In a market as diligently focused on value and economy as ours, it’s a rare sight when a carmaker comes up with a lifestyle product but when someone does, it brings along a glimmer of hope for those who love motoring. Force Motors, for one, has had us infused with hope with their newest off-roader – the 2017 Gurkha Xplorer. Now there are a few things that need to be understood about the Gurkha. It’s a no compromise, bare bones 4x4 and it appeals to a very specific type of buyer, one that enjoys rocky terrain and romps in the mud more than driving on paved roads.
Serious off-roaders will remember the Gurkha from its previous update in 2013. Labelled Gurkha 4x4x4, it featured updated drivetrain, some serious mud-plugging hardware and a rather fussy design. Fast forward to 2017 and you will notice that it’s lost the silly name and also, it now looks a lot more purposeful and rugged.
Gone is the old model’s ungainly grille and bumper design – the Gurkha Xplorer gets a more rugged steel bumper with integrated fog lamps and a simple mesh grille. Move onto the sides and you can still see a lot of cues coming in from Mercedes’ Gelandewagen. Up until this point the design is much simpler compared to the earlier Gurkha but as you move towards the back, it won't take you long to decipher where the basic look comes from – the rectangular rear taillights and the sturdy looking bumper, again, remind us of the G Wagon.
Riding high on its all-terrain tyres and with a ground clearance of 205mm, the Gurkha Xplorer looks and means business. The flat body design, protruding wheel arches, the short wheelbase and the shiny steel snorkel are all standout design elements that help separate the Gurkha from the rest.
Make what you will of the basic and dull all-black interior, the cabin is decently laid out, probably because there isn’t much to arrange in there. What’s disappointing though is that Force Motors hasn’t worked on the design and quality at all, meaning the Xplorer’s still got old-school style packaging. For instance, the front seat occupants sit really close to the doors and the seat itself lacks lateral support required for long distance driving. Speaking of which, the driving position isn’t car-like but compared to previous Gurkha models its heaps better. Unlike the truck-like position of the gear lever in the old Gurkha, the Xplorer benefits from a short throw lever which is easy to reach and doesn’t pose any ergonomic issue. The two differential lock levers (you can engage them by twisting them) are wisely placed too.
The Gurkha Xplorer is poorly equipped even for a low volume, lifestyle offering. Standard features include air conditioning, power steering and that’s about it. A lot of basic stuff including central locking, music system and power windows are missing. Similarly, plastic quality is way off compared to even budget cars of today. In a way, the simplicity of the controls and knobs is acceptable but if you have been spoilt by newer-gen hatchbacks and sedans, it's going to take some time getting used to. After all, let’s not forget the Gurkha Xplorer is a purpose built off-roader and not a versatile grocery mobile.
We jumped on-board and headed up what seemed like an infinitely vast piece of land (full of grasslands, gravel roads and rocky terrain) to gauge the explorer side of the Gurkha Xplorer. Pictures cannot do it justice but the Gurkha simply doesn’t seem to care where you point it. So long as you know what you’re doing, it will climb moderately steep rocky hills (even in 4WD high) without breaking a sweat and just when you think it can go no more, it will keep nudging forward. The Gurkha, in fact, made it up and down some incredibly slippery slopes, often sliding due to its tyres being caked in mud, but while the grip may have suffered at times, there was certainly ample torque on offer to keep it out of trouble without a hassle.
The Gurkha Xplorer gets the same Mercedes-derived 2.6-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine as in the previous model. For 2017, Force Motors has made it BSIV compliant and worked on reducing overall NVH levels. So while it still makes 85bhp and 230Nm of torque, this engine is noticeably quieter than the old car’s unit, as we found out driving both the vehicles simultaneously. What’s also improved big time is the gearshift quality, courtesy of a new short-throw 5-speeder. Unlike the old model which comes with a dogleg box, the Xplorer gets a relatively refined unit with conventional shift pattern. The clutch pedal is heavy but no unusually so whereas the gearshifts are fairly smooth although slotting into first requires some effort and patience.
As one would expect, the steering rack is slow to respond and inconsistent in weighing up. At high speeds it also lacks feedback, with constant minor corrections required, and a level of nervousness ensues. This is a car you need to be ‘hands-on’ with all the time.
Our drive was limited to the grassy highland of Kamshet near Pune and over it, the Gurkha simply felt unstoppable. We took it through deep and slushy fields, climbed over rutted gradient and waded through water without getting stuck. The only bits limiting our fleet of cars were the road-biased tyres which struggled for traction at times.
|Max. Power (bhp@rpm)||85bhp@3200RPM|
|Max. torque (Nm@rpm)||230Nm@1400RPM|
|Fuel Capacity (in litres)||63|
|Tyre size||245/70 R16|
|Diff locks (Front and Rear)||Yes|
|All terrain tyres||Yes|
Competition All Specs
|Max. Power (bhp@rpm)||85bhp@3200RPM||105bhp@3800|
|Max. torque (Nm@rpm)||230Nm@1400RPM||247Nm@1800|
|Fuel Capacity (in litres)||63||60|
|Tyre size||245/70 R16||235/70 R16|
During our time behind the wheel of the Gurkha Xplorer, it became rather obvious that the vague steering, lazy power delivery and the heavy controls were made for the conditions we encountered. The Gurkha feels more at home off-road – its ride quality is simply unfazed over bad roads, the visibility is excellent all round and its relatively narrow size means it can fit through tight spaces.
All in all, the changes are more than meets the eye for the 2017 Gurkha Xplorer. Next to old model, it may not look all that different and it isn’t any better equipped either but when it comes to off-roading ability, it beats the old Gurkha simply by the virtues of its updated engine and the new gearbox.
Photos by : Kapil Angane