Cruising at around fifty kilometers an hour, on the service lane running parallel to the Greater Noida Expressway, my colleague and I were enjoying the tranquil drive in my 1966 LHD (left-hand-drive) Willys CJ-3B, with its 2.2-liter F4-134 Hurricane engine purring away more silently than the right-wing on lynchings. The evening sun, a soft orange ball of fire by that time of the day, played hide and seek with us, sometimes from behind the under-construction skyscrapers; sometimes from behind the trees planted alongside the full length of the e-way by Ms Mayawati (or was it Mr. Yadav?). This stretch was the most pleasant section of our daily commute to office, with almost zilch traffic, and the aforementioned joyful star of the ecosystem for company. Yes, we worked nights or, like a few working "graveyard shifts" would say, "evening shifts". This was some twelve years ago when the Thar was still being developed; NGT (National Green Tribunal) was just a scornful idea; politicians were noble; people were courteous, and the world overall was quite a peaceful place.
However, that evening, our peace was disturbed a bit by mild honking, and the subsequent pulling alongside of a fourth (globally) generation Honda City (lovingly called the "Dolphin" in India, but also incorrectly known as type 3 Honda City, whereas, as per the correct chronology, it was type 2 in India), which drove by our side for about four to five seconds and then zoomed off into the distance. The gentleman driving it was my colleague's manager and his passenger seat was occupied by a teammate of my colleague. No, there was no "Each One Carry One" rule at our office; in fact, we were provided office cabs at no extra cost, but, wherever and whenever possible, I have always chosen to be in charge of my own transport. And this colleague was a friend who lived on the way, so he used to tag along as well.
Now, just before downshifting to overtake us in his car, I did notice the manager gaving us a supercilious smirk and wave, you know, the kind that said, "see you, slowcoach." I didn't mind, but my friend later confessed that he did feel like breaking his jaw. He didn't because his appraisal was due. And we're anyway peaceful people. Karma, they say, is a canine, and just around three to four minutes later, I found that Honda City taking a U-turn. It had rained heavily earlier that morning, which made the underpass a beautifully filthy, fifty feet long off-road obstacle course, filled with what looked like more than 12 inches of snow, er, mud and slush. Only the 80's kids might understand that the preceding statement was a tribute to Darrin Kenneth O'Brien's hit album from the '90s. For the rest of you, yes, it was indeed wet mud. My friend and I looked at each other with glee, like two children thinking about the same mischief at the same time, and the Jeep's 4x4 High ratio was summoned.
First gear, part-but-constant throttle, and the Jeep eased into the slush pit. It started crossing it with such disdain as if it were asking us "that's all you got for me, kids?". This was boring. Therefore, Half way through, a bit more throttle accompanied by a quick shift to second saw the rear stepping out, widening our smiles (and the Jeep's too), because now though the Jeep was still flowing ahead, it was doing so at an angle forced by my right foot and opposite lock shenanigans. Who said you can't have fun at 30 kph? Sebastien Loeb would be proud.
Sadly, we were out of it in a jiffy and the Jeep straightened itself the moment its ageing NDMS tyres found 100 per cent traction. My friend, signalling towards his Tissot (showoff!) said that we could do the drill at least twice again as we had time on our hands. I politely reminded him of his upcoming appraisal, disengaged the transfercase, and continued towards the office. We reached around seven minutes earlier than his manager, who couldn't see us in the eye the whole week.
But why am I telling you all this? Is this a CJ-3B review or a 2020 Mahindra Thar review? Of course, it is the latter. I just wanted to tell you that you can do all of the above in the new Thar, with air-conditioning on, AND also overtake the not-so-subtle offender in that Honda City (if you're still into that juvenile stuff). That should actually tell you a lot about the 2020 Mahindra Thar, but if you want to know more, I shall certainly oblige.
2020 Mahindra Thar Review: Design
Much has already been said about the design of the new Thar. Therefore, I shall save you the headache of going through the same redundant information again. Since you're reading this, I take it that you love the new Thar. If you don't love it and are still here, I'd suggest that you stop right there and read my KIA Sonet review, or, if you're richer, the MG Gloster review.
If you're still here, that shows you're an adamant soul—you have my respect for that. And love, if you're from the opposite gender. Talking about love, and I am sure you would relate to this, does it not often happen that when you like someone, it doesn't really matter how they look, you just like them? It could be because of the way they treat you; it could be because you are in awe of how could someone so capable be so humble; or it could be a mix of both. That's how my two RD350s, and the Willys, still make me feel. And that's how the new Thar made me feel. Perhaps, that's why I am otherwise still single.
My unabashed broaching about the seemingly perennial lack of any romantic liasion in my life aside, I am just trying to say that your liking, or disregard, for someone stems from their traits and not from their outward appearance.
That's the case with most 4x4s as well. While the ignorant see a rowdy creature, the knowledgeable know they've got a dependable companion for life. They would neither care about his imperfect smile. nor be embarrassed by the uncanny resemblance to a certain high-priced Hollywood actor; they know they'll have a laugh riot with him. They know he's just being himself, and isn't trying to copy anyone. They also know that the two fellas share the same DNA and that even both of them, deep down, know about it.
Moreover, the most crucial difference, especially for someone with low self-esteem, between the old Thar and the new one would be that if you drove up to a five-star's porch in the old one, the valet might take a second or two to identify whether you were a guest or a new vendor out delivering kitchen supplies. If you're in the new one, he would instantly smile and open the door for you.
It's the same story out on the road too. People around the new Thar would not picture you to be carrying stacks of hay in the new one.
Therefore, I give Mahindra and Mahindra an eleven on ten on the new Thar's design.
2020 Mahindra Thar Review: Interior
The Thar though won't mind carrying haystacks, other agricultural produce, or your own offspring, in-laws, etc., in it. Unlike most people, it's not judgemental. Plus, thanks to a water-resistant cabin, you won't hesitate to wash it down if you suspect the rear occupants to have silently succumbed to nausea.
I am not implying that the rear seat comfort is bad; no, not at all. I am just saying that you shouldn't be expecting the whole ambience at the rear to be as pleasant as in a five-door SUV.
Carry disposable bags if you really have to ferry nauseating people (pun absolutely intended) on a daily basis. The issue is, there is no space or pockets at the rear to keep those disposable bags. Mahindra should have provided either foldable cupholders, affixed to the sides above the rear wheel fenders or even a big pencil-box sort of a thing that could accommodate the aforementioned bags, and other small items.
Even better would have been armrests for the rear seats, on the sides, which would have not only added to the rear seat comfort, but also hidden the tacky carpeting on the rear wheel fenders. Thankfully the rear seats have a 50:50 split; therefore, like they show in one of their ads, you may fold one down to increase the boot space, and use it as a three-seater.
In fact, if Amir Khan someday makes a sequel of Dil Chahta Hai, he might contemplate using the new Thar this time, instead of the Merc. Saif would anyway find this Mahindra's rear seat to be a million times more comfortable than the commercial truck's perch he sat on the way back.
Still, if you ask me the variant I would buy, I'll take the AX with its side-folding seats and get a bed made with its mattress absolutely flush with the rear bench seats (with storage space below the bed). That said, even with the rear seats up in the Thar LX, there seems to be enough space for four people's weekend getaway baggage.
The front of the cabin is way better. The seats are great; the doors have storage space, and there's also some on the center console. The glovebox is lockable, but it's just one size bigger than a matchbox.
But as far as all switches and controls are concerend, they are big enough for even the most myopic of the lot, and I never had to hunt for any button, stalk, etc. The air-conditioning is fantastic, though the blower at level 3 and above is a tad louder than, say, the Sonet's in comparison.
The quality of the materials used is nice, and there's a certain amount of feel-good factor in the cabin that one never expected from any Mahindra three-door vehicle earlier. Overall, everything is well put together and the first impression is that it's built to last.
There are no ergonomic issues, thankfully, but I would like to point out that my left knee was touching the dashboard whenever my foot was off the clutch. I must also add that I am a short driver (a shade over five feet), who has to move the seat closer to the pedals by about 80 per cent on its rails. Professional dancers, whose muscle memory automatically allows them to keep their legs straight, might not face this niggle. I used the word "niggle" because it's not really a problem. The knee just touches the dashboard; it doesn't "hit" it to warrant plastic welding or an appointment with your orthopedic. Still, I shall check it again when I get the vehicle for a longer period.
The outward visibility is great, but new drivers might find reversing a bit challenging because the rear visibility is not that good. And there's no reversing camera. You'll soon learn, though. Or you may get the Thar convertible if you really think you'll find it difficult in the hardtop. I was driving the hardtop diesel manual, which reminds me to tell you that cabin is absolutely silent and vibration-free at idle (idles at around 800 rpm).
2020 Mahindra Thar Review: On-road performance
The new Thar, as you may already know by now, gets a refined 2.2-liter mHawk 130 engine that produces 130 horsepower at 3,750 rpm and 300 Nm of torque at 1,600–2,000 rpm. And I shall tell you exactly how these numbers feel from behind the steering wheel.
Take the smoothest steel barrel/drum you can find, the diameter of which should be around a meter, and length equal to the width of the Thar's bonnet. Then you wrap it around with multiple layers of gruyere, and roll it gently on the smoothest stretch of tarmac you can find, but not before you spread the thickest mayonnaise on the entire surface. Get the picture? THAT'S how this engine feels.
It's smooth, but continually reminding you know that your right foot is connected to something inside the bonnet that has a lot of torque. Torque, which allows the Thar to move at 40 kph in 6th gear without any lugging or lurching. More interestingly, it didn't bog down, or started to curse me, while climbing an incline at 35 kph in 4th with my foot OFF the accelerator pedal. No, I wasn't using cruise control. Do you still need an automatic?
In fact, in this new Thar, you can be at 60 kph in top gear, and nine out of ten times you won't have to shift down to overtake the vehicle in front. I will bring the in-gear acceleration numbers in the next review. This time, in the three-hour drive that we got, I could either drive, analyse, take pictures, and bring you this review or wander off in search of a deserted stretch to make in-gear acceleration videos safely, while leaving everything else and still run the risk of not returning the vehicle on time for the next-in-line journo. Of course, I chose the former. But I managed a 0–80 kph run. The Thar did it in a shade over 10 seconds with the AC on.
My next Thar review will also tell you about fuel efficiency, headlight performance, rear seat comfort, infotainment system, audio quality, and, of course, the vehicle's off-road ability (I'll still share a bit about it here as well). And why can't I tell you about the touchscreen infotainment system today? Because we were asked to not touch it as these vehicles were pre-production units.
But as far as this engine and transmission combination goes, I can say with absolute authority that you won't find it lacking in any department—be it clutch engagement, fueling, NVH (Noise Vibration & Harshness), standing start acceleration, and in-gear acceleration. There's lots of power everywhere, and you WILL enjoy driving the new Thar spiritedly, which is something that could not be said about the previous Thar at all.
Complementing the new powertrain in making the drive enjoyable is the steering, which, for the first time ever, listens to you and follows your commands like an obedient, skillful, intern. Also, it's not an eletrically assisted lifeless unit, but a nowadays-rare hydraulically assisted system. No, it's not heavy at slow speeds like most hydraulic steerings. And it's adjustable for rake.
If that was a bit too much for you to process, I'll simplify it for you: the new Thar does not need constant steering corrections like earlier, which not only makes it easier to drive in traffic, but also provides a lot more confidence at triple digit speeds. That, together with the night and day difference in chassis dynamics, also makes the new Thar feel at least ten times more reassuring on the road at high speeds.
Gone are the black and white era's leafsprings from the rear finally, and in comes a new mutlilink suspension that makes a world of difference to the ride quality. If Mahindra could find a way to slow down the rebound all around (that rhymed!), it would further enhance the high speed handling. Please note that I am nitpicking here, and the suspension is already beautifully sorted.
Also, I think the AX variants might have even better ride quality as they ride on slightly higher profile rubber [245/75 tubeless AT (all-terrain) radials on 16-inch steel wheels]. The LX variants employ 255/65 tubeless AT radials on 18-inch alloys. The slightly narrower tyres on the AX Thars might return better fuel efficiency as well. However, the differences in these parameters would be too small to swing your decision either way. Just so you know, the AX Thars ground clearance is 219 mm while that of the LX Thars is 226 mm.
Another thing that impressed me much are the brakes. I managed to find a closed road where I could accelerate the Thar to 80 kph and stand on the brakes. The Thar tracked absolutely straight while coming to a full stop in around three seconds.
2020 Mahindra Thar Review: Off-road ability
Now this is where no vehicle from any segment, in the Thar's price range, can touch it off the road. I am talking about vehicles on sale right now. The Gurkha BS6 isn't available right now, and you may get behind the wheel of a brand new Maruti Suzuki Gypsy only if you are in the forces. But then I don't think you will have the time to attend Sunday OTRs (Off The Road events) with us civilians.
More expensive machinery like the Isuzu V-Cross, Ford Endeavour, Toyota Fortuner, and MG Gloster will try to chase it (if the owners are daring enough) but will concede the moment the trails get narrower and/or they see something beyond the scope of their breakover angles.
Make no mistake, gentlemen—the Thar has always been one of the most capable off-road vehicles in the world, and the new Thar is no exception. I will talk about each and every feature of its 4WD repository when Mahindra gives me a test vehicle for a longer period, because, this time, every media house was prohibited from taking it off the road. By the way, this was BEFORE the pictures of crashed Thars started surfacing on the Internet. I have to mention it so that you know that International Business Times wasn't one of the media houses that damaged one. Also, no vehicle was harmed during this particular drive (three days in Gurgaon, where every media house was given three hours each with the vehicle) as Mahindra just didn't allow media houses to take it off the road. In fact, shortly thereafter they did conduct an off-road drive at ORAZ (Off Road Adventure Zone), Gurgaon (we weren't invited), and no vehicle was damaged there as well. I must also add that when we (auto journalists) couldn't break the big Gloster at ORAZ, the Thar would have had a field day anyway.
However, later on, Mahindra apparently didn't restrict the auto journalists from off-roading in the new Thar, and the results were all over the World Wide Web for everyone to see. So while a few auto journalists took Thar's "Aqua Marine" as one of its off-road features, and not as a shade of blue which it actually is, and took it scuba diving, there were also a few who inadvertently tried to check whether the airbags were working. Then there were a couple who could not take it out of 4L. I think, Mahindra would do themselves a favour by doing a telephonic interview to check whether the "reviewer" knows the difference between off-roading, skydiving, swimming, and crash-testing. For example, "what's the difference between a diff-lock and dreadlock?" could be one of the questions Mahindra can ask the reviewer. "Do you like Rohit Shetty's car-action sequences?" could be another, and a 'yes' should make Mahindra ban the media house for life.
Anyway, you may trust us to review the new Thar for you off-road without damaging it. As of now, I can tell you that all variants of the Thar get a manual (cable operated) Borg Warner 4x4 transfercase; electric driveline disconnect for the front wheels; and, save for the base AX Standard variant, all Thars get a mechanically locking rear differential as well. All LX variants get BLD (brake locking differential) in addition that acts on all four wheels. Although Mahindra told us that the BLD would work only when the car is in 4x4, I figured that it works even in 4x2 mode. How did I find that out? I made a short video where you can see the brake lights come on for a millisecond when I intentionally try to spin the rear wheels.
That said, Mahindra had indeed mentioned that BLD intervention levels would be revised in the production Thars and that the intensity of intervention might also differ from variant to variant.
Please also note that Mahindra has moved the diesel fuel tank (57 liters) to the middle, while its place at the rear has been taken by a 20-liter exhaust fuel tank (thanks to the BS6 norms). I was also informed that you can't use snowchains on the 18-inch wheels of the LX variants, but you can on the 16-inchers of the AX Thars.
2020 Mahindra Thar Review: Verdict
See, the Mahindra Thar was always one of the best off-roaders in the world. That hasn't changed; in fact, it seems that it has become even more potent in that aspect. But that's something you already knew or expected. What will matter the most to new buyers is the on-road behaviour of the new Thar, which, as mentioned earlier, has become phenomenal. But has the Thar become good enough overall to be your and your family's only car?
Yes, if your family comprises
- you and your parents (provided none of them is suffering from a severe case of arthritis)
- you, your wife/husband, and a child;
- you, your wife/husband, and a dog
- you, and your / someone else's two kids (if you're a single mother/father)
- you, your dog, and happiness
No, if your family consists of more members/entities than what's mentioned above. Still, I would revisit this section, and a few others, as and when Mahindra gives me a Thar for a longer period. In fact, I would then request my father, who has driven every flat-fender Jeep, and then some, to see how easy or difficult it is for him to get in the driver's seat of the new Thar. Fingers crossed.
In the meantime, you may check our 2020 Mahindra Thar buyer's guide: Variant-wise pricing, features, specifications to choose the best variant suited for you, while also not missing this one—Fact Check: Mahindra Thar 2020 reviews are in; they've got four things wrong—to check whether you've been misled about the new Thar.