Mahindra Thar and Force Gurkha lock horns
Forget all the bull you hear about men with small jewels driving big SUVs. The size of your manhood is irrelevant. Unless you’re driving one of these, and driving them the way they are meant to be driven. Then you are probably hung like a horse and are all the better for it. The Mahindra Thar and the Force Gurkha are the rides of choice for the men with hair on their chest. The guys who spend their Sundays wading through muck for kicks, instead of milling about the brunch buffet. For some, they are weekend toys. For others, they are life. But we’ve got a question, and a pressing one at that. Which one of these undeniably cool machines is better? Both the Thar and the Gurkha have been updated since the last time they faced off against each other, and they’re going head to head again.
“The Mahindra Thar and the Force Gurkha are the rides of choice for the men with hair on their chest”
The Thar update has been around for quite a while, since 2015 to be precise. While the underpinnings remain the same – the ladder frame chassis with the 2.5-litre common rail diesel that puts out 105bhp and 247Nm – the major change was the addition of an Eaton M-Locker, essentially a mechanical locking differential to add more off-road cred. Other minor changes were made as well to the wheel arches and bumpers, and the interiors were given a major overhaul.
The Gurkha’s update is more recent, and came in mid-2017. It carries over the same 2.6-litre direct injection diesel engine that now makes 84bhp (previously 80) and 230Nm and is now BS-IV compliant. The chassis is a new C-in-C one instead of the tubular one but the even bigger update is that the rear suspension has been updated from leaf springs to a multi-link setup. This particular one on test is the Gurkha Xplorer 3-door hard top variant (there’s also a soft top), but you can have it as 5-door as well (only with a hard top). The updates to the Gurkha are more comprehensive, but do they affect the way it drives?
On paper, the Thar and the Gurkha Xplorer are closely matched in terms of off-road ability. Both (obviously) have a low-ratio transfer case but beyond that they are differently specced and make for an interesting match up. Take their approach and departure angles for example, where the Thar has a slight edge. The Thar has a 44-degree approach angle, and a 27-degree departure angle in contrast to the Gurkha’s 39-degree approach and 27-degree departure angle. Both have good ground clearance, which improves once you slap on (optional on the Gurkha, aftermarket on the Thar) mud tyres (approximately 10 grand per tyre). However, on the Thar, you still need to be wary of the low hanging clutch hose that is prone to getting snagged by a stray rock, and the low hanging exhaust as well.
The previous generation Thar didn’t have a differential lock which hard core off-roaders clamoured for. You could end up in situations where all torque was being sent to the wheel that had no traction, thus becoming difficult to get unstuck. However, this updated one gets an Eaton M-Locker, a mechanical locking differential that automatically engages when it senses a wheel speed difference of over 100rpm. This is only fitted on to the rear axle, but it is extremely convenient as it requires no manual operation and helps immensely off-road.
“On paper, the Thar and the Gurkha Xplorer are closely matched in terms of off-road ability”
The Gurkha, on the other hand, is an absolute beast in terms of its mechanical specs. It has differential locks on both axles that you can manually lock via levers in the cabin. (Though doing that will give you a solid left bicep workout!). Once the Gurkha gets moving, or crawling rather, there is actually very little that can stop it — except you tipping it over!
That being said there’s more to just angles and locking diffs off-road. In terms of wheel articulation both 4x4s got through everything we threw at them without a hitch. The Gurkha has a low first gear and plenty of torque and when left to its own devices in 4-low it will clamber over practically anything. Just ignore the bent bumpers (actually the bumpers are so strong they don’t bend either!).
“The Gurkha is an absolute beast in terms of its mechanical specs”
The Thar on the other hand doesn’t have the sheer crawling capability of the Gurkha, however when driven well it can go just about anywhere. But that is the crucial bit – it has to be driven well. Nevertheless, the Gurkha does have its own drawbacks. This being a hardtop it is quite top-heavy and is more prone to tipping over if it finds itself at a crazy angle to a steep incline. We had no intentions of finding how steep an incline that would be, though. But again, the Gurkha claws back points by virtue of the fact that it gets a snorkel as standard, not to forget the two locking differentials.
However, you also have to live with these off-roaders. Once you’re done with your trail, are these SUVs you can use on the daily commute or should they be locked up in the garage till the next one? Well, it depends on how much of a sucker for punishment you are. Neither of them are really built to mollycoddle or keep your bum happy on long highway stints. They’ll do the job, and that’s about it. Bugger off and look elsewhere if you expect more. If we had to pick one 4×4 to live with on a daily basis, which one would it be?
“Ergonomically, the Gurkha is as crude as the oils flowing out of wells in the Gulf”
The Thar is certainly more civilised in this regard. Sure, the Gurkha whups the Thar hollow when it comes to ride quality (the leaf springs on the Thar make it quite jumpy and skittish) but ride quality isn’t the only factor. Ergonomically, the Gurkha is as crude as the oils flowing out of wells in the Gulf. Its got an extremely high seating position, a raked out steering that feels truck-like and a dash from the last millennium. On the other hand, you sit lower in the Thar, the driving position is more SUV-like and the dashboard has been given a proper overhaul.
No longer does it look like someone has filed the edges by hand, but it is well thought out with good quality knobs and the cabin even gets (many) usable cubby holes. The Gurkha has the advantage of being a hard-top which, while making it more top-heavy, also means the cabin is better insulated from noise and the elements. I really have to stress how big an advantage it is – in the Thar you can hear conversations of bikers next to you at traffic lights and if the Gurkha is idling behind the Thar you hear more of the Gurkha’s engine than the Thar’s own!
“The Gurkha is also extremely tall, especially with that massive roof rack with an axe (yes, an axe!), a shovel and a nutty ‘Built For War’ stickers on it — it just might not fit in your garage”
With both 4x4s you have to deal with manual windows, jump seats that will annoy the daylights out of your passengers and rexine seats that your ass will perspire over. But that’s what you get when you buy a vehicle of this nature. The Gurkha is also extremely tall, especially with that massive roof rack with an axe (yes, an axe!), a shovel and a nutty ‘Built For War’ stickers on it — it just might not fit in your garage! That rack, along with the front and rear bumpers, the headlamp and windshield protector, the jerrycan holder (that juts out annoyingly, you have to be careful in traffic) and the ladder are available as an accessory set for around Rs 40,000. Considering how purposeful they make the Gurkha look, I think they’re worth the money. You don’t want someone mistaking your hardcore off-roader for a Trax now, do you?
On the performance front, the Thar has the upper hand. It has a punchier motor and the advantage of being lighter. That means it picks up speed faster than the Gurkha can, and can hold higher speeds on the highway as well. The Thar will hit speeds of up to 120kmph, while you find the Gurkha running out of steam post 90kmph. The Gurkha, after all, is running the age-old Mercedes-Benz-derived OM616 engine. It is a common rail diesel that has been updated to meet current emission norms but it simply can’t deliver the same punch as the Mahindra’s, especially with the weight it has to pull around.
“On the performance front, the Thar has the upper hand. It has a punchier motor and the advantage of being lighter”
Look, the two have very distinct identities. The Gurkha is after all, a modern day G-Wagen, while the Thar is the modern day incarnation of the original Jeep. This updated Gurkha has plenty of links to the legendary Mercedes-Benz. The most apparent is the styling — the distinctive nose (swap the F with the three-pointed star and you will fool most people), the slab sides, the indicators on the corners of the bonnet, the three-piece rear glass, even the proportions – all point to the original G (OG! Look up the Urban dictionary!). The engine is also a derivative of one that the original Gelandewagen ran so you have pure blood running through it! Today, all we think about when we see the G-Wagen is the G 63 AMG with the mad V8 under the hood but we forget that its origins were far more simple, far more utilitarian. The Gurkha is that original, utilitarian and awesomely capable G-Wagen of the eighties. And just like the OG it ain’t a piece of cake on the road. But it is cool as f***.
“The Gurkha is after all, a modern day G-Wagen, while the Thar is the modern day incarnation of the original Jeep”
The Thar on the other hand has become a commonplace. When it was launched back in 2010, it was insanely cool. But now you can find one around every corner, and it has aged as well. If we had to put our road-tester hat on and recommend one of the two, it would have to be the Thar. It remains the one that is easier to live with, offering a good compromise between on and off-road usage. It is more civilised. But look at the Gurkha. It tugs at the heartstrings, does it not?