After the launch of the Thar, a lot of debate has ensued in the BSM office, some rather heated. Has the Thar gotten too soft, or will the new kid on the block thrash the stuffing out of the older jeeps? We just had to find out, so we took what we think is one of the best examples of the Mahindra jeep – the Classic – and pitted it against the Thar. Yep, we did all the hard work for you, so enjoy!
If you’ve ever wanted a wind-through-your-hair feel from a car, but wanted to go almost anywhere in it, you probably already own a Mahindra Classic. I have wanted one for the longest time, but have never got around to even driving one. Till today. I jump into the Classic, okay, I wriggle in one limb at a time and realise that this jeep wasn’t built for people like me. My knees hover too close to the steering wheel and there’s no other place for my left foot but the clutch pedal. My right knee is somewhat better placed, pointing out of the jeep. I move the bucket seat as far back as it will go, but it’s already reached the stop. Compared to the jeeps of the same era, the Classic’s interiors are relatively plush. You even get a distinct dashboard, with a hoard of tell-tail lamps clustered on the left in a rectangle, which intrigue me. There’s a light for everything, including one to perhaps guide lost aircraft home. There are 15 of these things in there! I twist the key, wait in anticipation for the heater light to go off and crank the engine over. What I am greeted with is the pitter-patter of the Peugeot 2112 cc IDI diesel motor. I look around at the chrome-ringed gauges – a full tank of fuel, healthy battery charging and about three bars of oil pressure – and I’m good to go.
If you have spent time with any of these Mahindras, you’ll know what kind of torque these things make. In case you don’t, well, they make enough tug to allow you to move from standstill in second gear without the slightest shudder. In traffic, don’t be surprised if you’re able to crawl about at 20 kph in third gear, without a murmur of protest from the engine. The Classic goes through its four gears rather quickly, warranting the top cog at about 40 kph to keep from over-revving the engine. Plonk down heavily on the throttle pedal and 80 kph can be achieved on the highway. I managed to push it to an indicated speed of about 95 kph, but the motor seemed too strained, thanks to the taller top gear. About 60 kph is where the Classic seems most comfortable at, and it can keep that pace all day.
On paved roads and at speed, the leaf-sprung Classic causes much chattering in my jaws. The ride quality is almost agricultural and clashy, regularly throwing me and the occupant about while traversing over the smallest of expansion gaps on the flyovers. I keep telling myself, ‘I love jeeps, I love jeeps’ and proceed to brace myself and my innards till we get to the offroading spot; I could feel the vibrations in my joints long after that, I can tell you.
As soon as its chunky wheels (too bad they weren’t the original wire-spoked specimens) feel the dirt, the Classic turns around and almost begs you to let it go. I decide to see how far this thing will make it in 2WD and off we went, chugging over everything I pointed it towards. The leaf springs flex with the symphony that only a battery of anti-aircraft Tunguskas in action can equal, and I jump over crests that would rip the guts out of other SUVs. Not once did anything require 4WD, despite there being sections that would bog most vehicles down. Suddenly, it dawned on me. This thing is a fish out of water on tarmac. The reason for its existence is here, off-road and in the wilderness. Jeeps weren’t conceived as urban transportation. They were made to ferry troops into terrain nothing else could make it into. The Classic is finally home. And it loves being there.
‘Ah, doors’ – the first thought that passed my mind as I slid into the Thar. One does tend to take bits like these for granted these days with our cars, but after spending a while in the Classic, a blower and power steering seem like manna from heaven. The Thar’s ergonomics are easier on my knees, allowing for more space between the suspended pedals and the steering wheel. The finish of the interiors is far from what pretty-looking metrosexual men, who know the difference between fawn and tan, could come up with. Rather, picture a bunch of hairy, flatulent blokes working bare bodied, hammering a block of iron into shape – that’s what it looks and feels like. The dash is off the Bolero but yes, I miss that of the Classic already. The classic circular oil pressure and battery charging (voltmeter) gauges are gone, replaced by a compact unit that houses a speedometer, an odometer, a tacho and a fuel gauge instead. These days, it seems, nobody has the time to watch needles on dials move - but honestly, I am fascinated by them. One glance at the gearshift lever and the little figures inscribed on the knob reveal that this is a 5-speed gearbox. The familiar 4x4 engaging lever is retained, though. I reach for the key and almost forget that there are no glow-plugs in this jeep – you just crank away. Once started up, the CRDe motor is amazingly quiet and most un-Jeep like.
Okay, so the Thar can do much of what the Classic is capable of in the dirt, but that last 20 per cent is where the older Mahindra trumps the new arrival. The Thar’s 2498cc motor is great for long-legged highway cruising, but in the dirt, you need to keep the revs up to keep that turbo spinning, unlike the Classic’s naturally aspirated motor. Drop any lower and the motor threatens to stall. That translates into frantic downshifting through the gears when scaling inclines and fording through slush. Another aspect that the Thar loses out on while offroading is the Classic’s dimensions. Longer, wider and with a lesser approach and departure angle than the Classic, the Thar can get itself into a situation tighter than it would actually prefer.
Wheel articulation is a term that gets most jeep enthusiasts all excited. It loosely translates as the lateral movement of the wheel and hence the more, the better because it ensures the tyres bite into the terrain, offering optimum traction – something very crucial to driving in the dirt. With an independent suspension, the Thar isn’t as articulate with the front wheels as the all-round leaf sprung Classic is. I drove the Classic’s front right wheel on to a mound and it seemed like no big deal, while the Thar, when perched on that same lump of dirt, wasn’t as comfortable as the Classic. But hey, not everybody who buys a jeep goes rock crawling with it and even if they do, it’s only the extreme end of things that might pose a slight problem to the Thar.
Off-roading done with, it was time to head back home – a long highway drive beckoned. As soon you’re on the tarmac, the Thar does away with all doubts about its capabilities on the blacktop. I was cruising at three digit speeds with the sort of ease that no previous Mahindra offering could ever provide. And no, I’m not talking about Boleros and Scorpios here. The 540s and the CJs were severely limited by their highway driveability and maintaining anything more than 70-80 kph all day was a sure way to cook your engine. Their vague steering wheels, with copious amounts of play, needed constant correcting to keep the things in line, which could get quite scary.
The Thar, on the other hand, barely stretches its legs at that speed – Mahindra claims a top whack of 150 kph. The steering, although relatively numb when compared to the other SUVs on the market, is much more precise than that of the Classic. Power steering helps while parking the Thar, but on the highway, there’s pretty much no more use for it. I’d safely say that with an air-conditioning unit in the Thar and some good music playing on an audio system – both of which you would have to get fitted yourself as of now – the new Mahindra is much less demanding to live with than its predecessors. Sure, it’s spartan when compared to the other SUVs available out there, but I’m certain that the Thar can tackle much more than what the others could even dream of. But despite all of this, I’d certainly take the Classic. Maybe I’m a purist. Or just plain masochist.