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Test-driving Mahindras

Mahindra employees at the assembly plant in Chakan
Mahindra employees at the assembly plant in Chakan, India. PHOTO | EDWIN OKOTH | NMG 

On a hot Wednesday afternoon two weeks ago, we were in India’s scenic Igatpuri.

It was not a tour of the bountiful Sahyadri mountain ranges, nor were we about to take the adventurous trek routes to the holy temples, we went to get a thrill of the Mahindra’s four-by-four cars; the Scorpio and the Thar.

First, they started with a few instructions which made most of us feel like freshers at a driving school. But it was our confidence that faded fast the moment we were asked to introduce ourselves with the number and types of cars we had driven.

“Just drive slow, stay on the tracks and don’t touch the clutch,” said Ryan, one of the two young guides at the Mahindra Off-Road Academy.

I wondered how a manual car, would be driven down a ditch and climb a steep hill to a 45-degree curve out without using the clutch.

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XUV 500s at the main assembly plant in Chakan , India.

XUV 500s at the main assembly plant in Chakan, India. PHOTO | EDWIN OKOTH | NMG

There is driving, then there is off-road driving in dry loose surface and in muddy terrain. We had a taste of both.

In both situations, there is limited traction, a very different experience from what one gets on the roads which are built to provide a smooth and consistent grip for your tires.

In the rough terrains, such a relationship is nonexistent.

First, it was the Scorpio, the car whose double cab and single cab pickup version are now being assembled in Kenya.

For the power bit, the car’s mHAWK engine with 103kW (140 BHP) power and 320 Nm torque gives you a thrilling thrust supported by the 6th Generation Borg Warner Turbocharger.

For adventure, the experience inside the Scorpio was exceptional. The car took the valleys with very minimal acceleration. We had to manoeuvre through complex obstacles and get out of the bush.

For such an experience, the 6-Speed transmission is not your headache because you will rarely change the gears and with the Scorpio’s fully Automatic Temperature Control system, fear is minimal and comfort is guaranteed.

Mahindra Scorpio off road SUV in Igatpuri, India

Mahindra Scorpio off road SUV in Igatpuri, India. This is where the vehicles are analysed for offroad capabilities. PHOTO | EDWIN OKOTH | NMG

The car had been slightly deflated to give the wheels maximum grip on the ground and all that is visible on the very interactive dashboard that also allows the car to talk to you when you don’t belt, run low on fuel.

The next adventure was with the Thar, one of Mahindra’s legacy cars whose lineage traces back to 1949 when

the first Mahindra vehicle was built in India. It was so tall I had to climb it like a truck. The test drive in mud.

The secret of driving in mud, I learned, is to approach carefully and rev up when necessary. Driving slowly like it is done in dry loose soil may be a bad idea here.

Those who tried to copy the dry drive lessons got stuck many times. We drove through rugged terrains, some so uneven that the car would go all the way in until the side mirrors become useless because one is inside a ditch.

After reversing successfully from a muddy rut, I was certified to drive a Mahindra which is making a re-entry into the Kenyan market.

“You make just about three attempts and when you see you can’t move forward, try reversing and if you have a winch, use it,” Ryan told us as we concluded the experience, our clothes, and hair a testimony of how driving in mud and dust can be a thrill.

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