The Mahindra Thar Is the Compact Indian Wrangler We’ll Never Get

The Mahindra Roxor channeled all the design and honest off-road-capabilities of the original Willys Jeep well. Too well, in fact. It looked so much like the Willys that FCA and Jeep sued to block its US sales. But that seemingly hasn’t stopped the Indian automaker. Because it’s back with another Wrangler look-a-like: the Mahindra Thar.

2021 Mahindra Thar vs Jeep Wrangler: specs and features

A red 2021 Mahindra Thar with its roof off crosses a roaring river
2021 Mahindra Thar | Mahindra

Visually, the 2021 Mahindra Thar apes the Jeep Wrangler a bit, The Drive reports. The most obvious example of this is the slotted grille, which the upcoming electric Hummer also uses (sort of). And like the Wrangler, the Thar comes with four-wheel drive, complete with a transfer case, Motor1 reports.

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Mahindra’s SUV, though, is powered by humbler engines than the Wrangler. The Mahindra Thar offers 2 four-cylinder engines, a 2.0-liter gasoline engine, and a 2.2-liter diesel, Roadshow reports. The former makes 150 hp and 236 lb-ft, and the latter produces 130 hp and 236 lb-ft.

2020 Jeep® Wrangler Sahara EcoDiesel in the canyons
2020 Jeep® Wrangler Sahara EcoDiesel | Jeep

In contrast, the Jeep Wrangler’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder produces 270 hp and 295 lb-ft. And it offers more powerful engines, including a turbodiesel, a V6, and a V8. Plus, while the Thar, like the Wrangler, offers a 6-speed manual, you can get the Jeep with an 8-speed automatic. Mahindra’s automatic only has 6 speeds.

The Mahindra Thar isn’t quite as well-equipped as the Jeep Wrangler. It lacks ADAS features like adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitoring. And it only has 2 airbags, half as much as the Wrangler, Motor Trend reports. Plus, its interior has significantly more hard plastic.

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However, the Mahindra Thar isn’t exactly spartan. It comes with a 7” infotainment touchscreen, which features Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, a digital compass, as well as pitch and roll and wheel angle indicators. It’s also “drizzle-resistant,” Motor1 reports. The Thar has roof-mounted speakers, ABS, stability control, hill-hold, and hill descent control, and LED lights, The Drive reports. Plus, like the Wrangler, you can get it with a hardtop or a soft-top. And you can order it with seating for 4 or 6 people.

Does the Mahindra Thar really drive and off-road like the Wrangler?

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The Mahindra Thar lacks some of the Jeep Wrangler’s off-road gear. For example, it doesn’t have electronically-disconnecting sway bars or Fox shocks. And instead of solid axles, it has independent front suspension, Jalopnik reports.

However, even with IFS, the Ford Bronco was able to take on the Rubicon Trail. And while it’s not quite as tech-heavy as the Wrangler, the Thar can hold its own off-road. In fact, the Mahindra Thar has on occasion rescued more expensive SUVs like Land Rover Discoveries, Motor1 reports. That’s because it subscribes to the Suzuki Jimny off-roading school, where small size makes for bigger returns.

In addition to 4WD, the Mahindra Thar has a locking rear differential. It also has 8.9” of ground clearance and can wade into water 25.6” deep, TFLOffroad reports. Plus, the Indian SUV has a 42° approach angle, a 37° departure angle, and a 27° break-over angle. The 2-door Jeep Wrangler does have more ground clearance, MT reports, but only slightly-better angles.

So, in many ways, the Mahindra Thar is a kind of downsized Jeep Wrangler. Arguably, its more basic design is a better Willys call-back than the Wrangler Willys Edition, The Drive muses. Not to mention significantly cheaper. The Wrangler Willys starts at $33,990. Meanwhile, the 2021 Thar is expected to start at roughly the equivalent of $15k, TFLOffroad reports.

However, seeing one in the US will likely be next to impossible.

It’ll probably never come to the US

2020 Mahindra Roxor
2020 Mahindra Roxor | Mahindra

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Mahindra still has a US presence, but due to the FCA lawsuit, the Roxor side-by-side can’t be sold here anymore. And given how closely the Thar resembles a Wrangler, Mahindra likely doesn’t want to stir up further legal issues. That’s likely why instead of a 7-slot grille, the Thar has 6 slots.

1985 Mitsubishi Jeep
1985 Mitsubishi Jeep | Duncan Imports

Interestingly, the Mahindra Thar could likely be sold here, given a few safety upgrades and emissions-legal engines. That’s because, rather like Mitsubishi licensed the CJ3’s design, Mahindra owns the rights to the previous-gen CJ. Admittedly, the ownership agreement is likely limited to outside the US. Still, a compact budget Wrangler might prove popular, given the Jimny’s success.

Perhaps Jeep and Mahindra can mend their fences and collaborate?

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