2020 Mahindra Thar first drive review
The all-new Mahindra Thar takes a quantum leap forward in several areas. After years, with the Thar catering to a very niche segment, this all-new second generation Thar has the potential to make a more mainstream pitch. And there is good reason which I've detailed into what I liked and didn't, after a short drive within city limits, in the Mahindra Thar. This is by no means a full review, but somewhere in between a first look and a first drive! There is still the whole off-road element in the new Thar to explore, and that would come up closer to the launch which is slated for October 2. Though I must point out, most of the focus with the designers and engineers has been to not only retain but enhance that go anywhere personality and ability.
I'm also not going to tell you all that the Thar has in it. I'd recommend you read Tuhin's story which has all the details here. This is purely from the touch, feel and experience point of view, from my three hours in the Thar. Here goes.
The design of the Mahindra Thar is its strongest suit. This is a smaller version of the Wrangler, though it does have a few items that clearly distinguish it as a Mahindra. In fact, on our drive, another driver in another car also came up close at a traffic light and pointed out the similarity. Now I'm not sure how this would pan out for Mahindra in the long run, but for now, this is working very well. The square-cut SUV, with its very modernistic but boxy panels and silhouette, those large fenders and running/footboard cut a fine figure that made several people swoon across Mumbai city. I wasn't surprised, I was blown away myself, and it takes a lot to impress me these days.
On the flip side, I didn't like the grille of the new Thar or the way it's been treated, it's the only ungainly element on that entire vehicle and looks quite out of place. It is however easy to put aside all thoughts about it because the rest is so attractive.
The wheelbase of the new Thar has been lengthened by 20mm compared to the previous generation vehicle to 2450mm. Its got slightly higher ground clearance as well, is wider than before but sits a bit shorter. It occupies a fairly large footprint thanks to the increase in wheelbase and track, and sightlines are clear and uninterrupted. All you need to be aware of, all the time, when you're perched in the driver's seat is the front bumper that sticks out by almost a foot. You can't creep up too close to the car ahead of you, and at the same time, this makes tight manoeuvring in crowded urban conditions a bit tricky.
Plenty of plastics and lightweight metals make up the body panels and associated fitments. My only concern is the quality of plastic on those fender extenders. In time would they get bleached in the sun and retain water stains or are they good enough to stand the test of time? Only time will tell.
The design of the Thar is also smart, large horizontal windows allow enough light to pass into the cabin and at the rear, it has a horizontally split tailgate. You open the tailgate door to access just the lower part of the boot, and then lift up the windscreen to access the whole boot. However, luggage space is grossly limited. There is very little space to put anything more than a couple of overnight bags. However you can fold down the rear seats, and that gives you additional space should you need it, but then it also restricts the vehicle to just two occupants. This is also interesting if you are aware of certain facts, because the new Thar is almost 4-metres long, and if you look at other sub-4-metre SUVs they have reasonably generous boot space. This boils down to the longitudinal position (or the North-South layout) of the engine. As a result the 4-cylinder engine takes up more space needing a larger engine bay. So a compromise is reached between in-cabin space and engine room.
The pre-production version we drove also did not have any provision to mount a roof carrier, so that poses a challenge. Mahindra is working on this right now and hopefully will have a solution in the months to come. The spare tyre mounted on the tailgate is also a neat touch, and should not pose any problems over time. It's also a better place to mount the spare as it's the easiest space to access while also complementing the overall rugged off-road styling.
Stepping into the Thar is not an easy affair. It stands 226mm above the ground, and you will need to use the step provided to get into the cabin. On the driver side, ingress-egress is no issue, however, I would like to suggest that Mahindra place a grab handle on the driver side just to make it easier to get into the cabin and hold onto something steady when you go off-road and have wet footwear that can easily slip on the floorboard.
Getting into the second row is a bit tight. Mahindra could have widened that door opening by a few more millimetres and it would have eased getting into that second row significantly. Once perched on that split rear bench it has enough space for two, no more. It has nonetheless enough knee room though, on the flip side, the large wheel wells protrude into the cabin and reduce room to place your feet comfortably.
Coming to the dashboard, I am highly impressed with the fit and finish inside the new Mahindra Thar. Coming from the first generation Thar, this interior is light years ahead in terms of build quality and design. It does look like someone put a lot of thought behind this, ironing out all the ergonomic shortcomings and adding a decent amount of stylishness in the bargain. The switchgear is dustproof and waterproof, IP54 rated just to keep you informed. This means dust and water won't affect the electricals. You can take a hose and water down the entire cabin and have it look fresh and clean after a good day of ploughing in the mud and dirt!
The switchgear is simplistic but functional. The power window buttons are placed on the centre stack because the doors are removable and the wiring would come in the way. I even liked the small but functional touchscreen infotainment system that has a waterproof sheath around it. It looks military-grade, like a tinier version of a Toughbook! I'd happily spend hours in that cabin, though I do hope Mahindra inserts a dead pedal in the automatic to place your inactive left foot.
I got to drive both the diesel and petrol versions of the Mahindra Thar, but with the automatic transmission. And my pick of the litter would be the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol. 150Ps with 320Nm of torque is brilliant for this compact package. It's quick, it's refined and I was absolutely thrilled in the way it performs. You pick up speed with alacrity, rapidly climbing into triple digits with ease. The 6-speed automatic is also quite impressive, and the Thar also gets a manual mode for those times when you get off-road.
The 2.2-litre diesel mHawk is equally impressive. Its been around for some time, and its no stranger to Mahindra's range of off-road SUVs. Its got slightly less torque than the petrol, but is just as impressive. I liked the refinement and the sound deadening, but the surge of torque that you can feel in the petrol is less obvious in the diesel. My recommendation would be to go for the petrol. Given the environmental standpoint and the policies that could be framed in the future discouraging diesels, the petrol makes better sense anyway.
The Thar has a selectable 4WD drivetrain. The default position is 2H, which send torque to the rear wheels only. 4H engages all four wheels and should ideally be used off-road, on gravel or hard compacted sand conditions. 4L engages the low ratio transfer case for the more heavy-duty stuff. You also have a lot of safety aids, but most important are the hill climb and descend features, the automatically engaged electronic hub lockers and the brake lock differential. No situations in our urban drive to experience these abilities, so those opinions will have to wait till we can head out and go overlanding, which I hope isn't too far off!
RIDE AND HANDLING
The new Mahindra Thar continues its body on frame legacy again hinting at its more off-road focus. That said its ride quality on the road is mighty impressive. It dismisses potholes and any tarmac blemishes with contempt, ignoring anything you throw at it. That is because of three important changes. The wheel and tyres we rode on were 18-inchers with 255/55 section AT (all-terrain) tyres, that's a lot of rubber on the tarmac to cushion out bumps and grinds. The front end is suspended by an independent double-wishbone suspension with coil-over dampers and stabiliser bar. And finally, the rear has a multi-link setup with coil-over dampers and a stay-bar replacing the leaf springs on the previous generation Thar. Now the one drawback of this system is that it could raise the price of the new Thar. This is an expensive suspension setup, and while it adapts quickly to both on- and off-road conditions, the cost it would add could be a limiting factor.
Manoeuvring the Thar is easy, the power steering is light at low speeds and picks up some weight at higher speeds. The large contact patch the tyres offer also give you enough grip and stability, but the higher ground clearance and the body on frame configuration does bring in a bit of body roll. The suspension setup works well to dull that effect, but quick jinks through traffic reveal the body roll. Also while you can fly over potholes, it can at times violently throw the steering off centre, so remember to drive with your thumbs out. Fortunately, the Thar gets a roll-bar, just in case things go south when you go off-road and muck it up.
Mahindra will also kick off a program to offer custom and factory fitted accessories. Stuff like protectors, snorkels and lots more to enhance your experience or simply look more rugged. The customisation program came several years ago, but with this new Thar it could reach new heights.
You also get a choice between a soft-top and a hard-top roof. I suspect the former is to make it more appealing for national park rangers and adventure and wildlife specialists. Another indicator of Mahindra seeking business in that direction is the petrol powertrain for an SUV of this order. Most national parks in India mandate only petrol SUV usage within park limits and Mahindra is certainly looking to fill the gap left behind with the Maruti Gypsy going out of commission.
The Thar's infotainment system offers Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, but there is no proprietary connected tech. That isn't entirely a bad thing since the Android and Apple systems work much better.
The new Thar is easily capable of bringing a million-watt smile onto your face. And that would only get bigger if Mahindra can get the price of the Thar right. It could be tricky. In the past the Thar attracted a small niche, now the target audience can be much larger. But is Mahindra willing to take the plunge and make the pricing attractive enough to appeal to a potentially wider audience at the cost of smaller margins? It has all the trappings to attract even those not inclined to go off-road, so the cost shouldn't be a limiting factor. Or would Mahindra charge a premium, because the new Thar does have some expensive equipment? I'm hoping for a sub INR 15-lakh sticker, but that could be a tough call. October 2, mark the date, it's when Mahindra could open the gates or just a window to a whole new adventure lifestyle choice.
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