTV swims!
The Sherp N 1200 has 600mm of ground clearance but no water wading depth is quoted. That’s because it floats! It’s amphibious! The tyres serve as flotation devices and their prominent ribs work as paddles to swim through rivers, ponds, marshes and swamps.
Sergey accelerates towards the lake and grabs the handle on the windscreen. I scream as I scramble to find grab handles on my side. And we hit the water nose first, the bow wave coming nearly to the top of the windscreen. This is a real-life roller coaster. It scares you silly.
And then it floats as the tyres do their thing, now deflated to 0.5 PSI. Accelerate and the tyres paddle through the water giving it a top speed of 6kmph. To steer in the water again use the lever on the side you want to turn and the paddling of the tyres on the other side creates a yaw moment to turn the UTV. Obviously it won’t turn on its axis as it does on land but the manoeuvrability in water seems quite good with Sergey charting a course through a deep lake in the midst of the Aravalli hills. The Sherp also has a water pump to pump out the water that enters the cabin and so it can drive through rivers to get to flood affected areas.
Climb out of the lake, inflate the tyres while on the move and the Sherp will max out at 40kmph. Be it the expressway, tarmac, grass, gravel, sand, marsh, rocks, ice, dunes, snow, peat, moor, whatever, the top speed is 40kmph. And it feels fast enough, sitting that high, with two brake levers to steer the thing. What’s more important than top speed is the slowest speed it can run at, the crawling speed, which is 2kmph.
Price and application of the Sherp N 1200
Jaskirat Singh Nagra of Sarbloh Motors tells me the landed cost with duties of the Sherp N 1200 will work out to approximately ₹1.3 crore. Which sounds like a lot but when you consider the applications — life-saving applications — that doesn’t sound like much.
Where will it be used? Disaster relief, especially flooded areas where the Sherp will be able to carry rescue teams plus all their equipment to the heart of the affected areas. These are places where the roads would have been washed out, where rescue teams would have to trek over battered terrain and then use boats over the flooded waters, with all their equipment carried on their backs or mule-backs. The Sherp is the only vehicle that can go over boulders and rocky debris of the floods while also swimming through the flood waters until helicopters, grounded due to the rains, can take off. With 61 hours of range it can be pressed into non-stop service. It can be used for patrolling remote border regions, current conflict zones where troops trek to their remote posts again with their supplies on their backs, high altitude regions where helicopters cannot work. The Sherp can function as a rapid troop and equipment carrier to remote border outposts. It can be bullet-proofed and used for anti-terror operations. Can be armed and used in border patrolling in marshy, sandy, obstacle ridden areas. It can also use used in oil exploration, carving out new roads, treacherous mines, and other extreme civilian applications. This isn’t a recreational vehicle. It’s an ultimate terrain vehicle.