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2020 Mahindra Thar: First Look


Mahindra’s all-new Thar has gone mainstream. Well, mainstream-ish. We drive the petrol, diesel, automatic and manual Thar’s to see whether it deserves to be on your radar more than before

 

Who likes the Thar? Ask a roomfull of people this question and surely many enthusiastic hands will wave at you, proof that the idea of the Thar is more powerful than even its off-road abilities, which is saying a lot! Follow it up with another query: how many of you will make it your next car? The number of hands going up, will surely be far fewer. 

Ironically, the Thar’s tough as nails, go-anywhere and freedom-hunting persona is pierced and ripped to shreds by the simplest of questions. Where do I leave the shopping? What if it rains? Is it easy to drive? Can I listen to music? You get the drift.  But there’s a new generation Thar in town and it’s trying to change the status quo. A couple of hours with it have given us a feeling that the next time you ask others about committing to the Thar, many more hands will stay up in the air.

More Practical

Having designed it from the ground up, Mahindra has made the new Thar easier and nicer to live with, starting with the new hard-top option. The ability to stay dry in a downpour or cool in the summer is something most people would take for granted and now, the Thar finally delivers this convenience straight from the assembly line. And no, you can’t remove the hard top for some wind-in-the-hair experience. For that, you  have the option of a convertible soft top on the top-end LX (nickname by the hardcore off-roaders will be -  Lah-dee-dah) variant, whereas a fixed soft-top is standard on the lower AX (nickname by the urban crowd will be Aaf-roader) variant. 

The convenience factor on the LX variant is even higher thanks to a conventional forward facing rear bench. The side facing benches are available on the AX variant and offer seating for six, whereas the LX is good for four adults. Access to the second row is past the front passenger seat which tilts and slides forward easily at the pull of one lever. It is easier getting into this second row than in the third row of SUVs or MPVs where the second row doesn’t fold and tumble. So, pretty good. There is no shortage of headroom or kneeroom in these seats, and under thigh support is decent. You can even adjust the recline angle on these split seats by pulling on the straps located at the seat hinge. 

Behind the seats, there is enough room to pack in a couple of medium-sized suitcases. The 50:50 split seats can even be folded down when you want to really load up the luggage. Access to this storage area is easy as the rear glass can be flipped up conveniently in the hard top version. 

More…. normal. 

The new third generation platform that underpins the Thar has helped it in two ways. First, it has improved the drive experience and secondly, it has increased the visual oomph of the Thar by letting it grow bigger and thereby, more imposing. For the occupants, the width can be felt in the cabin, giving a greater sense of space for a more car-like feel. The Thar’s cabin, starting with the fit and finish, also feels more in line with mass-market cars. The seat fabric is suggestive of carbon-fibre and this is echoed by the plastic panel between the circular aircon vents on the dashboard. The toggle switch for the hazard lights gives a sporty touch too. Splashes of leatherette on the seat and prominent side bolstering make it look more contemporary.  While the seats felt a bit narrow, the height adjustable driver’s seat and the tilt adjustable steering wheel helped find a usable seating position quickly. 

However, the Thar still has a few ergonomic gaffes. The glovebox is ridiculously small, and the door pockets are very low. More importantly, the centre console juts out just near the driver’s shin, reducing foot room significantly. It doesn’t get much better even with the automatic transmission as there’s no dead pedal to rest your foot on. Also, rear seat occupants will find foot room under the front seats to be narrow and offset from the seats themselves. Plastic quality for the air-con vents was also a bit flimsy; however, they offer good adjustability for flow and direction of the cool air that the powerful air-con sends out.

The addition of a touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay, a six-speaker sound system (four of which are mounted on the roof and two on the dashboard), a colour LCD for the driver’s multi-info display (MID), cruise control, rear parking sensors, and the electrically adjustable ORVMs  make the Thar feel contemporary. Safety-wise, you get dual-airbags and ABS as standard while a tyre pressure monitoring system and ESP with roll-over mitigation is offered on the LX variant. A roll cage to protect the rear occupants in case of a roll over is standard on the LX, but optional for the AX variant. 

Ready for the Urban Crawl? 

For the Thar, crawling through the urban grind will be as easy as a rock crawl because, for the first time, it is being offered with a 6-speed torque-converter automatic transmission and a brand-new 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine too. Problem solved? 

Mahindra has rolled out new generation engines with the Thar, and yes, there is obviously a diesel on offer too. This 2.2 mHawk is an all-new, all-aluminium motor that is in no way related to the existing 2.2 mHawk. This engine makes 130PS and 300Nm of torque between 1600rpm to 3000rpm. On the streets of Mumbai, the drivability felt even stronger than what those numbers suggest; the Thar pulling cleanly from 1000rpm in third gear while ambling through traffic. Shockingly, the refinement levels on this diesel were very good too, getting only slightly loud when revved hard and staying smooth throughout the rev range. Apparently, Mahindra benchmarked this engine against the best in the world, luxury brands included. 

The AX variant is offered with a manual transmission only, irrespective of the engine you chose. Opt for the higher-spec LX variant, and you get the option of a diesel-automatic, diesel-manual and a petrol-automatic. Yep, there’s no petrol-manual combo in the top-spec version. 

Specifications

2.0-litre Turbo-Petrol

2.2-litre Diesel

Power

150PS @ 5000rpm

130PS @ 3750rpm

Torque

300Nm @ 1250-3000rpm (MT)
320Nm @ 1500-3000rpm (AT)

300Nm @ 1600-2800rpm

Gearbox

6-speed MT / 6-speed AT

6-speed MT / 6-speed AT

 

The petrol-automatic felt very refined and torquey to use. The Aisin-sourced 6-speed automatic was unsurprising; smooth but slow as durability is more important than lightning quick shifts in vehicles such as the Thar. Every now and then the engine would stumble through a downshift. This trait could also be seen when the auto was combined with the diesel engine. 

However, we’d wait for a proper test drive before passing a final judgement on it. 

Anyone can Thar!  

Light controls, be it the steering or the clutch on the manuals, meant that slipping into Mumbai traffic from the get-go wasn’t cumbersome at all. This Mahindra felt weighty when braking, but the bite from the discs is sharp and strong to reign it in when needed. Secondly, the cabin feels well insulated from the external environment. The doors and panels don’t rattle, further building a car-like ambience. 

If you factor in the ride, as you should, the car-like analogy ends abruptly. This off-road oriented machine shows its DNA by jiggling around and bobbing over smaller bumps, while flattening large potholes and craters. Mahindra has done well to weed out the crudeness to an extent that it can be considered a minor annoyance that you can learn to live with for everyday use. However, trading a mid-size monocoque-based SUV for a Thar to do a splash-and-dash-style 1000km run is not for the uninitiated in the world of old-school body-on-frame vehicles. 

More off-roady too.

Our time with the Thar was spent on tarmac, so we can’t vouch for its off-road credentials just yet. However, a quick glance at the specs on hand shows that the off-road ability of the new-gen Thar is more tempting for off-road junkies and noobs alike. For instance, the approach angle has remained unchanged at around 42 degrees, while ramp-over angle has improved to 27 degrees from 15 and departure angle has increased to around 37 degrees vs 27 degrees. 

Parameter

AX / AX (O) Variant

LX Variant

Ground Clearance

219mm

226mm

Approach Angle

41.2°

41.8°

Rampover Angle

26.2°

27°

Departure Angle

36°

36.8°

Tyre Size

245/75 R16 (All-Terrain)

255/65 R18 (All-Terrain)

Front Suspension

Independent, double wishbone

Rear Suspension

Multi-link, solid rear axle

 

When you combine that with an increase in ground clearance to 226mm, you get a package that should clamber over wild terrain with greater ease. The 255/65 R18 rubber on the LX variant has plenty of sidewall for rough roading, but if you are into rocky crawls, the 245/75 R16 with the much higher side wall will be a better bet. And if you are into watery adventures, keep in mind you have 650mm of wading ability. 

The 4WD architecture has seen a significant revamp too. Firstly, you can now shift from 2-wheel High to 4-wheel High while driving. To shift to 4-wheel Low, you will have to come to a standstill and this is much easier to do now.  A mechanical locking rear differential is offered on the AX variant, but the LX layers electronic aids on top of it to further its off-road prowess. Brake lock differential, essentially using the ESP programme, applies brakes on a spinning wheel to transfer torque to the wheel with more traction. The electronic package also includes hill-hold and hill descent control to make things easier for the driver. From a safety standpoint, the ESP also packs in rollover mitigation. 

Just to be clear, the hardtop is not removable, but the doors can easily be removed. The switches in the cabin have an IP54 rating, which means you can’t hose the cabin down after a nice slush fest. But, if you are to encounter a downpour while driving with the convertible roof down, you have enough time to stop and get the roof up before you really need to worry. Interestingly, you can take a hose and wash the footwell and the floor mats. Just remove the drain plug in the floor to drain the muck and water away. 

Wrangling for attention

Let’s get this out of the way, the Thar’s connection to the Jeep Wrangler isn’t lost on anyone. How intellectual property lawyers will look at it is for Mahindra and Jeep to worry about, but for you and me what matters is that the Thar looks wow. It has just the right amount of beefiness, as can be seen in the handsomely sculpted hood, and there’s a softness to the edges too, which makes it feel welcoming at the same time. The wow feeling is also thanks to the consistency in shut lines and the thud in the door shut. The finish for the paint and plastics make it seem that the Thar belongs as much in a hotel lobby or wedding reception as it does on a rural farmstead.

 

A few design highlights really stood out, like the beautiful 18-inch alloy wheels, and the drawing of the Thar followed by two camels at the bottom of the windscreen caught our fancy. The halogen headlamps might seem odd in an increasingly “all-LED” world, but you do get LED DRLs on the square fenders for a bit of the modern touch. The tail lamps get LEDs for the borders with “Thar” stamped in the centre, a bit unnecessary we think.  

Explore Now 

The Thar has undoubtedly widened its repertoire, and thus, its appeal. It is by no means the first car for most families. But it could wean its way up to becoming the third car in a household and in some cases even the second. The point is, the Thar’s appeal is now matched by a package that won’t be dismissed as impractical by most people off-hand. Earlier, buyers had to mould themselves into the Thar lifestyle. The new generation Thar shows it has tried to adapt to yours. We look forward to driving it more extensively soon and hope that the prices, to be announced on 2nd October, will enhance the newfound sensible quotient of the Thar. 

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