In terms of technology and versatility, the 2020 Mahindra Thar is a significant step up from the Indian company's previous offerings. However, you may have also noticed that Mahinda's new flagship continues its journey as a total Jeep lookalike. That's by no accident since Mahindra knows that when its customers think of a compact 4x4 vehicle, they envision the shape of the classic Jeep CJ variants they've been producing and upgrading under license since 1947. The new Thar is as authentic in India as the Wrangler at Moab, even if that's not the term the legal team of the now Jeep-owning Stellantis would use.
Costing half as much as a new Wrangler and aimed at a completely different yet massive audience, the Thar combines a smaller footprint with all the tech you need on and off the paved roads with nothing you don't. What chief product head of the Thar division of Mahindra Naveen Chopra calls "a beast" is a four-wheel-drive SUV with a shift-on-the-fly 4x4 transfer case, electronic braking lock for maximum torque to the gripping wheels, and an independent front suspension you won't find near a Wrangler, but more so on a Mercedes-Benz G-Class and the new Ford Bronco.
Built on a chassis that's twice as stiff as the brand's previous frame, the Thar sits on tracks that are almost three inches wider, further aided by the optimized weight distribution, the multi-link rear suspension and its 18-inch alloy wheels. The improved road manners come with an enhanced safety package as well, featuring dual airbags, ABS + EBD, ESP with rollover mitigation, hill-hold and hill descent control, and bright LED taillights.
Two engines, two six-speed transmissions, three roof options and the choice of a four or a six-seater cabin complete the list that should satisfy most customers on Mahindra's radar. The company produced nine Jeep CJ evolutions before first moving on to the boxier Mahindra Bolero and the still flat-fender first Thar in 2010.
When describing their lines for the 2020s, Senior Principal Designer Nilay Dembi talks about keeping it authentic while pointing out the key details such as Mahindra's asymmetrical wheel arches (which are trapezoidal at the front yet circular at the rear), the Thar's dual-tone bumpers and funky B-pillar. That's it, but why should it be more?
It's fair to say that the 2020 Mahindra Thar won't make it to North America anytime soon, just like how North America will never have a new Wrangler as compact as India's all-conquering Thar.
If you find yourself in a country where Mahindra's cheerful SUV is available, try grabbing one for a drive. Should be just like hopping around in a classic Jeep, only faster and right-hand drive, with a splash-proof touchscreen that connects to your smartwatch.
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