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