Off the beaten SUV trail

  • Apr 17, 2015

[caption id="attachment_15932" align="alignnone" width="1280"]Land Rover Defender and Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King Land Rover Defender and Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King[/caption]

Your average modern SUV today is less about off-road ability and more about road presence and bling. While they come packed with a host of electronic driver aids and all-wheel drive or a low ratio transfer case, their large bumpers, low-set side steps, etc, mean that their off-road credentials are limited by their design.

But what we have here are two very different vehicles, based on which some of today’s best SUVs are built. These are proper old school hardcore off-roaders that have no-nonsense, functional designs to let you go over tough terrain without having to bother about how you are going to damage or scratch those expensive bumpers or a side step coming in the way of a vehicle’s breakover angle.

[caption id="attachment_15923" align="alignnone" width="1280"]Land Rover Defender and Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King off-road Land Rover Defender and Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King off-road[/caption]

There happens to be a very good reason for their nature, both these vehicles are considerably older than the current range of SUVs. The Maruti Suzuki Gypsy is based on the second generation Suzuki Jimny that went into production in the year 1981 and hit the Indian market in 1985. As for the Land Rover Defender, its basic shape has been around for 67 years when the original Land Rover went into production in 1948!

These off-roaders then are as far away from modern SUVs as possible.

I went for a spin on these iconic off-roaders that established the very nature of SUVs, albeit in very different ways.

[caption id="attachment_15934" align="alignnone" width="1280"]Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King and Land Rover Defender Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King and Land Rover Defender[/caption]

The Defender began life as Land Rover’s first ever vehicle that was aimed at conquering terrain both known and unknown to mankind! Land Rover ofcourse has to be credited for creating the vehicle it did, as its capabilities meant that it was used extensively by adventurers, farmers, military forces, explorers, etc at the time. To the extent that the Land Rover is claimed to be the first automobile seen by a third of the world’s population at the time!

The Maruti Suzuki Gypsy on the other hand does not have such an elaborate history and is a very different vehicle. Unlike the Land Rover Defender, it is much lighter vehicle. The soft-top Gypsy King (the Gypsy you see here is a modified two-seater example of the soft top version) weighs a mere 985kg in kerb weight while the Defender 110 TD5 featured here has a mammoth kerb weight of 2,143 kg.

[caption id="attachment_15938" align="alignnone" width="1280"]Land Rover Defender and Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King off-road Land Rover Defender and Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King off-road[/caption]

And the differences continue as the Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King is powered by a petrol engine while the Land Rover Defender 110 TD5 is powered by a diesel engine. The Defender 110 is designed to transport its occupants in a comfortable manner while the Gypsy is not really designed for passenger comfort, but for a more cost effective way of getting to places where other vehicles can’t.

Without further ado, lets get to know how these very different vehicles behave in their natural habitat, off tarmac!



[caption id="attachment_15970" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Land Rover Defender uphill Land Rover Defender uphill[/caption]

Land Rover Defender

This Land Rover Defender 110 TD5 is powered by a 2.5 litre, turbocharged diesel engine. The five cylinder oil burner develops a maximum power output of 123PS of @ 4,850 rpm and 300Nm of peak torque @ 1,900 rpm.

The engine is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox and power is sent to all four wheels permanently with the option of engaging four-wheel low and a locking centre differential for when the going gets tough.

The Defender comes with a power steering unit that is not the most feelsome unit, but its light nature makes it easy to maneuver this large wagon over tricky terrain.

[caption id="attachment_15943" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Land Rover Defender ascending Land Rover Defender ascending[/caption]

The Defender 110 is underpinned by a ladder frame chassis with coil spring suspension all around. While the off-road ride quality is comfortable in the Defender, the incorporation of coil springs in the ladder frame chassis has left the vehicle devoid of any real feel and feedback. The driver seldom has any feel of what the rear wheels are doing.

What this translates to in the real world is a rather comfortable ride that absorbs the sharpest of bumps to keep its occupants comfortable, no matter what the terrain. And that diesel engine may seem to offer mediocre performance in standard four-wheel drive mode. But engage low ratio and the Defender TD5 becomes a torque monster!

[caption id="attachment_16027" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Land Rover Defender rear off-roader Land Rover Defender rear off-roader[/caption]

With all 300 newton meters twisting the wheels, the Defender charges forward with a raw force that will not accept defeat to any surface or terrain. Surface undulations are dismissed equally well with the long travel suspension simply bashing through large ruts without a bother. Its at this point that the Defender feels unbelievably tough as it refuses to be unsettled by pretty much any obstacle or terrain. Ofcourse its 215mm of ground clearance also works in its favour.

[caption id="attachment_16002" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Land Rover Defender rear ascending Land Rover Defender rear ascending[/caption]


Another factor that works really well for the Land Rover Defender while off-roading is its high set body. This combined with the large 16 inch wheels, virtually no front overhang and minimal rear overhang for this large a wagon means that the Defender has commendable approach and departure angles. And its 152 degree breakover angle is exceptional, allowing the Defender to scale rather steep inclines without having to worry about the vehicle bottoming out.

[caption id="attachment_16000" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Land Rover Defender descending Land Rover Defender descending[/caption]

The Land Rover Defender is all about brute force. And the way it was built to be tough to take the hardest hits and continue onwards towards its destination defines the very core of this incredible vehicle. No wonder its been around for over six and a half decades!



[caption id="attachment_15930" align="alignnone" width="1280"]Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King climbing Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King climbing[/caption]

Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King

Powered by its naturally aspirated 1.3 litre petrol engine, the Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King is a more lively vehicle under normal circumstances. Its all-aluminum, four-cylinder, 16 valve, naturally aspirated petrol engine develops 81PS of max power @ 6,000 rpm and peak torque of 103Nm @ 4,300 rpm. Being a naturally aspirated petrol engine, the unit is free revving and because it is mated to a short ratio five-speed manual gearbox, power delivery to the wheels is immediate.

The Gypsy King by default is a rear-wheel drive vehicle as it is normally driven in two-wheel drive mode where power is only sent to the rear wheels.

The Maruti Gypsy King is also a very well balanced vehicle even though it features a ladder frame chassis.

[caption id="attachment_15933" align="alignnone" width="1280"]Land Rover Defender and Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King Land Rover Defender and Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King[/caption]

Combine these two aspects with instant power delivery and what you get is a vehicle that is quite a bit of fun to drive. Put your mind to a corner, feed in the desired steering and throttle inputs, and the Gypsy happily kicks its tail out, lets some dust fly, with the side effect of leaving an uncontrollable grin on your face, that’s how you drive a Gypsy!

[caption id="attachment_15929" align="alignnone" width="1280"]Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King ascending Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King ascending[/caption]

But that’s getting carried away a bit with the Gypsy’s fun to drive nature. This SUV is also known for its off-road credentials. Although, the Gypsy may not be as capable at hardcore off-roading at times as the Defender due to its lower approach and departure angles. That said, with a ground clearance of 210mm and a shorter wheelbase, the Gypsy is not to be taken lightly.

[caption id="attachment_15926" align="alignnone" width="1280"]Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King 4x4 Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King 4x4[/caption]

The Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King comes with two selectable four-wheel drive modes, namely 4H for high speed four-wheel driving and 4L for low-speed four-wheel driving. As expected, more torque is delivered lower down the rev range in 4L, giving the Gypsy King good grunt while climbing steep inclines, tackling tricky terrain and loose surfaces. Oh and yes, the Gypsy comes with leaf springs making the ride bumpier than you can imagine.

[caption id="attachment_15928" align="alignnone" width="1280"]Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King 4x4 high speed Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King 4x4 high speed[/caption]

Thanks to its light weight the Gypsy does not get bogged down in loose surfaces as easily as heavier SUVs. That said, as peak torque is available at a rather high 4,300 rpm, it makes it quite a challenge to drive the Gypsy at times. Since traditional petrol engines do not have as high torque as turbocharged diesel engines do lower down the rev range, you have to build up speed in the Gypsy King as you approach tricky terrain and then use momentum along with torque to make your way across. Unlike in the Defender where you can simply ride that massive wave of torque at lower speeds to get the vehicle across.

Add to this, the Defender has a locking centre differential to modulate power better to wheels over loose surfaces and uneven terrain. The Gypsy on the other hand has live axles front and rear, and that’s it. The Gypsy King also has an unassisted steering unit that is on the heavier side but feedback is good.

[caption id="attachment_15936" align="alignnone" width="1280"]Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King off-road Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King off-road[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_15937" align="alignnone" width="1280"]Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King off-roading Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King off-roading[/caption]

This by default makes the Gypsy King difficult to drive over tricky terrain. But once you get a hang of the Gypsy and comfortable with high speed off-roading in 4H, there is no looking back. While the Gypsy asks more of a driver during off-roading, the rewards are higher too, you as a driver experience a greater sense of accomplishment in controlling a vehicle. And that if you ask any motoring enthusiast, is driving nirvana!

[caption id="attachment_15927" align="alignnone" width="1280"]Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King 4x4 ascending Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King 4x4 ascending[/caption]



[caption id="attachment_15925" align="alignnone" width="1280"]Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King and Land Rover Defender off-road Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King and Land Rover Defender off-road[/caption]


Both the iconic Land Rover Defender and Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King are very capable off-road machines. Testimony to this fact is that both vehicles are preferred by armed forces and in case of the Defender, such credentials are plentiful across the world. The Gypsy King on the other hand is more reliable and has been preferred by off-road enthusiasts in the country for decades.

[caption id="attachment_15958" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Land Rover Defender on hilltop Land Rover Defender on hilltop[/caption]

The Defender without a doubt is more capable off-road than the Gypsy, but the Gypsy is more feelsome, more fun to drive with its rear-wheel drive nature and asks more of a driver, in turn making him/her more competent. And that is something in itself.

[caption id="attachment_15931" align="alignnone" width="1280"]Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King descending Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King descending[/caption]

Add to this, a brand new Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King retailing between Rs. 5.98 lakh to Rs. 6.13 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi) is far more affordable and easier to procure than a Land Rover Defender. Considering that the Defender is not sold in India, and the only way you can have one is to import one or buy a pre-owned import.

The Land Rover Defender is going out of production in 2015 at the company’s home facility in Solihull, UK. We at pay a tribute to this legendary off-roader to mark its 67 year life span! Read full feature here --> A farewell tribute to the original Land Rover: Series III & 110 style

Meanwhile, as mentioned earlier, the Maruti Suzuki Gypsy has turned 30 years old in India. Here is our feature on this unique off-roader that also includes its full history and review! --> 30 years of the Maruti Suzuki Gypsy: Full History & Review included!

You can also read how a modern day Land Rover SUV behaves off-road here --> Land Rover Experience Drive in the Freelander 2


Photography by: Siddharth & Shivank Bhatt

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