Ouseph Chacko drives the New Force Gurkha, an off-roader, to find out how good it is as an all-terrain and all-season vehicle

Force Motors first introduced the Gurkha in 2008. This Mercedes-Benz G-wagon based off-roader was produced primarily for export and as few as 40 were sold to the public here. Now, prompted by the growth in the SUV segment and the Indian consumer’s growing interest in off-roading, the company has come up with this updated Gurkha.

The Gurkha follows the manufacturer’s first offering, the Force One. Officially, Force Motors’ latest offering is known as an extreme off-road vehicle and the company claims that it’s a four-wheel-drive vehicle that can take on four different kinds of terrain in four different seasons. The specs are impressive. For Rs. 8.5 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) for the top-end Gurkha Hard-top, there is some serious mud-plugging kit on offer. Standard equipment includes mechanical differential locks for the front and rear axles, a snorkel that allows it to go swimming in water 550mm deep, a transfer case with low-ratios and all-terrain tyres mounted on alloy wheels borrowed from the Force One.

Powering the Gurkha is a Mercedes-Benz OM616-derived 2596cc turbo-charged, inter-cooled direct injection diesel that makes a modest 81bhp and 23.5kgm of torque. It doesn’t meet BSIV emission norms as of now, but work is on to make it so. Mated to a five-speed G18 gearbox from Mercedes-Benz, it powers the rear wheels under normal conditions and all four if you stir through the second gearlever that sits between the front seats. On our short test drive at a specially designed off-road course at the Force Motors plant in Pune, a few things were immediately apparent. The view from the driver’s seat is great — the Gurkha’s slim pillars don’t obstruct your view much and its old-school square lines make it easy to place the Gurkha accurately on narrow off-road tracks. The two-tone dashboard is simple and straightforward. Ahead of you are the dials, which consist of a speedo, temperature- and fuel gauge with a tiny rev-counter placed under the air-con vents. The driving position though is a mixed bag — the steering wheel slopes away from you (much like a truck’s), there’s no seat height or steering rake adjust, and slotting the long-throw five-speed ’box into the dog-leg first is quite a stretch. That said the Gurkha’s seats, its moulded roof lining and the bright, airy interiors are quite nice by off-roader standards. You access the forward-facing rear seats by lifting the front seats out of the way (the soft-top version has conventional side-facing seats). Sit on the high seats and you’ll discover they have plenty of legroom, width and thigh support. However, owing to their high-set position, tall passengers might find their heads brushing against the roof lining. Twist the key, the engine catches almost immediately and settles into a gravelly idle. The clutch, you will find, is heavy but progressive in the way it engages. Stretch to slot into first, get off the clutch and you’ll find the Gurkha moves off with surprising zest. However, it’s soon time to stretch again and shift to second as the engine only revs to a disappointingly low 3500rpm.

The Gurkha feels incredibly short geared (which is why it feels so responsive). The gearbox is rather vague and needs a lot of effort to operate. The same goes for the gearlever that operates the transfer case.

Nonetheless, the suspension seems pretty sorted. As for the handling, the Gurkha uses a power-assisted, worm-and-roller steering mechanism that makes for a deliberately low-geared steering. That means plenty of turns lock to lock and slow responses. And, thanks to its two-metre height and relatively narrow width, it isn't particularly happy when going around corners fast. Which is fine — this is an off-roader, not a corner carver.

Speaking of which, as an off-roader, it is really impressive. Force Motors says it has an approach, ramp-over and departure angle of 37,29 and 34 degrees respectively, and ground clearance stands at 210mm. In 4x4 low mode, it can climb a 40-degree slope, and the engine’s low speed idling has been calibrated to allow it to climb a 25-degree slope without any throttle inputs.

The Gurkha comes across as a properly capable off-roader, but there’s no denying that it needs quite a lot of polishing. You could excuse this lack of finesse as a byproduct of a hardy off-roader, but at this price, people will expect more. Apart from this 4x4 hard-top, the Gurkha is available as a 4x4 soft-top as well for Rs. 15,000 less.

There’s also a base 4x2 soft-top that costs Rs. 6.25 lakh. As it doesn’t meet BSIV norms, you can’t buy it in a lot of cities, but then again, the whole point of a vehicle like this is to use it away from a city.

Force Motors is offering it in three colours — matt black, metallic red and green and most impressively, it comes with a three-year/3,00,000km warranty.