Off The Beaten Road
Everyone loves new beginnings and second chances, and the New Year represents the impulse to push past barriers and explore uncharted territories. In the automobile sector, this impulse is represented by tough all-terrain vehicles that are built to conquer any type of landscape they come across. These vehicles aren’t always the most comfortable, or aesthetically pleasing, but they do deliver on performance and capability in spades. Categorised for their torquey engines, reliable 4x4 systems and relative lack of creature comforts, these machines are often considered lifestyle purchases destined for use cases that are beyond the abilities of mass-market consumer cars.
In this segment, most vehicles also carry with them a legacy of off-road performance, proven in a multitude of rallies and championships that were designed to challenge the carefree nomad inside us all. The continued interest in this otherwise niche market is proof that there is a deep connection within the masses for these kinds of adventure vehicles. So much so, that dedicated communities of fans take it upon themselves to host special events just to test the mettle of their personally modified vehicles. If the dirt bug has bitten you as well, and you wish to start the New Year with an exciting new hobby, here is a look at what you can get at different price points.
- Mahindra Thar
As you start out in this segment, the best thing in terms of affordable off-roading is the Thar, although it is more for sedate off-roading that requires lots of torque. You get the option of either a 2.5 M2DICR engine that produces a decent 63BHP power and 195Nm torque, or a CRDe engine that churns out a healthy 105BHP power and 247Nm torque. Both engines are reliable and the platform is simple enough that you can easily build on it by adding aftermarket components such as a winch, snorkel, reinforced skid plates, lift kits and much more. The only limit is your imagination and budget. To start with, you can get the Thar for around ₹10 lakh, with the company offering multiple custom variants as well, including a Daybreak edition that looks almost like a Wrangler Rubicon.
- Jeep Wrangler
Once you start getting into the luxury segment, the Jeep brand is one of the first to come to mind, thanks to their long heritage of off-road performance that goes back as far as World War II, when the military used it extensively for battlefield duty. The Wrangler still remains a steadfast reminder of the classic 7-slated design. While the exterior remains the same, the real changes have been made to the high-end cabin, which now features a responsive 8.4-inch touchscreen with Apple Carplay/Android Auto, off-road data display, as well as in-built navigation. However, what steals the show is the capable 2.0-litre engine that produces 268BHP power and 400Nm of torque. It is mated to an eight-speed transmission and Selec-Trac 4WD system that controls the beefy 32-inch wheels. All combined, this makes for a lethal off-road vehicle that will cost you a hefty ₹64 lakh, with the Rubicon edition costing even more.
- Toyota Fortuner
Despite being one of the most expensive SUVs in the country without actually entering the luxury segment, the Fortuner enjoys the position of being one of the bestselling SUVs in the country as well. It comes with either a 2.7-litre petrol engine, which makes 166BHP and 245Nm torque, or a slightly bigger 2.8-litre diesel engine, which ramps up the output to 177BHP and a massive 420Nm of torque. The power delivery is sufficient to move the hulk of a body with ease, with the steering being responsive enough to handle both off-road and on-road conditions. The newer, more luxurious interiors add to the appeal of the vehicle, as customers finally get some much-needed features such as a touchscreen display, 360-degree camera, paddle shifters and even a cooled glove box. Unfortunately, the improvements have also increased the price of the vehicle to around ₹35 lakh.
- Mercedes Benz G63
There are very few vehicles that reside at the top tier of the luxury market and can still call themselves proper off-roaders. One of the few that can, started its life as a military vehicle that went on to become the infamous G-wagon. In its current avatar, the car is a super-luxury SUV that comes with an AMG-tuned 4.0-litre V8 bi-turbo engine that makes a massive 585BHP, and over 850Nm of torque. This combined with a nine-speed automatic transmission and dynamic AMG Ride Control system makes for an exhilarating driving experience, complemented with a supple ride. While the exterior retains the traditional design, the interiors are anything but mundane, as you get a futuristic layout, with multiple screens and options for different types of trim. This makes it one of the rare bespoke SUVs that will feel as comfortable in the dunes of Dakar, as it does in the streets of Milan. You can start curating your own G-wagon, at a starting cost of around ₹2 crores.