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At this low price, is the Thar a true off-roader?

What you are looking at it is the most affordable 4x4-equipped SUV with low-range in the South African market. That is an important fact. South Africans love a good off-roading adventure and, when it comes to dust-filled exploits, a great number of people have a memorable story to share.

Originally starting with Jeep lookalikes under licence in India, Mahindra has been building capable off-road vehicles for a number of decades. Today, the Thar is still heavily based on these earlier models and, as part its current new-model initiative, the company has reintroduced it to the South African market.

The Thar looks pure Jeep Wrangler from every angle, which is a good thing – who doesn't like the Wrangler's rugged 4x4 design? That, however, is where any similarities with that well-known off-roader ends. The door opens with a regular key and, once you've climbed over an intrusive ridge, plastic-bedecked seats and a very basic interior await you.

Ergonomically, the cabin is poorly resolved. From behind the steering wheel, the rev counter and speedometer are partly obscured, and the gearlever is very close to the end of the handbrake lever. Selecting reverse painfully sandwiches your thumb between the gearstick and handbrake. The B-pillar mounting point for the seatbelt is also too far forward, resulting in a belt that doesn't run over the top of your chest and shoulder like it should. Furthermore, should you wish to drive at night, the headlamps offer minimal illumination.

Although a very sturdy unit, there was a tremendous rattle coming from the canopy's rear door. To be fair, though, Mahindra South Africa did inform us that this locally manufactured canopy is still in its prototype phase. The rear seatbelt-less benches face each other, although our unit came without the padding for the seats (possibly also removed by Mahindra as part of the canopy testing). On the upside, however, there's an infotainment system with Bluetooth, USB and aux-in connections. But it's an option...

Once on the move, the gearbox allows for fairly slick and direct shifts once warmed up, while the 2,5-litre turbodiesel pulls with sufficient vigour to easily stay with traffic up until about 100 km/h. Above that point, however, you need to abandon any ideas of overtaking traffic.

The ride is choppy and bumpy, but that is understandable given the Thar's off-road-biased suspension and the resultant generous articulation. The live axle with leaf springs and short wheelbase don't help, either. During our performance testing, great care had to be taken in our emergency-stop procedure from 100 km/h. Without ABS, the braking times were very poor and, on some of the stops, the wheels tended to lock up.

Up until this point, it may seem Mahindra has completely missed the mark with the Thar … but it would be wise to remember the vehicle has really been built with one thing in mind: formidable off-road prowess. And so we tested that remit.

Once on our off-road course of choice outside Stellenbosch (watch the video here), with low-range engaged via the manual lever sited a few centimetres to the left of the clutch pedal, and equipped with optional Cooper tyres, the Mahindra was ready for some extremely challenging rocky and muddy inclines. And it performed well. At times, it did bounce and hop excessively, but with measured driver input, it was able to get out of tricky situations and succeeded in traversing some terrain many thought it would not manage.

The optional rock slider and belly plate mounted underneath the Thar also helped to protect the drivetrain and underside of the car – a huge benefit, especially on the severe rocky sections of the 4x4 test route. One element that does need improvement is the handbrake, which didn't do a sufficient job during the off-road course and at times even the brake pedal went soft. This could severely hamper an all-terrain trip.

We had no such complaints about the engine, though, and the mechanical-locking differential (automatically actuated when a speed difference of more than 100 r/min is detected between the wheels) was a welcoming addition when driving over obstacles.


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.

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.
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Full Manufacturer Specifications

Standard - standard Optional - optional
  • Cloth upholstery: Standard
  • Seats quantity: 2
  • Air conditioning: Standard
  • Cup bottle holders: Standard
  • Airbag quantity: 0
  • Power steering: Standard
  • Powersocket 12V: Standard
  • Folding roof: removable soft-top (opt removable hardtop)
  • Fuel Type: diesel
  • Fuel range average: 800 km
  • Driven wheels: all
  • Driven wheels quantity: 4
  • Gearratios quantity: 5
  • Lowrange: Standard
  • Gearshift: manual
  • Transmission type: manual
  • Diff lock: rear
  • Front tyres: 235/70 R16
  • Reartyres: 235/70 R16
  • Length: 3920 mm
  • Width excl mirrors incl mirrors: 1726 mm
  • Height: 1930 mm
  • Wheel base: 2430 mm
  • Ground clearance minimum maximum: 200 mm
  • Turning circle wheels body: 11.5 m
  • Approach angle: 44.0
  • Break over ramp angle: 15.0
  • Departure angle: 27.0
  • Wading/fording (water crossing) depth: 500
  • Unladen/tare/kerb weight: 1745 kg
  • Gross weight (GVM): 2200 kg
  • Towing capacity - unbraked: 750
  • Fuel tank capacity (incl reserve): 60l
  • Fuel consumption average: 7.5 l/100km
  • CO2 emissions average: 199g/km
  • Power maximum: 79 kW
  • Power maximum total: 79 kW
  • Power peak revs: 3800 r/min
  • Power to weight ratio: 45.3 kW/ton
  • Torque maximum: 247 Nm
  • Torque peak revs: 1800-2000 r/min
  • Torque maximum total: 247 Nm
  • Torque to weight ratio: 142 Nm/ton
  • Acceleration 0-100 kmh: n/as
  • Maximum top speed: n/a km/h
  • Engine position/ location: front
  • Engine capacity: 2498 cc
  • Engine size: 2.5l
  • enginedetailshort: 2.5TD
  • Engine + detail: 2.5 turbo diesel
  • Cylinder layout: inline
  • Cylinders: 4
  • Cylinder layout + quantity: i4
  • Valves per cylinder: 4
  • Valves quantity: 16
  • Turbocharger: Standard
  • Warranty time (years): 2
  • Warranty distance (km): 50000 km
  • Service plan: Optional
  • Service plan time (years): opt 3
  • Service plan time (distance): opt 60000 km
  • Service interval (distance): 10000 km
  • Brand: Mahindra
  • Status: c
  • Segment: passenger car
  • MMcode: 41515101
  • MMVariant: THAR 2.5 CRDe 4X4 SOFT TOP
  • MMintrodat: 2016-05-01
  • Introdate: 2016-06-10
  • DuoportarecordID: MahiThar1feb1

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