It was a pretty delicate situation that I had put myself into. I’m on a slope sideways and trying to inch my way forward. But there is more here than meets the eye. This is no ordinary slope I'm talking about. This slope was at a 30-degree incline and as a result I could almost lean out of the window and touch the flat ground. Me biting the dust or not depended solely on how stupid I acted or how capable this all-new Gurkha was. Thankfully it was the latter that prevailed and the Gurkha easily managed to crawl out of the situation. That’s when I realised why Force Motors had tagged the new Gurkha as the world’s first E.O.V or Extreme Off-roader Vehicle.
Now the Gurkha isn’t a new name, and for those who didn’t know it has been around since 2008. But then not many people have heard about it apart from off-road fanatics and I don’t blame them. Force Motors had built the Gurkha for export only and just 40 vehicles were sold to the general public. Based on the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon, the Gurkha came across as quite a basic but mighty capable off-roader and made quite a name for itself at off-road events and in the off-road community itself. Egged on by its capabilities and the increase in off-road activities, Force Motors has just come out with the all-new Gurkha 4x4x4.
In case you are wondering, that extra ‘x4’ is ‘not’ a typo. And just before you get excited and think that the extra x4 means a 4-wheels steering system, I am sorry to bust your bubble again. According to Force Motors, the 4x4x4 stands for 4-wheel drive for all 4 seasons on all 4 kinds of terrain. As silly as the name may sound, there is no mistaking the capability of the all-new Gurkha.
If you are out in the market for a hardcore off-roader, it has to look the business. The basic silhouette of the new Gurkha is similar to the old one, but it has gone under the knife for quite a few changes. Now the Gurkha does not have the macho-ness of say a jeep, but then it boasts a subtle aggression which is evoked only through the details. The first thing that tells you that this is no ordinary vehicle is that big shiny chrome snorkel.
The muscular side cladding on the side along with those chunky dual-purpose 245 section tyres wrapped around yummy 5-spoke alloys further enhance its brutish appeal. The front, however, is something my eyes don’t agree with. While the earlier Gurkha had rectangular shaped headlights, which gave the car its own identity, the new round ones give it a slightly confused face. All said and done, the Gurkha definitely arrests presence especially in the soft top trim.
Climbing aboard is a pleasant experience and even more so in the new car with Force Motors having addressed the interiors. The big comfortable seats along with hand-rests are extremely comfortable, but we would have loved to see some body hugging contours on it so that you move around a lot less while tackling those terrains. There is also a two-tone dashboard which looks quite decent. Quality of components is pretty average with a lot of not so good looking and feeling bits but then it’s no different from its immediate competitor, the Mahindra Thar.
Ahead of you are the dials, which consist of a speedo, temperature- and fuel gauge with a tiny rev-counter placed under the air-con vents. The AC vents are hugely adjustable but the AC wasn't particularly strong and the lack of it was felt strongly during peak noon. The high perched view is great though and the Gurkha’s A-pillars do not rob you of any visuals which is important considering the narrow trails the Gurkha will be treading on.
The driving position though is something that Force will have to look into. The steering wheel isn’t in your average driving position and instead slopes away from you pretty much like in trucks. Lock to lock turns can get quite stretchy and with no seat height or steering rake adjust, shifting the dog-leg gearbox into first takes quite some effort and reach.
Getting onto the rear bench requires the front seats to be folded ahead, while it’s not the most convenient way to get in, once you do it’s pretty comfortable. There is plenty of legroom even for the tallest of passengers. All said and done, the comfortable seats, the new moulded roof lining and the bright airy interiors make the Gurkha’s cabin quite a comfortable place to be in.
Right, interiors and exteriors done with, it was time to see what the Gurkha could really do. Force Motors have their very own off-road testing track which they use to gauge the ability of the vehicles, and a single lap with their driver behind the wheel was enough to tell us that tackling this course was not going to be easy. Twist the key and the 2.6-litre TD2650 Mercedes OM616-derived engine burbled to life.
The dog-leg pattern takes some time getting used to and the G1 18/5B gearbox is sure to work on your shoulder muscles. Drop the clutch and you realise how short geared the Gurkha is. It revs to a lowly 3500 rpm till you have to shift again. This might translate to a lot of shifting in real world conditions but what you gain is amazing throttle control.
At 82PS @ 3200 rpm and meaty 230 Nm between 1800-2000 rpm, the Gurkha had enough grunt to power its way out of most situations while the double wishbone-leaf spring suspension combination made sure we did not rattle our brains out. While the Gurkha breezed through most of the sections easily, the difficult track had enough halt our progress. Even fiddling with the second gearlever (the one that handles the 4x4 modes) did not help with the Gurkha struggling in 4L mode. This was where the differential locks came into action.
With conveniently located levers right next to the handbrake, the diff lock is a unique feature in the Gurkha that helps come out of situations when one or more of the wheels are slipping on soft ground or in the air due to undulating terrain and are unable to generate the required traction. Pulling the lever forces both the wheels to turn in unison enabling the wheel on the surface with more traction to rotate and pull you out of trouble.
Then there was slush and water deep enough to stall most other SUVs, but armed with the snorkel intake and 210 mm of ground clearance, there was no stopping the Gurkha. There were steep climbs and inclines too, but a 37-degree approach angle and a 34-degree departure angle meant the Gurkha hardly broke into a sweat.
Summing it up, the Gurkha comes across as one of the most capable off-roaders out there, but before you rush to get one, here are a few specifics. At Rs. 8.5 lakh it’s quite an expensive piece of kit and almost costs a whopping Rs. 1.4 lakh over the Mahindra Thar. There is also the soft top variant for Rs. 15,000 less and a 4x2 soft top that retails at a cheaper Rs. 6.25 lakh (ex-showroom Pune). And you can’t buy one in any city thanks to the Gurkha’s BSIII norms limitations.
A BSIV version is on the way but there is still some time for that. As for the quality issues, we were told that these vehicles were pre-production vehicles and the quality would be stepped up; however, things like the steering wheel angle and the stiff gearbox need to be addressed as well and with a hefty price tag people are bound to expect more finesse no matter how capable the vehicle is.
The good news is that the Gurkha will be available in a matt black shade that looks fantastic apart from the metallic red and green. It will also come with a very impressive 3 years/3,00,000 km warranty which is brilliant considering what the vehicle is built for. A proper production vehicle in real world conditions will give us a better idea about how the Gurkha will be to live with and a full test will certainly reveal that. Keep watching this space for more!
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