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2021 Force Gurkha first drive review: A good alternative to the Thar?


The all-new Force Gurkha is finally here, but has it arrived a bit too late to the party?

We were very excited at the 2020 Auto Expo when Force showed the all-new Gurkha. It seemed like a step in the right direction with an all-new ladder-frame chassis, striking design and more premium insides. The excitement, however, started to fade away with the launch of the all-new Mahindra Thar, a massive leap ahead of its predecessor. Now, after more than one and a half years of its unveiling, we finally got to drive the new Gurkha. Is it good enough to up your excitement quotient? Or has it arrived a bit too late to the party? 

Same but different

From the first time you lay your eyes on the new car, it looks unmistakably like a Gurkha. The squared-off design inspired by the Mercedes G Wagon is carried over and although it doesn’t look modern, it definitely looks retro and grabs attention. All the body panels are new and up front, the all-LED headlights look fantastic. The grille design is all-new with a mesh pattern and the big Gurkha lettering proudly takes centre stage. The bumper with integrated fog lamps looks rugged and the high bonnet with indicator lamps on either side gives it an in your face look. 

In profile and from the rear the new Gurkha looks almost the same as its predecessor. However, the body panels are a bit rounded which makes it look more modern. I also particularly like the huge single-piece rear glass which helps the Gurkha look longer than it is and the door hinge mounts are not exposed anymore which adds a bit of sophistication. The 16-inch alloys do look attractive but unfortunately are an optional extra. You also have to shell out more for the metal roof rack and rear ladder. The snorkel, though, is standard.  

All-new insides

Like on the outside, even the insides of the Gurkha are all new. The new dash layout is ergonomically friendly and all the controls are laid out more logically. Quality, too,  has taken a huge step in the right direction, as all the materials feel more premium and robust as compared to the old car. But when you compare it to the new Thar, it doesn’t feel as premium and even when it comes to features it falls a bit behind.

The new instrumentation still looks old school but is better integrated as compared to the old car. Where the old car had its tacho on the dashboard, it is now integrated within the instrumentation and overall the large fonts make it easy to read even on the move.

Trying to catch up with modern cars, Force now offers a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system sourced from Kenwood. It gets features like Bluetooth connectivity, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Although decent as compared to modern units, this Kenwood system still feels archaic when it comes to software, graphics, touch response and screen quality. 

In terms of charging sockets, the Gurkha has got all four passengers covered as they will have a dedicated USB port for each of their phones. Other than that, the Gurkha offers front power windows and manual air conditioning.  

When it comes to safety in the Gurkha, you now get ABS with EBD, dual airbags, rear parking sensors (no display) and central locking as standard. A special mention is afforded to the fact that all three passenger seats get ISOFIX child seat anchorage including the front seat! But some of the features are either missing or the execution could be better. The TPMS system, although a good feature to have, isn't executed too well, as the numbers kept fluctuating randomly even while standing still. Additionally, the omission of three-point seat belts for the rear captain seats seems like a huge oversight, especially when passenger safety is now given more importance than ever before.  

Surprisingly spacious and practical

Although the new Gurkha won’t wow you with features, it will certainly please you when it comes to space. Up front, the seats are comfortable with a good amount of shoulder room and headroom. The low window line and high seating also ensures you get a commanding view. The seats, although a bit flat, are supportive enough with a good back and under thigh support. If we had to complain then it would be the steering placement. Although you get height and reach adjustment, the steering is placed too low and even at the highest position, it is still too close to your thigh. 

At the rear, you get the same bucket seats as the front with an armrest. As a result, they prove to be extremely comfortable with ample knee- and headroom. The large fixed glass window and the fact that you sit higher as compared to the front passengers gives you a great sense of space at the back. You can also recline the rear captain seats if you want to take a nap. To get in the rear seat, you have to enter through the back door as the front passenger seat doesn’t get a one-touch slide or tumble function. 

That said, it is not a big problem as the rear door is big and the rear captain seats are placed far enough for there to be enough space to walk between them. But the problem is when you load the boot up there is no way of getting in or out of the rear seat. This is a huge oversight and should have been thought through at the initial stages of the design itself. 

Boot space figures are not given, but space behind the rear seats is ample for large suitcases and duffel bags. And because the space between the rear two seats is flat, you can even load up things there. But if you have a large article, say some furniture, it will not fit in the Gurkha as the seats do not fold flat, and that is a big downside. 

Upgraded heart

The new Gurkha comes with the older 2.6-litre turbo-diesel motor and not the newer 2.2-litre diesel which the old car got in its last stages. However, the 2.6-litre motor has been upgraded to meet BS6 norms. Force also claims to have heavily reworked the motor to improve refinement and power. Although they have managed to bump up the power on this engine, it still makes a not-so-thrilling 91PS and 250Nm. 

Force Motors' first promise of the updated engine being more refined is true. From the get-go, the motor feels remarkably more silent and even on the move, it remains as composed as modern engines should. Despite being low on power, the new Gurkha feels surprisingly at home driving at low speeds. There is an ample amount of torque from as low as 1400rpm, so you don’t have to constantly shift to make progress. The 5-speed gearbox, too, has smooth shifts and the clutch is light enough which helps make the Gurkha surprisingly easy to drive in the city. 

It is out on the highway however, where this motor starts to feel a bit out of breath. This engine feels comfortable to drive around 80kmph but beyond that, it struggles to gain pace which makes it quite cumbersome to drive. The lack of punch also makes overtaking quite tricky. So overall the Gurkha is fine to drive in the city but it struggles a bit out on the open road. 

Ride and handling

This lack of versatility is evident in the way the new Gurkha tackles our roads too. At low speeds, the ride quality will surprise you with its plushness. The soft suspension has the ability to gulp the worst road imaginable and while doing so the suspension remains silent. Even for such a tall and heavy vehicle, side to side motion is well controlled. But tackle not so perfect roads at speeds above 50kmph and the Gurkha’s dynamic envelope falls apart. Over broken surfaces, body control is not that great as the car tends to get unsettled. The soft suspension, too, can’t cope with the tall and heavy body as it never feels settled and forces you to slow down. 

Even when it comes to handling, the light steering, which is a boon at low speeds, feels overtly light when you are going faster. This, coupled with the soft suspension, hefty bulk, tall design and wide dimensions makes it a rather sloppy handler. When driven hard, the tyres start squealing early and there is plenty of body roll while negotiating bends which can get unnerving. 

Mud plugging

We didn’t get the chance to drive the new Gurkha off-road to its fullest potential. Of course, when you look at the hardware and the spec sheet it should be as capable as its predecessor. You get a four-wheel-drive system with a low-range gearbox for when the going gets tough and you can also manually lock the front and rear differential for maximum traction. Even the massive ground clearance gives you a lot of confidence and thanks to the standard snorkel you won’t worry about tackling deep lake beds too. However, In our brief off-road excursion, we came across one issue. The front suspension lower arm juts out quite a bit and also sits quite low to the ground. As a result, we did end up scraping it while driving over rocky terrain. 

Verdict

The Force Gurkha is a huge step up from the car it replaces. It looks more modern yet intimidating, the cabin is better appointed and it is better equipped too. Even when it comes to practicality it is spacious and has comfortable seating for four and unlike its main rival, the Mahindra Thar, it gets a proper boot. The engine is more refined than before, it is surprisingly easy to drive at city speeds, and the low-speed ride is very comfortable which makes it quite good for everyday commutes. But it doesn’t quite have the requisite dual personality which we’ve come to expect of modern cars. 

Where you will feel comfortable driving it at low speeds, as out on the highway the engine feels lethargic, the ride is unsettled and the handling is sloppy. It also has some fundamental design issues like getting in the second row is almost impossible if the boot is loaded or rear-seat passengers just get lap belts. Overall if you want an old school off-roader that feels like one, then the Gurkha fits the bill. Problem is, at a similar price you can buy another off-roader that will be almost as capable at mud plugging and the one that doesn’t compromise on everyday usability as much as the Gurkha does. And so, it clearly seems to have come a bit too late to the party.

More on Force Motors Gurkha

Force Motors Gurkha

Force Motors Gurkha

Rs. 13.59 Lakh Onwards
Ex-showroom, Delhi
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