Exclusive drive: Force Gurkha Xplorer 4×4’s mad cousin, the Hyper Gurkha
The Force Gurkha Xplorer and its mad cousins
The Force Gurkha Xplorer 4×4 is one of the most capable 4x4s that you can drive out of the showroom. In fact it is the only one that comes factory-fitted with two locking differentials. And just like the Mahindra Thar evokes the classic Willy Jeep, the Gurkha has been exhaustively inspired by the original Mercedes-Benz G-Class. Which, with all the accessories fitted on as on our test vehicle (though the front bull bar will have to come off now that the rules ban it) it looks properly purposeful.
Except here the Force Gurkha is dwarfed when parked against the these two extremely modified Gurkhas at the Force Motors off-road facility in Pune. In the center is the Rain Forest Challenge winning Gurkha and blowing our minds is the most extreme variant of the Gurkha to be built, a product of Force Motors’ R&D team and built at the plant in Pune. On its flanks are E.O.V 4x4x4 stickers, standing for Extreme Overland Vehicle. Which is a bit lengthy and so we have christened it the Hyper Gurkha. And we’ve got the off-road track to play around with our first look – our exclusive look, in fact – at the Hyper Gurkha.
What the regular Gurkha 4×4 feels like
I’ll admit I don’t have the cojones. You see, for regular mortals such as your correspondent, there’s a limit to how much a 4×4 can be pushed. You see the axle articulation track, you reach for the lever to engage low-ratio, let off a grunt as you pull the two additional levers for the front and rear differential lock, and with everything engaged you scrunch, thud, graunch, thump, grind and crawl out of the ditch. It demands a herculean disregard for all the alarming noises orchestrated by immovable obstacles meeting an unstoppable 4×4, but not a very high level of wheelsmanship. Sure you need a bit of finesse with respect to throttle and steering application but that’s something that comes easily after two decades of testing experience. So long as you have a good spotter who is fully conversant with the limits of what you’re driving, off-roading a regular off-roader is not rocket science. Except I’m not driving a regular off-roader. This is a Gurkha – which already is the most capable 4×4 you can drive straight out of a Force Motors showroom – that’s been pumping iron and wolfing down mountains of protein supplements.
Enter the Force Gurkha E.O.V 4x4x4
This is a Hyper-Gurkha, for want of a better name, and I’m hanging on by the straps of the 5-point seatbelt staring down into a ditch. Far from being the obstacle that it would normally have been, the ditch is the run up to build momentum to power up a sheer cliff face. This is the track at which Force Motor’s RFC Gurkhas were tested, so hardcore that even an RFC winner landed on his roof and had to be craned out. Ignoring noises and displaying mechanical insensitivity is one thing; staring at a very, very big accident if I get it wrong is… heck… I don’t have the man jewels for it.
“You need the flexibility of an athlete to get to the footboard that’s a foot-and-a-half high. Or a stool. A stool would be very nice”
Born of the Rain Forest Challenge
Let’s start with a bit of perspective. Parked next to our Hyper-Gurkha are two generations of the RFC Gurkha, the inaugural 2014 winner and the beast that won in 2015 and 2016. I remember checking them out at the RFC in Goa and being astonished by just how gargantuan they looked – I was driving an Outlander and next to the RFC Gurkha, my SUV looked like an Alto. Parked next to the Hyper-Gurkha the RFC Gurkha looks like… an… Outlander. It’s insane. You need the flexibility of an athlete to get to the footboard that’s a foot-and-a-half high. Or a stool. A stool would be very nice. And it looks bloody mean, with that massive grille and slinky headlights. You will not mess around when you see it on the road, I can assure you that much. This is what you’d normally call a truck.
The Hyper-Gurkha hasn’t been built for competition
This is a skunkworks project by the R&D engineers at Force Motors and built completely in-house at their base in Pune. And just like the RFC Gurkha is based on the road-going Gurkha, so too is the Hyper-Gurkha. Of course with extensive modifications, starting with the chassis. The ladder frame has been modified particularly around the suspension mounts to locate the four-link suspension. Bolted at all four corners are Bilstein dampers, units so massive that just the remote canister is as big as regular dampers. Springing is via Eibach springs while the driveshafts are by RCV Performance whose tag line is the ‘strongest axles on the planet’. Clearly Force’s engineers weren’t messing about when speccing the Hyper-Gurkha, as visible from the Maxxis Trepador 40 x 13.50 17-inch tyres that are half my height. And that’s that for imported components, almost everything else is from the Force Motors’ parts bin or has been fabricated in-house.
“There’s so much suspension travel, the axles are tipped over at crazy angles but all four wheels are always on the ground, even on the most extreme obstacles at the test track!”
The regular Gurkha’s rack-and-pinion steering has been changed to a recirculating ball-type while the engine has also been replaced, both coming from the Force Traveller. If I had to zero in on the biggest disappointment of the Gurkha Xplorer it would be the power, more specifically the lack of power. The Hyper-Gurkha addresses that by switching to the 2.2-litre common-rail diesel engine that churns out 139bhp of power, a big jump over the 80-odd of the Xplorer. Torque goes up to 320Nm and to handle it the G32 5-speed gearbox from the Traveller has been thrown in. And with this engine and transmission easily fitting into the Hyper-Gurkha it does hint at the powertrain the Gurkha Xplorer could get in the near future.
That’s the suspension travel of the Hyper-Gurkha! Don’t know about you but I’ve never driven anything with nearly a foot and a half of travel! And it throws up a problem. Snapper Rohit wants that typical 4×4 shot of the front wheel high up in the sky as the Hyper-Gurkha climbs out of a ditch on the axle articulation track. But because there’s so much travel, the axles are tipped over at crazy angles but all four wheels are always on the ground, even on the most extreme obstacles at the test track! And because all four wheels are always in contact with the dirt there’s no need to engage the diff locks. You see the differential lock is required when one wheel is in the air (or on a very loose surface) and the open diff sends all the torque to the wheel with least resistance thus spinning it away uselessly and not resulting in any forward motion. A diff lock, err, locks the diff so both wheels turn at the same speed and so the wheel with traction gets torque to pull the 4×4 out. But because of the extreme travel of the Hyper-Gurkha’s suspension all wheels have traction and as for traction, just look at the grooves of the Maxxis rubber – can’t think of any surface apart from ice that it will struggle to find purchase over.
The interesting part of all this?
The diff locks are the same as those used on the road-going Gurkha Xplorer. In fact it is so strong that the same unit has been used in the RFC Gurkha with no problems. Only the actuation of the E-Locker is different – manual on the Xplorer, electric on the Hyper-Gurkha. In fact the cabin of the Hyper-Gurkha is a significant improvement on the regular Gurkha with some concessions to luxury like leather on the seats and steering wheel, a machined plate on the centre console with the ignition cut-out, light and diff-lock switches and a stereo. It also gets a full roll cage. Oh, one more interesting thing. On my drive the suspension travel was limited to 12 inches to make it more usable on the road. With full travel the body roll is dramatic, to say the least, and can cause a skipped heartbeat – or two – when going round a corner on the road.
The off-road track facility inside Force Motors
So how does it drive? Well not too different from the regular Gurkha, if you discount the view. After all you’re sitting as high as truck drivers and can literally see over the roof of everything else. And unlike what you might infer from the way it looks the road manners aren’t too bad either, with the 2.2-litre motor making a 100kmph cruise easy – just ignore the road noise from the tyres that drowns out everything else including your passenger. But who cares about its road manner, right? To the off-road track then and all that suspension travel means the Hyper-Gurkha crawls over obstacles like they don’t exist. Unlike a normal 4×4 where the entire body drops into the holes accompanied by a liberal outpouring of expletives from alarmed passengers, here the wheel drops in and the body remains relatively flat. It’s astonishing how it creams a track that the Gurkha Xplorer needed the rear diff lock to be engaged to pass through. And with all the wheels always in contact and thus having purchase, there’s no need to work or even finesse the gas pedal and steering. It makes off-road chumps look like heroes.
“The ‘built for war’ stickers on the road-going Gurkha Xplorer really belong on the Hyper-Gurkha – it destroys everything in its path and the only limitation is the ability, or more accurately, cojones of the man behind the ’wheel”
Perhaps the biggest improvement over the standard Gurkha is the power. In low-ratio there’s so much torque that there really is no need for a run-up before tackling steep climbs. Just floor it, flat shift to second (okay, shift as quickly as you can) and it will pull through. All that ground clearance also means it can climb over logs without scraping or bending its undercarriage, and I mean that.
In the hands of an expert – and these R&D chappies at Force Motors have inevitable off-road skills (or is it bravery?) – the Hyper-Gurkha really does come alive. On the RFC track that is littered with half a year’s of overgrowth and neglect it just ploughs through, smashing through obstacles, dense shrubbery and a couple of logs in utterly breathtaking fashion. The ‘built for war’ stickers on the road-going Gurkha Xplorer really belong on the Hyper-Gurkha – it destroys everything in its path and the only limitation is the ability, or more accurately, cojones of the man behind the ’wheel.
And so, to the most important question: how much does it cost?
Sad to report that the Hyper-Gurkha is not on or for sale. This particular example is an R&D project that is used by the boss of Force Motors as a weekend toy and is a demonstrator for the extreme mods that can be slapped on to the Gurkha’s immensely capable chassis. But who knows, if enough of you write in to Force Motors they might just make a limited run of Hyper-Gurkhas, so you know what to do. As for me, it’s time to find some brave pills.
Here’s the YouTube link for the video: