New Mahindra Thar Review; SUV Tested Off-Road Too
The all-new second generation Mahindra Thar has created quite a buzz since it was unveiled. After our first impression, now carandbike brings you the comprehensive on and off-road review of the diesel manual and petrol auto.
The Mahindra Thar is a legend to some, definitely very desirable to many, and just plain exciting to most. But since its arrival in 2010, the Thar always stopped at mere conversation because the actual car was far from practical. That is, until now. Everything has changed with its second generation. The new Mahindra Thar is slicker, sexier, safer, and more sophisticated in every sense of that last word. Be it the engineering or the design. We have tested the Thar in its mStallion petrol automatic convertible avatar – yes you read that right – convertible. And I also have with me the same colour, but with the mHawk130 diesel heart and a manual shift. The convertible option only exists in the soft-top, while the hardtop option is all-new. But both cars with us are LX – the lifestyle variant, and not AX or adventure. So as the more ‘urban version’ this Mahindra Thar is a bit more plush, and offers not just the auto gearbox, but also 18 inch wheels as opposed to 16 inchers on the AX.
Design and Styling
Let me say this up front – staying true to the 3-door Thar heritage is well and good. But Mahindra will do well to give us a longer wheelbase 5-door at some stage. Just look at the Wrangler, Bronco and Defender globally, and you’ll know what I mean, and why it is important. Still by giving us this avatar up front, the car remains every bit the Thar and yet immensely modern and better finished. Does it look like a Jeep Wrangler? Yes, but the reasons for that are not exactly what you may think. The metal and paint on its body panels, the styling and shaping of said metal, the plastic parts like the fenders, wheel arches and even the hard top – all so much better done than before.
The daytime running lights on the fenders are a nice touch, but having xenons or LED headlamps as an optional extra at least would also have been nice. The LED taillights are a nice design detail, as is the split tailgate. The hood is raised – and while it may be for reasons of pedestrian and crash safety too, the effect is one of more heft and adds to the design as it slopes down a tad to the grille. The hood latches ties are a nice touch. And yes the exposed door hinges, and rugged wheels are very much in keeping with the Thar. The same holds true for the large chunky bumper with the Thar name embossed into it as before. On the whole though the car’s design is very butch, but slickly finished. So it is very appealing and yes even more universally desirable than before. The same is true of the dash and the seats. But we will get to that.
Controversial Front Grille?
Let us spend a little time on that front grille though. The original Mahindra grille – as seen on the last gen would be the 7-slot. This derives from the early Jeeps that Mahindra built under license. There were agreements in place between the two companies until the more recent past where FCA has taken Mahindra to court in the US over its use of the said grille on cars like the Roxor. So what you see on the Thar is M&M’s way of playing it safe and moving away from the slots altogether and going to a checkered pattern instead. Do I love it? No! But I also don’t hate it. To many this will just seem like a new design direction – good or bad. The purists will scoff at it, and demand the 7-slot grille, which means the after-market entrepreneurs will have a field day providing them with one no doubt! So instead what if Mahindra just did a 5-slot grille or painted the vertical slats that you see in the new design, into being body coloured? Would love to know what you think. You can tweet me here.
Diesel Thar Performance
I began by driving the diesel Thar on tarmac with a highway run. It has the 2.2 common rail unit that makes 130 bhp. It also has 300 Nm of peak torque that kicks in nice and early at 1600 rpm and travels in a wide band to 2800 rpm. So even though like on the last car, the focus is on low-end torque you get more of it on the new one. And so the engine feels very pliable, and the gearbox marries to it nicely. It is a new manual transmission that the Thar gets and yes it is progressive – a 6-Speed. All that torque means frequent gear changes are not necessary, even in traffic.
|Specifications||Mahindra Thar mHawk 130|
|Max Output||130 bhp @ 3,750 rpm|
|Peak Torque||300 Nm @ 1,600-2,800 rpm|
But imagine, turning up the radio with steering mounted controls, flicking on a rear windscreen defogger, or using cruise control – in a Thar! So, it wasn’t too long ago, you wouldn’t have expected, or even dreamt of any of that being on a Mahindra Thar. And then I am hooked up to my phone on Apple CarPlay; yes I think I am dreaming. That’s the point! The car has just gone miles ahead of where it was. All of that plus the refinement levels and that smooth new 6-Speed, literally come and slap you in the face – because you don’t expect any of it! Or at least not at this level. The whole experience is elevated and the diesel engine certainly has been worked on too. Extremely refined, and especially more so when compared to the previous CRDe. It’s also a little bit quieter and in all this it does not compromise performance. Pickup is good, and the car also cruises comfortably.
The only thing is that becomes a noticeable negative for me? Not loving the brakes. They could have been certainly more precise. It is disc brakes up front, drums in the rear. I felt the brakes are not sharp enough and lack the bite I would’ve wanted. This was even more worrying once conditions turn wet, because then they feel even more squidgy.
Petrol Thar Performance
The Thar gets a petrol engine for the first time, and guess what? It’s even more powerful than the diesel! This is the first application of the mStallion family of turbocharged engines. The new 2-litre unit makes150 bhp, is peppy from word go and its 320 Nm of peak torque is available from 1500 rpm. There’s minimal lag and the 6-Speed auto box responds to driver inputs well. Power is available at your disposal. Had this engine been developed just for the Thar it may not been this powerful, or refined, or this good! But the mStallion family of GDI turbos will also go into the future XUV 300 and 500, the next Scorpio and others. I will say this though – Mahindra’s focus on powertrain is usually with a view to end use, and not just to satisfy fuel efficiency figures. So that approach means the engine has turned out to be a gem. And the smooth auto will be welcomed by all, including many women buyers, who love the idea of driving a tough SUV like this one.
|Specifications||Mahindra Thar mStallion 150 TGDi|
|Max Output||150 bhp @ 5,000 rpm|
|Peak Torque||320 Nm @ 1,500-3,000 rpm|
Ride & Handling
The new Mahindra Thar feels very planted. The ride quality is also pretty good – almost plush. So the car has a very comfortable fee, and there are no vibrations anywhere. Ride quality is just a million times better than before. The car handles much better than before. The stiffness and short wheelbase give it good road manners, and it does much better around corners now, than the old car did. 4 wheel drive is standard across the range, and the suspension – while stiff, has been tuned well to give you a good balance of on-road comfort and off-road requirements.
I decided to take the diesel Thar off-road but have also brought an old one along for the excursion. Having driven the previous Thar multiple times, I can vouch for its crazy good off-road capability. So first I want to say that given the incessant rain and part of the track having turned clay-like, I stayed away from the muddy steep inclines for safety reasons. Yet I did take both cars through a fair bit of slush, deep ruts and ditches, and very uneven surfaces. So while many may not call this hard-core off-roading, I am still putting them through some of the paces.
So I did one run with the old Thar and then subjected the newbie to the same – in fact to a bit worse. The Thar is every bit as capable – and that is obvious right away. Needless to say I did not have off-road tyres on either car. But the 4X4 system is spot on. The Thar has a dedicated torque split transfer case, a mechanical rear diff, and an easy to use shift on fly. I did not need to engage four-wheel drive all through, and rarely had to go to 4 low. The suspension is perfectly tuned to endure punishment, and very forgiving. Comfort is not compromised much even though the chassis is pretty stiff on the whole.
The Thar has an approach angle of 41.2 degrees on the AX with 16″ wheels, and 41.8 degrees on the LX. The departure angle is 36 and 36.8 degrees respectively. The ramp-over angle is at 26.2 for the AX and 27 degrees for the LX (which has the 18-inch wheels, remember). The ground clearance is at 226 mm for the LX and 219 mm for the AX. The car’s water wading capability stands at a 650 mm depth. To put it into context, the new Range Rover Evoque can do 600 mm, while the mighty new Land Rover Defender does 900 mm. You also get hill hold and hill descent on the car.
So whether it was fording through areas flooded with water, driving across a lake bed, enduring huge ruts – I sailed through with ease. And the best part? You can do all that, and that too from the comfort of an air-conditioned cabin that stays nice and cool because of the hardtop. I am not complaining one bit, and could do this all day today and tomorrow! The only thing I did miss at times? The reverse sensors are not as sensitive as I would have liked. And then these days you really do expect one other piece of equipment, at least at the top end – there is no reverse camera! Well this is not the car to get if you want all the bells and whistles I suppose! And any potential camera housing would have to be tough to survive all the off-road madness!
You do get the car’s real time adventure readouts – meaning it will show you the lateral and longitudinal position of the vehicle on its touchscreen. The same screen setting shows you engine output in its on-road avatar. An outside temperature reading would be nice too given how outdoorsy this car is. So that’s a definite miss.
But for those of you asking if this is Mahindra’s answer to the Creta or Seltos – or even the Venue and EcoSport – I give you the XUV 300. Having said that I do think the more urban and daily drive appeal of the new Thar over the last one will attract some of those customers anyway. But let’s look at the cabin in some detail now.
The design of the cabin has come a long way. The steering used to be a little off-centre is now where it’s meant to be! The overall look and feel has changed big time – with a properly designed dash and instrument console that looks more modern. The plastics feel reasonably good, as do the well-cushioned seats. In fact both are washable, if you get dirt or mud on them.
Ergonomically placed buttons and a better quality of materials used make the Thar’s cabin way more appealing. There’s a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The instruments are simple yet smart, and there is a screen within the dials to give you car and trip information. Steering mounted controls and a very strong AC round things off. The fan on that AC is a bit noisy though, and feels like it’s at a higher number even when you set fan speed at 1.
Rear Seat and Space
The rear is new to the urban LX model – since it gets a 2-seater front facing bench with three-point seatbelts. There’s decent knee-room, there’s still a lack of space for bigger individuals. In fact on very log drives, the rear is best suited for kids. And yes you access the second row by using the handle provided on the passenger side front seat. It pulls it ahead and reclines it forward. The seat has a 50:50 split so you can fold one or both down for additional luggage space. With the seats up there’s limited bootspace. That said, a full flat fold down on the rear bench would be a smarter idea. So honestly this back seat works well for kids only. The Isofix child seat anchors are a great idea and are standard. Dual airbags and anti-lock brakes or ABS, are also standard, while the top end also gets Electronic Stability Control or ESC. The AX version still gets side facing rear benches, and no seatbelts on those obviously.
The space at the back is also taken up by huge wheel wells on either side of the seat. These should have been concealed, or at least have had some sense of armrest/storage for the rear seat passengers. There are fixed glass windows in the hard top and removable ones I You get the rear speakers mounted on the roof – which is a nice touch. The convertible has a simple catch release that lets you fold the canvas top all the way back and down behind the seats. You can also unscrew the entire roof fitment altogether and put it away to become a true open-top jeep as it were.