The mountain goat gets cooler

Written by Vikram Chaudhary | Updated: Jun 30 2012, 08:23am hrs
This is one automobile review I waited and waited to write until the weather got as hot as it can get. And then I took the vehicle out. Welcome to the Mahindra Thar 2012the veritable mountain goat, now in an air-conditioned avatarbeing driven on the Delhi-Jaipur highway and the dry and dusty Aravallis in between, during what are among the longest (and generally hottest) days in this part of the continent, in the latter part of June.

For the uninitiated, the Thar was launched last year and, to an extent, was able to bring back the Classic charm (remember the Mahindra Classic that, despite its exclusivity, was not exactly lapped up by the jeep-enthusiasts). But the Thar also left much to be desiredespecially the fact that it came without even an air-conditioned cabin! So the Thar 2012 is Mahindras effort to up the cool quotient of the SUV.

Now, the experience of owning and driving a jeep is not something everyone appreciates. After all, a jeep isnt as comfortable as a car, a jeep requires more chores such as cleaning and washing (since most are either open or soft top), a jeep might require more overall maintenance than most of the modern cars, etc. At the same time, a jeep can easily take you where most modern cars cannot. A jeep gives you exclusivity.

Coming to Thar 2012, what youll immediately like is the butch styling of the vehicleyou get a wide stance, bulging bonnet and immense road presencethat will certainly give an adrenaline rush. But step inside and the feeling is exactly the opposite. What you see are appalling interiors, cheap plastic quality, and bad fit and finish. The driving position, though, is impressive and the upright seat gives you a commanding view of the surroundings.

On the highway: Mahindra has given the Thar a good combination of engine, gearbox and chassis. The engine2.5-litre CRDe, producing a peak power of 105bhp@3800rpm and a torque of 247nm@1800rpmhas ample grunt for effortless highway cruising. The ride quality, at least up to 80 kmph, is comfortable and even on bad roads the SUV remains pliant. But things change once you get into three-figure speeds where the noise levels exceed your comfort zone and the steering feels nervousthis I felt even on the smooth-as-butter stretches of the Delhi-Jaipur highway. The factory-fitted AC works well in temperatures exceeding 48-degree Celsius but, ideally, it works only for the front passengers, because though the blower is powerful enough to cool the rear section of the SUV, the fan noise makes you a bit unsettled. On almost any kind of road and at speeds under 100 kmph, you get car-like comfort and an AC that can handle the fiery Indian summers decently.

Off the highway: We all know that the percentage of SUV owners who go off the road is negligible but that might not be the case if you own the Thar. In fact, you would want to take the Thar off-roading and, once you do, the SUV feels even more pliant than on the road. Throw any kind of terrain at itdesert, slush, jungle trail, empty river bedand the SUV shows what it is capable of. And for that you dont even need to shift into the 4x4 modethe rear wheels are large enough to take you anywhere and out of anything. But if you do get stuck in, say, slush, bend forward and shift into the 4x4 modesurprisingly, the 4x4 shifter is located near the clutch, thus its difficult to reachand you will see the SUVs off-road capability will exceed your expectations. A simple foot-tap on the accelerator takes you out of almost any kind of obstacle, and that too in comfortthe AC, even at full blow, doesnt sap engine power one bit. While driving through the jungle trail in and near the Sariska National Park, the Thar felt very composed, and its 200mm ground clearance meant nothing, not even big rocks, touched the baseyes, this ones a true SUV!

Urban manners: If I felt positive about the Thar on and off the highway, driving on city roads left me a bit disappointed. The reason isnt because the Thar doesnt deliverthe reason is my, and other jeep-enthusiasts, heightened expectations. With the AC, the Thar is now practical for daily use, but it is still not what I would want for my 7-lakh-odd rupees! First, the plastic quality is a big let-down. Then there is no lockable glovebox. The steering wheel is off-centre (its a bit towards your left). The gearshift is cumbersome. And there are too many rough edges. On the positive side, the efficient power steering makes driving in the city quite easy. In fact, the SUV has a car-like turning radius of just 5.25 metres and, with the compact dimensions (it is just 3920mm long), it can be parked in the tightest spots.

Mathematics: Though numbers dont do justice to a vehicle such as this, allow me to present you a few calculations I did. The 105bhp engine is powerful enough to take the Thar from 0-100 kmph in 17 seconds, which is quite commendable for its size and aerodynamics. But what is more impressive is acceleration through the gearsit takes only 13 seconds to go from 20-80 kmph in third gear. Again, the AC doesnt sap the engine power and there is no noticeable difference in performance figures when driving with the AC on. The SUV returns 12 km to a litre of diesel.

Thar she goes: With the Thar, Mahindra can have a clear winner on its hands, if only with some improvements. Some things such as interiors of the standard of at least the Scorpio, sensible dashboard controls, better insulation, better carpeting, etc, can result in an SUV that might never face competition in the Indian market at this price point. If currently only the jeep-enthusiasts are curious about the Thar, such additions can make some of the mid-size car buyers consider this SUV. At the launch of the Thar 2012, a Mahindra spokesperson had said: We are responsive towards evolving customer needs and the launch of the Thar AC is a step towards giving our customers utmost comfort. Fair enough, but still not enough!

The Thar 2012 CRDe costs R6.75 lakh, though you also get the far less powerful DI engine option that costs from R4.6 lakh onwards (prices ex-showroom, Mumbai). Our suggestion: Stick to CRDe.