He’ll be coming down the mountain...

After yet another volley of sneak peeks of the pre-production Mahindra Thar undergoing testing, we shed some light on the hoopla
The front gives a more substantial, mature look
The front gives a more substantial, mature look2020 Mahindra Thar

“Is the new Thar just made for testing or Mahindra has any plans to launch it?”

This is what @hemant_9437 said yesterday on the evoIndia Insta handle after the umpteenth ‘spy pic’ did its rounds on social media. This was echoed by @blackwidow_1881 who said “Are they testing any spaceship or something? Why the [redacted] is it taking so long!?”

Such is the love the average petrolhead has for the Thar, their sentiments about the current delay in its launch invites expletives! And why wouldn’t it? The Mahindra Thar is, after all... the Mahindra Thar! Loved by mud-pluggers everywhere, this successor to the Mahindra MM540 (or spiritual successor to the Jeep CJ, or even the World War 2-era Willys Overland), is a dead-serious four-wheel-drive open-top off-roader which has, since its 2010 launch, has proved its mettle at such walk-in-the-park events like the Rainforest Challenge, Dakshin Dare and Desert Storm.

In fact, the only other capable (and affordable) compact off-roader that can best the Thar is the venerable Maruti Suzuki Gypsy. However, the Gypsy has been out of production for a while now, with very little chance for its successor, the Jimny, making it to our shores. So when news of a second-gen Thar started making the rounds, off-road enthusiasts’ ears obviously perked up.

First mud... er, blood

The first spy pictures of a heavily camouflaged second-gen Thar were spotted in February this year in Delhi; why it wasn’t shown at the Auto Expo 2020 is an altogether unsolved mystery. Anyway, getting back to the Thar, at first glance everyone and their uncle said the same thing: It looks like a downsized Jeep Wrangler, something even the Ed addressed with a tweet:

All said and done, the ‘Wrangler’ aspersions weren’t entirely unfounded: the test mule showcased pronounced bumpers all around along with chunkier, flared fenders, all of which are traditional Jeep staples. And considering the bumpers now seemed to have integrated fog-lights and taillights (so they weren’t just pieces of bare metal), along with the new alloy wheels (instead of the steelies as on the non special-edition predecessor) and a hardtop roof (perhaps in the top-spec model), gave the new Thar that much-needed dose of aesthetic flair.

Besides, info like the engine specs were already available, with the retuned 2.2-litre diesel engine slated to make about 140bhp and 320Nm, similar to the Scorpio. So far, so good. Soon after, rumours emerged of a possible April-May launch. This again got the enthusiasts worked up. A Thar, with creature comforts. Who could resist?

And then Corona struck!

The entire country went into lockdown towards the end of March, effectively dropping vehicle production to zero. Nevertheless, factories were reopened a couple of months later, with a this-too-shall-pass thought process (and obsessive precautions and sanitation). The automobile sector gradually limped back to normalcy, and since May everything from the Mercedes-AMG GT R (Rs 2.48 crore, ex-showroom), to the Hyundai Tucson (Rs 22-27 lakh), to the Skoda Rapid, retailing at Rs 7.49 lakh onwards, hit showrooms. In fact, the base Rider variant of the Rapid was such a success it’s currently sold out!

But I digress, as I should, considering there was no news whatsoever about the second-gen Thar. Or was there?

Thar she goes... Thar she goes again...

Since May, camera phones have been going snappity-snap on test mules of the Thar plying across the length and breadth of the country, with enthusiasts like @whereistanmay commenting on our Insta feed: “Now seeing these everyday in Nasik. One passed me at around 120ish but looked stable on slight curves and expansion joints on a bridge. Plus not squirly under braking too.”

And it’s not just empty praise, with even @VickyChandhok (yup, the president of the Madras Motor Sports Club) saying “Need one for the mmrt !!!”, and tagging Bijoy Kumar Y, the chief of Mahindra Adventure. Now THAT’S high praise....if Mahindra were around to hear it!

But the situation isn’t as grim (or tame, or comical) as mentioned. The latest news suggests an end-September or starting-October launch for the second-gen Thar, with at least two trim lines (soft-top and hardtop). Also on offer will be modern interiors (with a redesigned dashboard with a touchscreen infotainment system), and front-facing rear seats, as well as lots of small yet welcome touches, like a conventionally adhered windscreen (rather than one bonded using a beading along the perimeter), LED DRLs (on the fenders), indicators and taillights in the top variants, with chunkier (and electrically operated, we're hoping) ORVMs.

All in all, the new Thar will be leagues ahead of its predecessor, and if priced well, could seriously dent the market share of similarly priced ‘soft-roaders’ with its honest-to-God compact SUV appeal. Well then... I’ll go back to marking off the days on the calendar now.

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