Here it is: your tool to ex­plore, ex­ca­vate and find new ad­ven­tures. Let’s Xplorer

Car India - - CONTENTS - Story: Sar­mad Kadiri Pho­tog­ra­phy: San­jay Raikar

It’s a vir­gin piece of land: lush green in the mon­soon, sur­rounded by un­du­lat­ing hills and streams flow­ing qui­etly. I absorb all this, take a deep breath and gear up for the daunt­ing task ahead. Hands firmly on the large steer­ing wheel, I take a quick glance to check if the 2017 Gurkha Xplorer is slot­ted into 4x4 High, and I step on the gas. Dart­ing straight ahead I hit the ridges and we’re off. It seems straight from a slo-mo ac­tion flick. The wheels are in the air for a few nanosec­onds… and we land with a thud. It brings us back to real time and rat­tles every­thing — pack­ets of potato chips and coins fly­ing like con­fetti. Now that’s one way to cel­e­brate.

Cut to real time: The field is filled with pot­holes, ditches and even rocks jut­ting out like black­heads on the green fuzz. But the Xplorer hap­pily hops, skips over them like a bal­le­rina, un­per­turbed. Us­ing the mo­men­tum I make it drift, and coun­ter­steer it back to the de­sired di­rec­tion.

Feels like we’re in slow-mo again as it ploughs through the

field, splash­ing muck and grime, trans­form­ing the green can­vas into a piece of art which can only be ap­pre­ci­ated by off-road­ing en­thu­si­asts. A cus­tom­ary splash through the wa­ter to wash it all off. What a ma­chine! And I’m all ear-to-ear.

And to think, I wasn’t very cheer­ful just an hour ago when I was handed the Xplorer key. It sure does look the part from the out­side. A mean off-roader — tow­er­ing over lesser mor­tal as it flexes its mus­cles. The boxy G-wagon styling is car­ried for­ward, but now it gets a new front grille and solid metal bumpers with round fog-lamps which make the 2017 ver­sion look like a se­ri­ous off-roader rather than its wannabe pre­de­ces­sor. Then there are other like­able bits such as its tall stance, fender-mounted turn in­di­ca­tors, and a very dis­tinc­tive snorkel. These el­e­ments, with this kind of lo­ca­tion, make the Gurkha look even more at­trac­tive.

The in­te­rior of the 4x4 is the least cheer­ful bit of this car. Most of the parts are hand-medowns from the older model, which looked dated even then. Be­sides the fact that the de­sign is util­i­tar­ian, the qual­ity of plas­tic is cheap. The Xplorer does try to be mod­ern by of­fer­ing a cou­ple of cup-hold­ers, slim door-pock­ets, a small glove-box, and even a charg­ing socket. There is no mu­sic sys­tem, power win­dows or cen­tral lock­ing. The outer rear view mir­rors (ORVM ) do not come with in­ter­nal ad­just­ment ei­ther.

How­ever, there are two ba­sic ben­e­fits of not hav­ing too many gad­gets in the SUV. First, if you don’t have it, you can’t break it... an im­por­tant as­pect while do­ing some se­ri­ous of­froad­ing. Se­condly, af­ter some crazy off-road­ing in the muck, one can sim­ply hose down the cabin clean.

But then there are some er­gonomic is­sues. For in­stance, the steer­ing wheel is tilted more to­wards the car’s roof than fac­ing the driver. It can be ad­justed nei­ther for reach nor for tilt, but is elec­tri­cally pow­ered. Other bits, such as the tachome­ter, are lo­cated on the cen­tre of the dash­board, so they don’t fall within the driver’s nat­u­ral line of sight. And while com­bat­ing Pune’s mon­soon, we no­ticed that there were streams of wa­ter flow­ing down on the wind­screen due to the front-slop­ing roof.

Like the older model, the Xplorer con­tin­ues to be pow­ered by the Mercedes pow­er­plant, but now it is BS IV-com­pat­i­ble. It also feels more re­fined as it doesn’t crank up with a star­tle nor has un­bear­able diesel noise. How­ever, for a two-tonne SUV its 85 PS out­put isn’t re­ally stag­ger­ing, though the flat 230 Nm of torque and short gear ra­tio help it crawl out of the stick­i­est of sit­u­a­tions and climb up prac­ti­cally any hilly roads.

Even the new five-speed gear­box has im­proved the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, be­cause one doesn’t have to strug­gle much while slot­ting the gears. Al­though it is not com­pletely ef­fort­less, it is still an im­prove­ment. Driv­ing

within the city or on the high­way, one must quickly shift up to fifth to main­tain a cruis­ing speed of about 80 km/h, beyond which it doesn’t feel as com­posed. We also feel that the brakes should have a stronger bite and more feed­back from the steer­ing to com­bat our un­pre­dictable traf­fic will be de­sir­able. This will hardly de­ter buy­ing de­ci­sions, though, for the Xplorer’s nat­u­ral habi­tat is bro­ken roads, or no roads, to be more pre­cise.

Yes, the Gurkha is rough around the edges but the pur­pose of its life is off-road­ing. And that’s one thing it does like noth­ing else in its seg­ment, or even one above. The pre­vi­ous model was good, and this one pushes the en­ve­lope even fur­ther. This is mainly due to the learn­ing from par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Rain­for­est Chal­lenge (RFC), an off-road­ing com­pe­ti­tion which is con­sid­ered to be one of the tough­est races in the world.

Adding to the all good­ness of the out­go­ing mod­els, the 2017 ver­sion gets a new C-in-C (lad­der frame) chas­sis which is stronger and more rigid. An­other wel­come ad­di­tion is the coil sus­pen­sion on all four ends, which has not just im­proved the ride qual­ity but also aids wheel ar­tic­u­la­tion while driv­ing over rocks or go­ing through ditches, while the in­clu­sion of a new rack and pin­ion setup makes the steer­ing light and more car-like. Like be­fore, there’s an ex­tra gear lever to se­lect “4x4 High”, “4x4 Low” or to stay in the stan­dard rear-wheel-drive mode. What makes it a thor­ough ad­ven­ture ve­hi­cle is the dif­fer­en­tial lock on both axles and, of course, the snorkel.

The only hitch that your jun­gle ad­ven­ture could face is its stan­dard on­road tyres. Force Mo­tors of­fer the op­tions of up­grad­ing to proper off-road tyres, along with a bunch of ac­ces­sories such as a winch, roof car­rier, jerry can, and even axe and shovel hold­ers. These fancy al­loy wheels are also an add-on as the stan­dard car comes with solid rims.

It’s safe to say that the new Gurkha is bet­ter to drive on and off the road than be­fore. Force Mo­tors of­fer Xplorer in var­i­ous vari­ants — three-door or five-door, with a hard top or a fab­ric roof, and with seat­ing ca­pac­ity vary­ing from five to nine.

This isn’t a car for the faint-hearted, though. If you like off-road­ing (and we mean se­ri­ous stuff in­volv­ing jun­gle ex­plo­rations, river-cross­ings, driv­ing through prairie fields, and the works), then you can’t ask for a bet­ter 4x4 in the sub-Rs 10 lakh (ex-show­room) price bracket. No ad­ven­ture is too big for this Xplorer, pro­vided you have the imag­i­na­tion to dream and guts of steel to do it.

It’s safe to say that the new Gurkha is bet­ter to drive on and off the road than be­fore. This isn’t a car for the faint­hearted, though

It’s looks the part with bits like bon­net­mounted in­di­ca­tors and even a snorkel

( Be­low) The cabin qual­ity and de­sign isn’t up to the mark

( Above) The BSIV ready 2.6-litre oil-burner is more re­fined and has a flat 230 Nm of torque

( Right) It’s a proper off-roader with 4x4 and diff lock

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