Mahindra Thar CRDe
2498cc | 105 bhp | 25.1 kgm | Rs 7.53 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai)
If you want a bare basic off-roader that will take all the punishment you can throw at at, the Mahindra Thar is your best bet. It uses a ladder frame chassis and a steel body on top, with a common rail diesel motor powering the entire mix. There are absolutely no electronics, so you don’t get ABS or any other whizbangs. Even the transfer case is a sturdy, manual, Borg-Warner unit. The motor makes enough torque to do unimaginable things in stock form, and if you’re one of those who want to take it even further, there is a long list of bolt-on parts that are available – locking differentials, remapped ECUs, stronger steel bumpers, snorkels, you name it. Being based on the old Jeep Wrangler has to have its benefits, right? Oh, and just so you know, there’s a new Thar that’s out, with updated exteriors, interiors and a locking differential.
Renault Duster 4WD
1461cc | 108 bhp | 25.2 kgm| Rs 12.48 lakh onwards (ex-showroom, Mumbai)
The Duster is a bit expensive when compared to its FWD variant, but since it is quite superb off-road, that’s forgivable. It’s built on a monocoque chassis so, unlike a lot of traditional SUVs, it’s also an excellent handler on tarmac. The Duster 4WD gets an independent suspension at the rear, unlike its FWD brother, and a torque on demand 4WD system that can be locked in 4WD mode up to 60 kph. If you’re planning on driving over ridiculously bad roads at equally ridiculous speeds, the Duster won’t even bat an eyelid. It might not be able to climb 45-degree inclines or crawl though knee deep slush, but rest assured that it will be able to do almost everything else. The only problem is that, aside from some bull bars, there isn’t much scope for customisation – even installing larger diameter wheels and bigger off-road tyres will be a problem, due to space constraints.
Mitsubishi Pajero Sport
2477cc | 178 bhp | 35.6 kgm | Rs 26.54 lakh onwards (ex-showroom, Mumbai)
This is one of the most legendary names in the world of off-roading, and the Sport, which replaced the standard Pajero, is an incredible off-roader. It has the same bloodline as the other great Mitsubishis and is built on the same platform as their popular Triton pickup. It also has a face that might be familiar, if you’ve seen pictures from the Dakar Rally. With a powerful diesel engine and independent suspension that can take on even the worst obstacles, the Pajero Sport is a formidable off-roader. The other advantage that the Sport has is that being a Mitsubishi, bolt-on parts are aplenty.
Mercedes-Benz ML 350 CDI
2997cc | 254 bhp | 63.1 kgm | Rs 70.02 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai)
The ML is one of those cars which, despite its capabilities, spends almost all its time on black top. Why? Because the people who’ve spent all that money on their SUV don’t really want to get any scratches or dings on it. The ones who have taken it off-road will tell you, however, that it is an immensely capable vehicle. It runs on a powerful, ultra-torquey motor and has a gearbox to match, but what really endows it with all this off-road capability are its electronics. The ML comes loaded with all kinds of technology, like a dedicated off-road mode, torque vectoring and height adjustable suspension, which can take it over some extreme off-road situations. The only worry is those tyres – the stock ones are built more for tarmac grip than off-road use.
Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG
5461cc | 545 bhp | 77.5 kgm | Rs 1.90 crore (ex-showroom, Mumbai)
Yes, yes, another Mercedes, but this one just had to be here. The G63 AMG is the modern iteration of the legendary G-Wagen off-roader, and is just as capable, if not more. It is the only Merc to be still built on a ladder frame and is the second longest running production Mercedes (the Unimog wins that title). India only gets the AMG version, but if you want a car that looks just as rugged and violent as it is capable, then the G63 is it. It gets front, rear and centre differential lockers, a low range option and it isn’t shod with super low profile tyres, like some other AMG SUVs. It might not have the refinement or the sportiness of other similarly priced SUVs on the road, but it makes up for it with brute off-roading capability. It also has the best exhaust note of all the cars here – a subdued burble at idle that turns into an angry roar once you get going.
2993/4367/4999cc | 245/334/510 bhp | 61.1/71.3/63.7 kgm | Rs 2.27 crore onwards (ex-showroom, Mumbai)
The words that describe the Rangie best are ‘off-road luxury yacht’. It is a baffling thing, this Range Rover. Something so luxurious and so loaded with creature comforts has no business going off-road the way the Range Rover does. Its Terrain Select 2 system lets you select what kind of terrain you are driving on, and the system automatically optimises engine and suspension characteristics and electronics to give you the best performance in the selected terrain. Other than that, there is the height adjustable air suspension, a low range gearbox and a wading depth of 900 mm that will get you pretty much anywhere you would like to go. You also get to choose from a 3.0-litre V6 diesel, a 4.4-litre V8 diesel and a supercharged 5.0-litre V8 petrol motor making anywhere between 245 and 510 bhp. Phew!