Why do people in India LOVE the Mahindra Thar?
They like it big!
There is no denying the fact that India has found an obsession with larger things. Massive farmhouses, women with gargantuan buttocks and mobile phone screens the size of their faces. This led to the increase in the popularity of SUVs in India. So much so, that one of the highest selling sedans in the world, which is the Toyota Corolla got discontinued here! This country runs on the term 'Mera Tere Se Bada Hai' or 'Mine Is Bigger Than Yours', and fight over everything to make themselves look imposing.
But all the size matters things aside, there has been one SUV which besides being popular became a local hero, a cult. Like a young political leader who is followed earnestly by the youth, even if it means it will take a week-long yoga lesson for you to hook up with your partner in the back seat of it. It is the greatest thing that has happened to automobiles on 4 wheels in India, the Mahindra Thar.
I've never seen so much attention given to a car in our country than the return of the Chicken McGrill Burger at the local McDonald's. Everyone recognizes the shape or even the silhouette of it in the dark, be it a kid or a person nearing their 80s. The Thar is a household name, just like Lizol Cleaner, Vim Bar and Amul Butter. It also holds more aspirational value than a Degree at IIT, you tell a youngster to work for that degree and then tell them they'll be able to get a Thar for themselves and see the change of expressions. I for one have been a huge fan of the car since the inception of the brand Thar, and a little before that when my maternal grandfather used to drive around in a (then new) Mahindra MM540, which essentially is the bloodline predecessor of the Mahindra Thar.
Tell me about any automobile under 15 lakh rupee price tag that looks this imposing. The classic boxy SUV silhouette, massive wheel arches and the minimally raked front windshield is quintessential recipe for making the Thar look badass. The bad guys love it, the entrepreneurs arrive in it at meetings not letting their clients speak much, your boss will hate you getting all the attention. You'll be carrying more pretty women in the 3 seats available in the Thar to nightclubs and horse races than your friend driving that flashy Audi. The Thar is a go anywhere, do anything at anytime SUV! It isn't a ginormous lump of steel with sophisticated tricks, it feels at home being a functional, utilitarian B.E. degree ( Bachelors of Everything ) holder. I really like how it has separate clamps on the bonnet to retain the lid if the lock gets loose after you've taken a jump off the little cliff. It also looks very classic Mahindra, like how the Armada used to have back in the 90s. The wheel arches are as thick as your arm and the wheel well can accommodate a family of goats during hot summer months.
Everything about the Thar shouts 'glorious' out loud. There is the old school charm in the way you open up the boot too, as the boot lid is now two pieces where the rear window opens upwards like a usual boot and the actual door opens horizontally making it very practical when you're trying to find the right coloured sweater from the bags kept in the trunk without getting showered with snow from above. The alloy wheels look pretty stunning, especially in this shade of smokey grey, they really up the game of making the Thar look very attractive. The massive centre spare wheel mounted on the rear tailgate comes with no cover as standard and does add up to the butch appeal.
On the inside, it looks pretty much like the Thar is ready for the war! The vertically raked dashboard and hard plastics do make you feel they will last a nuclear attack. 'Functional' is what comes to mind when you first glance at the entire setup in front of your eyes.
There are analogue clocks in the instrument's panel and a coloured MID screen in the middle which does give sufficient driving information including a compass, which is pretty handy if you're running after finding the perfect spot to see the sunrise, driving off your home at 4 am.
The steering is made of PU and is not leather-wrapped, and at this price point where it is almost touching the INR 20 lakh marker, I do expect that luxury, but considering the Thar will be used like a mad-max escape vehicle every single day by most owners, it actually makes sense to not have it, since PU is so much easier to clean and maintain.
The centre console comprises of the gear-lever which is, errr, leather-wrapped with a differential selector which again is leather-wrapped, and it all looks and feels very premium indeed. We have the Automatic variant here and the selector doesn't look out of place or oddly designed. There is also a good amount of space liberated around the gear-selectors, like the nifty rubber padded cubby space to keep your mobile phones and other utilities, useful cup holders that can swallow most sizes of cups and handy items.
What's stuck to the top of the dashboard is a rather 'Toshiba-Toughbook' inspired multi-media infotainment screen which has way too much data to play around with. The thick plastic bezel around the infotainment screen makes you feel like it can take inputs from the Hulk, even if he chooses to drive this car in sheer anger. There are shortcut buttons to different features on the screen and a physical rotating knob to control the volume which is pretty handy in the days when all cars available in the market today are giving touch-sensitive volume controls too.
Everything in the cabin is logically laid out and the cabin is very ergonomic to use daily and even if you're doing about 500 - 600 km in a day on a road trip, you won't be tired at all. The front seats are very supportive and hug you well with thick side bolsters a great lower back and shoulder support, the same thing cannot be said for the back seats though. As much it is spacious to sit on the back, I am 5 feet 8 inches and my friend Kartik, who clicked some great photographs of the Thar is about 6 feet tall. With him sitting in the front I still have space to stretch out a little and have a relaxed ride. The seats are marginally well cushioned too.
The problem is, that there is no space to keep your crisps, phone, wallet or even a cup at the back. The wheel wells, on which the rear seats are placed are covered with carpeting. Mahindra could have used this space to at least give a cubbyhole or some kind of storage for the rear passengers. And since this is a 3-door SUV, accessing the rear seats isn't like walking in the park. You have to be Baba-Ramdev's favourite student to make your way in as the front seat do not go all the way ahead or fold completely to give way for the rear seat passengers. It is worse if your belly looks like Jupiter or worst you've recently gone through spinal surgery.
How is it like to Drive?
The Mahindra Thar, in the practical world is the greatest off-roading vehicle one can buy south of Rs. 15 lakh. The way it tackles bad roads in India to start off with is absolutely sensational to experience. Throw a massive pothole, crater, asteroid hole etc in front of the Thar at city speeds and it just decimates the undulation while enjoying your favourite chocolate bar or sipping in the blueberry shake from McCafe, whichever grinds your gears. The 255/65 R18 CEAT CZAR A/T tyres play a vital role in giving greater grip during low traction situations and have comparatively lower road noise filtering through. I was driving pretty rapidly through the unpaved roads around Dwarka Expressway in Gurgaon which is still majorly under construction, and with layers of ruts and gravel on the road, it shone really well in the handling department.
There is just too much confidence that the Thar supplies to the driver. 225mm of ground clearance, massive 41.8-degree approach and 36.8-degree departure angle helps in heaps in taking over any type of terrain, boulder and speed hump even with a full load. What helps this process further is the brilliant mHawk 130 diesel engine on our car mated to a slick 6-speed automatic transmission that produces, well, 130 bhp of Max Power and 300 Nm of Max Torque which kicks in at 1600 pm. The manual gearbox is smooth, but the automatic gearbox is better in my opinion and does the job very efficiently while running your pretty cabin crew girlfriends to-and-fro from work, not that I have any, but I am just making a reference after watching John Abraham and Akshay Kumar in the movie 'Garam Masala' with full jealousy and laughter of course. What impresses the most about this engine and gearbox combination is the way it delivers the torque to all 4 wheels in 4H mode, and carries the rather lighter kerb mass with significant ease.
What hits home?
It is the square-ish silhouette of the Mahindra Thar that reminds people of yesteryears, it is classic, yet modern. It brings good memories to the elderly and gives great thrills to the younger generation, and the fact that this is also one of the safest SUVs built in India with a 4-start Global NCAP safety rating, following the Thar's cult has proved to be a safe bet. There is a handlebar on the passenger side of the dashboard which, when I was younger used to hold while I stood in front of my grandfather seated. The way it behaves on and off the road has been advanced thanks to newer and better technologies and upgrades to materials, but the clinical character of the MM540 and the way the chassis used to flex over undulations is carried over for good. It does create a very humbling experience for the Indian consumer who has lived around the forefathers of the Mahindra Thar. The last generation was the final hurrah to the pure mechanical no-nonsense ladder of frame SUV and a lot of purists still prefer it over what we have today. But as new demands come and technology advances, the new Mahindra Thar caters to the geeky demographic as well keeping the classic character and experience intact that is unmistakably Mahindra!
What the 911 is to Porsche, the Thar is to Mahindra. The aspiration value that the Thar surround itself with is intense. Youngsters save up for it during their college days so they can buy it out when they get into their first job, people really love it for the emotions it beholds. Most of us don't buy it as our primary car, but it isn't a bad alternative as one too, especially if you live alone or have a partner. I personally, love the Thar for what it possesses and the lineage of glorious SUVs it projects. The new generation is advanced in its mechanical setup and does keep you entertained with its multitude of electronics too. I've been wooing some geography and geometry enthusiast friends with the off-road instruments that show up in the central infotainment screen. You can never get bored of the Thar, and that it guarantees, there is so much you can do with it, it's not even funny and that is what makes it one of the most cult-worthy SUVs in India. Go drop your bookings now before they stop making cars like these!