THE INDIAN MARKET has had a dearth of ‘proper SUVs’ under the sub-10 lakh mark. With the Thar, Mahindra managed to capture the imagination of the buyer who needs a second car for the weekends to go adventure hunting Force Motors is following the same route. The Pune-based manufacturer have put their Rain Forest Challenge (RFC) expertise to best use on the upgraded Gurkha which now comes with 3-door and 5-door variants (named Xplorer and Xpedition, respectively). Can it worry the Thar?
The wild card here is the Xplorer. Clearly inspired by the legendary Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen, it gets black front and rear bumpers, black grille and refreshed lights. There are a host of accessories to choose from as well, such as a front bull guard, jerry can holder, roof rail, front LED bar light, side step and colourful decals. Force Motors is focused on promoting the products as rugged off-roaders. The earlier iteration was a mix of both machismo and elegance and that didn’t help matters much.
In fact, the Xplorer looks desirable in the dragon green shade when loaded with bells and whistles. Based on a rehashed chassis, the Xplorer gets all-new multi-link coil springs at the front and rear with diff locks, to help it manoeuvre through trails. The earlier car was equipped with leaf springs. The Xpedition though has not received as many upgrades and sticks with minor cosmetic changes and independent coil springs at the rear. The insides are much like the RFC spec Gurkha without the mud and water inside the cabin. The interiors are a big letdown on both the variants. The dated dashboard design has been retained with the exception of a new steering wheel and redesigned AC vents. The Xplorer gets loads of cubby holes while the same space has been wasted In the Xpedition.
The Mercedes-Benz derived engine is now Euro IV compliant and churns out four more horses at 84bhp. The torque remains the same at 230Nm. Force Motors claims that it is now more refined and the gear ratios have been slightly altered, to suit offroad capabilities. The H-geometry gearbox is (finally) cable operated and although not the slickest units out there, it does the job fairly well. The first two ratios are geared quite low while the fifth gear is overdrive. On the safety front you get seat belts while ABS is optional. Space on the inside is great and clearly more than the Thar and Bolero. However, the driving position is still very ‘truck like’. The steering is not height adjustable neither are the seats. For someone with long legs, hitting the steering with the knees is a regular phenomenon as the dead pedal is set way out of the way for my liking.
What’s it like to drive?
The suspension is sprung softly. And Force Motors’ claims on refinement stand true as NVH levels are a bare minimum for the type of vehicle that it is. Even the regular clatter from a diesel unit that you expect to hear at idle is highly controlled. The cabin noise is quite comfortable to live with and clearly betters the Thar. The biggest USP of the Gurkha is its ride quality. Where regular cars were struggling to get through the potholed roads to our off-roading location, the Gurkha just glided through everything without us having to even slow down over those crater like potholes. However that softness denies the Gurkha the planted ride you need on highways. The high stance and soft suspension results in considerable body roll so tackling long bends at high speeds is not advisable. However, under 80kmph when you aren’t pushing it, the Gurkha feels stable. The Gurkha’s on-road ability is just a means to an end – taking it to an off-road location, and that it does satisfactorily.
The off road capabilities are tremendous and there was nothing that could stop the Xplorer from moving ahead. We climbed wet hillocks, waded water, jumped over obstacles and tried several steep downhill descents. The transfer case gives your forearms a proper workout and so do the diff lock levers but remember, this is all mechanical. There are no driving modes, no electronics to help you or corrupt the experience. It’s you and the machine and that’s it. The experience of driving a pukka SUV off-road is something else and you don’t have to bother about costs as well, if you end up hitting something, unlike on a G-Wagen.