It finally happened. I finally test drove the Gurkha, the mother of all Indian SUVs.
According to original plan, I was supposed to test drive the Gurkha the past weekend. But nothing has ever happened on time with this Gurkha. My cousin booked the Gurkha around December 2006. The delivery took forever, the delivery date was always month end. It always reset to the next month once that month drew to an end. In May he even moved to UK, but he didn’t cancel his booking, such was his trust in Gurkha. Last month he and his wife become proud parents of a baby boy, but still no Gurkha.
Finally it arrived in Mangalore last Thursday, the PDI was on Friday, the delivery was supposed to be on Saturday and my mild test drive was supposedly on Sunday. But, that didn’t happen. Turned out that the drive from Pritampur to Mangalore was too much strain on misaligned PS/AC belt. Therefore the delivery was delayed by two days. So it was delivered yesterday to my cousin’s friend who will be known as P for the rest of the report. Today he drove the Gurkha to my office arriving around 1.50PM.
Here is a really big image for that closer look
Now that the Gurkha was in my town, how could I miss the opportunity to test it on horrible roads. Considering this is the toughest SUV in the country, and that it already had 1700Kms on it, I didn’t have to worry about run-in or playing safe. So I took the driver seat, P at passenger seat and my wife on the back seat.
1) The ingress was a climb, my head actually went over the roof before I slid back to the seat. The steering was pressing on my thighs, I had to assume a crab like position with my thighs to avoid pressing it to the steering. The seat was high, giving a commanding view, very similar to Safari. The hood looked so long and wide, it is a little scary, this is not an easy one to drive in a city. The AC was not working. Apparently they could only manage to get a belt for the PS and not for AC. So I had to do this one with windows down. The fuel gauge wasn’t working either. It was not very assuring, by this time I had started wondering how I could have considered this vehicle as a serious purchase.
2) The gear shift is similar to Optra, the reverse on top left and 5th gear at bottom right. The gear shift throw is long, but not as long as Gama, I think they have shortened it a little for Gurkha.
3) I took it through the same horrible roads I subjected both the Safari variants and GV. When I drove through a series of severely broken road (not potholes), the ride was harsh, this was same in Safari 2.2 and GV, the3.0L didn’t suffer this punishment as it was too early in the monsoon. If you are wondering how this is different than the potholes, let me explain. When I say broken road, I mean roads where each tyre is falling into different crevices of varying size and length at a given time. It confuses the hell out of any suspension.
4) Then I took it over (a) potholes and (b)uneven undulated roads, this is when (a) any one tyre falls into a pothole and when (b) the whole road is weaving up and down irregularly. And this is where we were handed our greatest surprise. The ride comfort of Gurkha on potholes and undulated roads far surpassed Safari and GV. I was very surprised and turned towards my wife and asked her about the ride comfort at the backseat, and she too mentioned the same thing, better than Safari, better than GV. And there was no bobbing, no bouncing, no body roll, unlike Safari. It maintained similar composure as GV in such scenarios. P said this was because it has independent front suspension and leaf springs at the back. Anyway, this is a bloody winner when it comes to ride comfort.
5) Once I was done with bad road, I took it to good roads. The same place where I redlined with the Baleno in 2nd gear on the day I sold it. The gear shifts were smooth. However, once I crossed 70kmph, I had a strange sensation. The steering almost lost connection with reality. The power assisted steering on Gurkha is not speed sensitive. One has to learn to use this steering before taking it higher, forget doing small corrections to the steering, it becomes too vague. There was also a creaking noise from the steering, something to do with the new PS belt I was told. The brakes were adequate, I didn’t try any emergency braking though. Finally we returned to my office.
Now was the time for photography, so I asked P to take the Gurkha to the more scenic part of the office grounds.
While I shooting the photos, I noticed that P was checking out the surroundings and had discovered an off-roading opportunity. And he wanted to try it right away and this time my wife was riding shotgun, and I stuck to being photographer.
This is where I realised what makes Gurkha such a competent off-roader. The paper GC of 210mm does not begin to explain the massive ground clearance of Gurkha. It is practically on stilts on those massive tyres. It went over the first obstacle above like nobody’s business, I don’t think GV could have handled that, not enough GC for that.
Then it went on to the bigger challenge, climbing a dry and hard mud slope.
But it couldn’t scale the mud hill. P is an experienced off-roader and owns a Jeep Classic, he has scaled similar hills with his Classic with ease. After a few tries with 4WD and both the diff locks, it failed to scale the hill, the tyres kept slipping. We identified the real culprit soon enough. The Gurkha came with long life radial truck tyres that lacked any off-road grip. Checkout the bland tyre profile that kept slipping like an oiled wheel.
Finally the effort was given up and he turned back, check out the surrounding terrain. Added:
Specifications (since the Force website doesn't show this)
MODEL TEMPO TRAX VP37 4X4 BSIII (GURKHA)
ENGINE TD 2650 FTI BS III DI TURBO CHARGED INTERCOOLED WITH EGR & OXYCAT, 56 KW @ 3200 RPM, and 195 NM @ 1800-2000 RPM
GEAR BOX 5 SPEED OVERDRIVE GI 18/5B
FRONT & REAR AXLE 4X4 WITH DIFFERENTIAL LOCK
STEERING POWER STEERING (RATIO 18:9:1)
BRAKES FRONT - DISC (DIA 262) BRAKE
REAR - DUO SERVO WITH LSV AUTO ADJUSTER
WHEELS 7.50 R 16 TYRE WITH 5.5F X 16 RIM, WITH WHEEL CAPS
HARD TOP WITH A/C SYSTEM
AIR INTAKE SYSTEM WITH SNORKEL ON STAINLESS STEEL TUBE