2017 Force Gurkha Xplorer First Drive Review

4 months ago | Vikrant Singh

What is it?

Why will I buy the Gurkha Xplore

For one, it looks cool. And of course, it is hugely capable off-road with low range and diff-locks.

Why will I avoid the Gurkha Xplorer

It is pricey at over Rs 10 lakh OTR, Mumbai. And it can’t be my only car in the household.

This is the new generation Force Gurkha. Now you might think that I am using the term ‘new-gen’ loosely here because the new Gurkha looks so similar to the older one. But the fact is, under that similar looking top hat, almost everything is new.

The 2017 Force Gurkha Xplorer gets a new chassis, a new gearbox, new suspension and a new steering. But that’s not all. The rest of the drivetrain including the engine and the axles has been significantly updated as well. We will get to that in a bit, but lets talk styling first.

Given that the top hat of the SUV hasn’t changed, the new Gurkha is still your high-riding, stubby and slabsided G-Wagon lookalike. But now with the new front grille, new metal bumpers with round fog lamps, and new alloy wheels, it has moved up a few notches on the street-presence scale compared to the older SUV. Force Motors has also been smart about retaining some styling elements like the fender mounted turn indictors and the snorkel; things most enthusiasts liked about the Gurkha.

I, personally, quite like the way it looks – butch, brawny, tough – call it what you will...

How is it on the inside?

Inside though, let’s just call it cheap and basic, because that’s exactly what the interiors of the new Gurkha feel like. In fact, the dashboard, the door panels and even the various knobs, stalks and controls are all from the older car, which were due for an upgrade a decade back.

You also get very little in terms of features. There’s no audio unit, no power windows, no internal adjustment for ORVMs, no tilt or telescopic adjustment for the steering, no rear wash and wipe, and no central locking either. You do get power steering, slim door pockets that can hold a map at best and a tiny glovebox.

But, as an upgrade for the 2017 model, the Gurkha Xplorer does get some additional stowage options around the gear levers; yes, levers for there are two. There are a few cubbyholes to empty your pockets and a couple of bottle holders. And did we mention the Gurkha gets grab handles? Well, there are more that you can count all around the SUV.

Having said all that, it’s not a deal breaker in my opinion, the lack of quality and features, that is. The Xplorer hasn’t been designed to take the kids to school or a family out on a road trip or even to commute to work in; though you can do all of these if you are a family of masochists. The Gurkha Xplorer is about off-roading; about taking on slush, rocks and rivers; about taking on nature and trying to beat it.

How does it drive?

And the Gurkha Xplorer does just that. We spent a day with the SUV taking on rocky climbs, slippery inclines, ruts and ditches, and it did it all! Its only chink was the road-based tyres our test car came with. Force Motors however says that the Xplorers being delivered to customers are running more off-road biased rubber, which is great.

So how does the Gurkha beat nature? For one, it gets a new C in C chassis, which is lighter and more resistant to bending. The suspension – front and back – is now a coil over unit that not only aids ride quality on poor roads but gives the Gurkha enough articulation to take on deep ruts. The steering has changed to a rack and pinion setup and that has significantly reduced the vagueness in response. It also requires less effort; a big boon off the road especially if you have to fight many turns lock-to-lock.

As for the drivetrain, the engine is still the same Mercedes unit Force Motors has been using for years on end. But, for the 2017 model, it is now BS IV compliant. It makes 85bhp, so it’s not exactly bustling with power. However, the peak and flat torque of 230Nm coupled with a short first gear ratio gives the Xplorer the fangs it needs to take on steep hill descents and climbs. The engine is now quieter than the older Gurkha too.

And there’s a new gearbox. Gone are the long, vague throws of the old dogleg ‘box. Now, there’s a conventional shifting 5-speed unit, which takes a little effort to slot into first, but thereafter, it’s not too bad. It’s not slick by any margin, but it won’t tire you out either. The Gurkha continues to get a transfer case with low range and diff locks for both front and rear axles.

So, off-road the Xplorer was clearly more capable than me. No matter what direction I pointed it towards or what surface I took it on, it just beat it all into submission. Sure, it needed additional help in the form of 4H and 4L at times but it was unstoppable with its hardware.

On-road, the Gurkha was far less gung ho. It felt loose and floaty at three digit highway speeds; the wind noise was bothersome at anything over 80kmph; the steering didn’t feel half as good as it did off-road; and the brakes, well, the bite always seemed to arrive a tad later than needed. But again, lack of road manners for a vehicle like the Gurkha, isn’t really a turn off.

Should I buy one?

The Gurkha Xplorer isn’t your regular, everyday car. So, if you are looking at it as the only car in the household and unfortunately you don’t have a wife and kids (and maybe parents) that run around in khaki shorts, hiking boots and tadpoles in hand, avoid it.

But, if you wait for the weekend to arrive, just so you can go Xplore new trails, cross rivers, slide around and basically muck about, the Gurkha fits the bill. It’s not cheap, but it is seriously capable. And it would also help if your wife owned a set of wheels that was more comfortable and luxurious, you know to drive to the mall and all…

Where does it fit in?

The Gurkha Xplorer at a little over Rs 10 lakh on the road in Mumbai is expensive in regular terms. But, you’d buy one because you are serious about off-roading. There is only one other SUV that can do what the Xplorer can. And it too comes with a diesel engine, 4x4, a low range ‘box and two doors. The Mahindra Thar. Offered with a soft-top as standard, it is slightly cheaper at a little over Rs 9.5 lakh OTR, Mumbai. And though it promises more grunt, it also only checks the power steering and aircon boxes under creature comfort. 

 

Photos by Kapil Angane

Click here for full specs and on-road prices for 2017 Force Gurkha range