When the conversation turns to off-roading, what springs to the mind is a rugged machine with a heavily-modified suspension set-up, off-road tyres, a roll-cage, auxiliary lights and a spartan cabin layout. But, no more.
With its new Thar, Mahindra has raised comfort levels by a few notches, while still retaining the inherent attributes of an off-roader. It gets a new bumper and clear-lens headlamps. Moving round the sides, the only differences you'll see are the new side footsteps and wheel-arches, and, at the rear, a new bumper.
Step inside the cabin, though, and a sea of change is seen. Clearly, Mahindra had comfort on its mind while working on the interior. The seats are wider. The new triple-pod instrument cluster is a far cry from the rudimentary set-up in the previous model. Other features include a dual-tone dashboard, new floor console, new gear-knob, re-designed air-con vents, 12V charging point, a lockable glove-box and provision for a music system.
The Thar is powered by the same 2.5-litre CRDe diesel engine as its predecessor. It also retains its signature low-end grunt, which carries through as you shift through the gears. This, in turn, helps it power through tricky off-road courses with ease. The only mechanical change comes as the result of a number of requests by Mahindra's loyal customers.
Avid off-roaders have been clamouring for a Thar with mechanical locking rear differential as standard, and the Indian marquee has finally obliged. The rear diff-lock engages automatically, distributing the power to the wheels and providing better grip, further enhancing the Thar's off-road capabilities.
It looks good on paper, but how does all this translate on-road, or rather, off it? I got behind the wheel at Mahindra's Off-road Academy at Igatpuri to find out. Strapped in, geared up, and I was ready to tackle my first obstacle, the Hill Climb. At first, I had to power down a short slope and then ascend a steep slope up to the top.
The climb looked like a piece of cake from a distance, but by the time it was my turn, the slope was riddled with ruts and full of slush on account of the steady downpour. I started out in the first gear, gained some momentum, shifted into the second and powered through. Slipping, sliding, kicking up slush, I made it to the top. The steering has been clearly worked on, for it felt a lot lighter than in the previous Thar, making it easier to manoeuvre through the ruts. The low-end torque gave the push needed to get past the mud-bathed hill climb.
The next course involved traversing a rocky trail, finishing off with a splash. The rocky trail was no walk in the park — the rocks were quite slippery, and, at times, the Thar did momentarily lose grip, but the mechanical rear diff-lock played its part, improving traction and allowing the Thar to continue motoring along.
The seats have been made wider, making it more comfortable. Instrumentation and dashboard have been given a new look. With the new rear diff lock, the new Thar is even more capable off road. Pics/Mahindra
As I started inching through the water, the car's left side went into a huge ditch, leaving the right rear wheel in the air and devoid of any traction. Rear diff-lock to the rescue again, however, as I managed not to get beached here either. Through the course the Thar handled well and cleared all the obstacles with ease.
This is the first time in five long years that Mahindra's off-road monster gets an upgrade, and one that was definitely overdue. Priced at R8.04 lakh (ex-showroom, Pune), Mahindra's off-roader has proved its mettle in the absence of tarmac.
Need to know
Mahindra Thar CRDe
Engine: 2.2-litre, four cylinder, inline, turbocharged
Max Power: 105 PS @ 3,800 rpm
Max Torque: 247 Nm @ 1,800-2,000 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Price: Rs 8.04 lakh, ex-showroom, Pune
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