Photography by Kaizad Darukhanavala
Indian market has a dearth of ‘proper SUVs’ (read ladder frame-based) under the sub-10 lakh mark. With the Thar, Mahindra has 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 makers 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 be the second car for buyers, which Force Motors clearly intends it to be?
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 manoeuver 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 interiors are a big let down 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 than the earlier unit 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 off road capabilities. The H-geometry gearbox (finally) is now cable operated and although not the slickest units out there, it does the job fairly well. The first two ratios are low while the fifth gear is overdrive.
There are no safety features except seat belts and even ABS is optional. Space on the inside is great and clearly more than that on the Thar and Bolero. However, the driving position is still very ‘truck like’. The steering is not height adjustable and so are the seats. For someone with long legs (like me), hitting the steering with the knees is a regular phenomenon as the dead pedal is set way too outwards to my liking.
How’s it 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 clutter 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. 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 road driving 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 gets your forearms worked out and so do the diff lock levers but remember, this is all mechanical. There are no driving modes, no electronics to help you. 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.
Should I get one?
Priced at Rs 7.95 lakh and Rs 9.13 lakh for the Xpedition and Xplorer variants, respectively, the Gurkha is not exactly affordable. In fact, it is more expensive than the Thar by over ₹40,000. What you’re paying for is the engine, refinement and space over the Mahindra. The Gurkha’s only letdown is its poorly finished interiors, but when you get your hands dirty after some mud plugging, the panels will be extremely easy to clean. At this price point, the Gurkha then is not exactly a practical option but still makes for a great off-roader with excellent ability.