MUMBAI, INDIA – There's a cringe-inducing, loud thud as the undercarriage of the Thar hits the ground. It is one of those off-road moments where you hope you haven't broken anything on the car.

After I finally crest this challenging obstacle on the off-road course, I inspect the underside. One of Mahindra’s off-road specialists approaches me and asks if anything is wrong. I explain what has just happened, to which he laughs. “These Thars have been put through much more severe situations than this.” Yes, he may be towing the company line, but his facial expression doesn't exactly convey much concern.

Heading to South Africa
Mahindra imported around 300 Thars into South Africa a few years ago. However, these were very basic models and didn’t feature, for instance, air-conditioning. But, starting from the third quarter of this year, Mahindra South Africa will be launching a number of new models, and 4x4 enthusiasts will be happy to know that the latest Thar, with a round of refinements, will form part of this new range of models.

The current model is still very basic, but the interior is an improvement from the previous model. The Thar – based on the original Jeep that Mahindra built under licence from the late 1940s – is a no-nonsense vehicle and is built to be enjoyed off-road. That is also the message you get the moment you climb on board.

The 2,5-litre turbodiesel develops 78 kW and 247 N.m, and is connected to a five-speed manual gearbox. Next to this gearlever is the transfer case’s lever, which allows you to change between 2WD, 4WD and low range. The model I drove had a soft top, which can be removed, while the two benches in the rear – facing one another – can easily seat four adults.

Testing conditions
Before we tackled it, I was rather sceptical about Mahindra’s off-road course. South Africans who've been off-road have been exposed to tough conditions, so I thought this would be a comparative breeze. I couldn't have been more wrong.

The course featured a number of challenging obstacles, which the Thar conquered quite comfortably. Benefitting the vehicle is a limited-slip rear differential, a mechanical system that is electrically actuated the moment a 100 r/min difference in momentum between the rear wheels is sensed. There is no centre locking differential, though, but more expensive 4x4s tend to lack this feature, too.

Summary
I was suitably impressed with the Thar. We didn't get to drive it on-road, but it was in its element off the beaten track. It's very basic, of course, but that simply creates a blank canvas to which a 4x4 enthusiast can add their unique stamp.

Mahindra chose not to confirm pricing, but I suspect it will be very competitive. The Thar will be launched in the third quarter of 2016, together with the XUV500 automatic and the Scorpio SUV.

Look out for a feature on Mahindra in the June 2016 issue of CAR.