New Mahindra Thar 2020: 55 review observations

The Thar has terrific presence. People move out of your way and never cross hairs at junctions or roundabouts.

GTO test-drove the new Mahindra Thar for 2 days and here are his review observations.

• My God, the Thar looks astonishingly handsome & screams style! I have fallen for it hook, line & sinker. The “Jeep” styling & proportions are spot on (Jeep Wrangler xerox copy notwithstanding). It attracted as much attention as a yellow Porsche or red Mustang in Bombay and is an absolute head-turner. Kids young, citizens old & everyone else in between admire the Thar with glee. My sole complaint is with the front grille design, which can thankfully be swapped for a 7-slot Jeep-style unit in the after-market easily. The Thar has terrific presence. People move out of your way and never cross hairs at junctions or roundabouts. On the expressway, little hatchbacks & sedans moved out of the way as they saw me approach them (in their mirror) with the headlights on.

• Just like my 1997 Mahindra Classic, I decided to buy the 2020 Thar without a test-drive. Within the first km of driving it last weekend, I knew this is the Jeep for me. Buying it in 2021-22 so that the beta testers (aka early customers) can clear up all the bugs. I caught 1 bug in 2 days with the car = the alarm system once sounded off after I started the engine. The next day, it started after I switched off the car! If you are buying the Thar now, invest in that extended warranty!

• The build quality is tough, will withstand offroading abuse and it felt like I’m driving a “tank” in the city. Huge on the feel-good factor. Cruising around town and then Bandra, I felt like a King. This Jeep just makes you feel real, real special.

• The fact that the Thar has 2-doors and ingress to the rear seat is impossible for the elderly makes it an impractical choice. This 2-door Thar will appeal to a small market, after the initial euphoria dies down. In hardly any Indian home will the Thar be the primary car; in most cases, it will be the 2nd or 3rd ride of the house. Note: A reliable birdie tells me that a 4-door Thar is confirmed, but it might be a long wait.

• The Thar won’t be cheap. In fact, I’ll be surprised if it ends up with a value-for-money price tag. 1 reason is that the Thar attracts a “heart over head” kind of customer who isn’t that price sensitive to a variation of 1 – 2 lakhs. Two, Mahindra itself knows that this Jeep isn’t going to be a volume seller and will thus try to sell the limited number they can at a premium. Most businesses will prefer to sell 7 units at a high profit margin than 10 with a slim margin. Third, cars like these are all about fat profits & premium pricing – be sure to check out the Wrangler’s relative positioning in the USA. Fourth, the AT & 4×4 hardware add 1 lakh each to the price tag. I have a feeling that the fully loaded ATs will be 16 – 17 lakhs on the road (a Venue diesel MT FWD SX(O) costs 14 big ones OTR in Mumbai). Of course, the lower variants & MTs will be much cheaper & perhaps value-for-money. Also keep in mind that it has almost no direct competition (Gurkha & V-Cross are marginal players), although it does have a lot of indirect competition from same-price SUVs, crossovers and even the Scorpio!

• I like the cabin’s design & part quality is acceptable. There are a few rough edges, but they are not prominent (unlike the old Thar which was a disaster…this new one is lightyears ahead). It has most of the necessary features (including Android Auto but no reversing cam), and nothing over the top like wireless charging. Ergonomically, I found the Thar to be user-friendly and you have a lovely, commanding view of the road ahead (can even see the bonnet). On the flip side, the driver footwell is narrow, a dead pedal is missing and there is a prominent protrusion from the center fascia. This bit protrudes into the footwell and will rub against your left shin area / knee. Not much of an issue in the AT as you can adjust the resting spot of your left leg, but it might be bothersome in the MT.

• Driver’s seat is good – I used the lumbar adjustment and found back support to be perfect. Lateral support is also satisfactory. While short to average-height drivers will be fine with the under-thigh support, taller occupants (even me @ 5’10”) will find it to be less. I felt that the seatbase doesn’t extend out long enough. I also wish Mahindra had given armrests bolted to the seat, like in the Scorpio. Would be super useful in the ATs.

• Frontal visibility is awesome, as is the side visibility out of the front windows. Rearward visibility is pathetic (there was a Dzire parked behind me which might as well have been invisible) and equally terrible is the side-rear visibility (i.e. between the B & C Pillars). Major blind spots there, so be careful. Quite silly of Mahindra to not give the Thar a reversing camera.

• Useless IRVM is 2 sizes smaller than it should have been. ORVMs were okay; they are tall & very Jeep-like (again a Wrangler copy). I personally would have liked them to be a size wider because of the rear-side blind spots I mentioned above, but friendly Mod Aditya didn’t find any issues with them.

• The air-conditioner will chill you to the bones! Blower level 1 itself is powerful (more powerful than it ought to be IMHO). I didn’t engage blower level 2 at all, not even when it was hot & sunny outside.

• Sound quality from the audio system gets a 6 / 10 rating. SQ is quite basic, yet I have to say, it is remarkable what Mahindra has achieved with the unconventional speaker placements above the driver (under the roll bar). It sure takes some getting used to, receiving sound from above your head, and the driver’s left ear is filled with a lot more sound than the right ear. I was a happy user of Android Auto in the Thar. Using Moderator Navin’s expertise, I’ll definitely get a small amplifier, small subwoofer and upgraded speakers in my Thar. But again, as basic as the ICE sound quality is, it is still fine for a Jeep & the sort of restrictions that the design entails.

• The Thar does alright in terms of cabin storage. I used the practical cupholders for my morning McDonald’s black coffee (a must for highway runs), the door pockets for my sanitizers & tissues and the seatback pocket to hide my house keys. On the flipside, the glovebox is laughably small as is the boot.

• Back seat passengers have it tough overall – just 2 can fit on the seat (making the Thar a 4-seater) and ingress / egress are horrible. Once on the backseat, I could fit & sit alright (but nothing like the front). While I didn’t experience the backseat in a moving Thar, I’m willing to bet its bouncier here than the front. You better have good relations with whoever sits here. 

• Boot space is sad, comparable to a small hatchback. For driving holidays, the Thar is best for 2 – 3 onboard and their luggage. You can forget about going for a road-trip if you have 4 occupants onboard because their bags simply won’t fit! You’ll either have to do some jugaad by squeezing smaller bags on the sides of the rear seat (on the wheel arches) or hope for someone to design a carrier / temporary storage net hanging out from the back (like the old Jeeps). Yes, the rear seat’s backrest does fold down for when you need to haul larger cargo. In my ’97 Classic, I have removed the rear seat entirely and it makes for a terrific airport bag hauler (can fit 4 XL-size bags).

• Smooth, sprightly & refined are the 3 terms I’d use to describe the Petrol AT. Sprightly, but not F-A-S-T like a Creta turbo-petrol, mind you. Mahindra’s mStallion is a likeable motor. Power delivery is overall nice & linear. Your passengers will be comfortable as there is no jerkiness or sudden “turbo whoosh”. Because of the turbo-charger, even the midrange power delivery is satisfactory (with n/a petrols, midrange is usually a hit or miss).

• BHPians from Delhi-NCR (10-year old diesel car ban) and those who don’t care about fuel economy will be pleased with the Thar Petrol. The last such attempt from Mahindra was when they had shoehorned the Contessa’s Isuzu 1.8L into an MM550. I’d driven it at a Great Escape.

• The 150 horses on tap are more than enough for a Jeep like the Thar. Yes, it is sufficiently quick. Anything over this power rating would be outright irresponsible & dangerous for the Thar’s dynamics (or lack of). More on the handling below. At the Auto Expo, Mahindra had said this motor is good for 190 BHP. No way can the Thar handle 190 horses.

• The turbo-petrol revs nicely to the redline, but it isn’t a high-rpm motor at all. Even in kickdown mode, the Petrol AT shifts up at ~4,600 – 4,800 revvs which is quite diesel-like, frankly. In Manual Mode, you can take it to a max of 5,500 revs only (again, diesel-like). I must add, even at high rpm, the mStallion is refined like you’d never expect a Mahindra Thar to be.

• The Petrol AT has damn smooth shifting quality – most times, you won’t even know the gears are changing. I love how Mahindra & Tata are tuning their torque converters; the XUV500, Harrier & Hexa ATs have all greatly impressed me. I prefer torque converters to AMTs (too jerky), dual-clutch ATs (too unreliable) & CVTs (rubber-band effect). I did notice the AT gearbox getting confused in some situations – like when I was driving hard with varying throttle input – but these incidents were few & far between. The Aisin gearbox does a satisfactory job for the most part.

• Petrol AT’s response time (say, in kickdown) isn’t the fastest, but it’s not the slowest either. You could say it’s acceptable and I don’t see any owners complaining.

• Within the city, you’ll observe the Petrol AT being more downshift-friendly than you’d expect. When slowing down, I noticed it frequently downshifting to bring the revs to ~2,000 rpm, where other ATs would usually freewheel to maximise fuel economy. I think Mahindra has done this to prevent the rpm needle from dropping too low and to improve driveability / engine responsiveness. I personally prefer this as it leads to superior throttle response, although the FE-loving customer won’t. Useful behaviour when offroading too.

• The AT does have manual mode. No use on-road, yet will be very functional offroad. I am really looking forward to taking the Thar on my favourite offroad tracks around Maharashtra. Will surely be a different experience from offroading in my far simpler & basic Classic.

• The Petrol AT is a guzzler in the city! Factors like the weight + power + torque converter AT make me believe you should expect 6 – 7 km/l tops in the city (lower if you drive hard). Consumption on the highway remains high (9 – 10 km/l) if you constantly drive at 110 – 120 km/h, perhaps because of the breadbox aerodynamics? Be sure to get a full tank of petrol before you venture off the road in 4×4 mode.

• Buy the Diesel AT if you are going to cruise a lot. While I have yet to drive the Diesel AT, I have a gut feeling it’s the one I’ll bring home. IMHO, the diesel is more in line with the character of the Thar, its city FE will be 75 – 100% higher, while the longer tank range is a boon on the highway and when offroading. Offroading in my Jeep once, we went much deeper than was originally planned. I got pretty anxious when the fuel gauge dropped to 1/4th and the nearest pump was a 1.5 hour walk away. For this longer tank range alone, offroaders will pick the diesel Thar. High-revv a diesel in 4×4 2nd-low and your FE will drop to 5 km/l. High-revv a petrol in 4×4 2nd-low and your FE can drop to 2 km/l.

• Ride quality is sad, whether in the city or on the highway. It is liveable though. If you have driven Jeeps, Gypsys, Scorpios or even the 1st-gen Fortuner before, you should be okay. For those used to contemporary hatchbacks, sedans & crossovers, this bumpy ride will be the biggest deal breaker. You feel each & everything on the road – literally! Even on a clean expressway, the Thar is continuously pitching and moving up & down. The single time that the Thar is settled & flat is when it’s standing in one place :D. And yes, just to clarify, I did check the cold tyre pressures with my Michelin gauge.

• I like my offroaders & SUVs with smaller wheels & bigger tyres (like this Thar), so I am strongly considering moving my Thar to 16 inchers. That should help make the ride quality cushier too – (this Thar’s tyres) will give me 30 mm additional sidewall height from a tyre superior & softer to the OEM Ceats!! Will have to check & ensure there is enough clearance for the size.

• The Thar is a breeze to drive in the city. The sub-4 meter length, tall driving position, commanding view of the road ahead, friendly steering, smooth AT gearbox, responsive engine & the fact that other vehicles don’t mess with you made it easier to drive than a Honda City in Bombay. It’s very stress-free. The w-i-d-e turning radius is a bummer though, and u-turns on tighter roads will entail 3-pointers.

• For the sake of your safety – and that of your passengers – this is not a vehicle that you drive hard or aggressively. The Thar is a tall offroader, NOT a corner-carving machine. While I found the grip levels from the fat 255 mm tyres to be satisfactory, you must take corners cautiously. The height & weight are felt. Just to put things in perspective, a fast sweeping expressway curve that I would take in the Duster AWD at 120 km/h, I’d take in the Thar at 80 km/h as an expert driver (70 km/h for a layman driver).

• On the highway, the maximum cruising speed that I will recommend for the Thar is 100 – 110 km/h. At 120 km/h, the driver & Thar are both “too busy”. Also, any sudden road dips taken at 120 km/h badly affect the Thar’s composure. Remember, you are driving a vehicle that is an offroader, as much as an on-roader. Don’t push the limits or go near them. After testing its behaviour at various speeds, I’ll recommend a cruising speed of maximum 110 km/h on expressways and 90 – 100 km/h on old school 2-lane highways. The shorter wheelbase is responsible for the poor high speed manners too. Stick to the middle lane of the expressway, cruise at 100 km/h and enjoy the view. You’ll be comfortable & safe this way.

• Ground clearance you said? The Thar will climb mountains. And I mean that literally. If you ever get a chance, offroad in one. Will be an experience.

• The steering is user-friendly. I had no complaints in the city or on the highway. At times, its reaction time can be slow, but I actually prefer it this way in a Jeep that is a poor handler (sharp steerings are best suited to low slung, tight handling cars). At high speeds, the steering does get vague. Again, I’d rather have vague than sharp in such a 4×4.

• NVH: Very smooth in the city and at low speeds. Out on the highway, at 90 – 100 km/h, I could hear wind noise, but it was still acceptable for me because I keep my music loud. But at 110 – 120 km/h, it is LOUD. And this is the hard-top we’re talking about. God help us soft-top lovers. At 120 km/h, tyre / road noise is prominent as well. Allow me to twist that and put it the opposite way = @ 120 km/h, the only thing not making a noise is the engine rl:. Will add that the horn is too loud in the cabin.

• The brakes performed okay. No issues.

• I was originally thinking of using the Thar even for holiday drives which I go on often. But after experiencing its ride quality & highway manners, I’ll take mine on the highway just to offroading spots, or nearby destinations like Pawna & Devlali. For longer touring that’s 250+ km one way, I’ll stick to my modern sedan.

• I am buying the Thar, and so are many BHPians. But let me make it clear that the Thar is NOT for everyone. It is a special vehicle with many talents. However, there are also many compromises to be made. Be sure to take a long test-drive before you commit. Be sure to read this post again & again. Some of us will hold onto our Thars for 10 years, some will sell them within 2 – 3 years (as we see with impractical Harley-Davidsons in India).

• It is a full 10 years since I’m writing a review on a test car that I’ve decided to buy. And it’s always fun to review something interesting. After driving regular hatchbacks, sedans & crossovers week after week, we enjoy driving such “different” vehicles. 2020 sure has been a good year for enthusiasts = The Thar, Rapid / Polo TSIs, revv-hungry City, Octavia RS 245, Grand i10 / Aura 1.0 Turbos, well-mannered Creta 1.4 Turbo, the fast Duster Turbo (review coming up soon), Superb 2.0 TSI & more. The best part is, we still have 3 months left in the year!

Team-BHP’s full Official Review will be up in a few weeks. Continue reading the discussion on the 2020 Mahindra Thar on our forum.

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