Few vehicles come close to the exhilaration of the new Mahindra Axe. This is a vehicle that is, technically, still a prototype, and might never be put to “civilian” use because it has been developed for the Indian Army. Mahindra Defence Systems (MDS), which developed this light, extreme off-roader from scratch in about six months, has fulfilled its aim of developing an Indian “Humvee”, the ubiquitous US Army vehicle. And in fact, there are some external similarities.
This is a vehicle developed for the Army, so it comes sans all luxuries; the seats and some other interior fittings are commandeered from the Mahindra Bolero, but the power train, a five-cylinder 2700cc engine mated to a five-speed automatic gearbox, comes from Korean company SsangYong. It doesn’t end there; the imported shock absorbers are designed for racing and are used by rally cars and the massive 305/70R16 all-condition tyres would have done good service on vehicles doing the Paris-Dakar Rally.
But how is this car to drive? Tremendous fun. Okay, one can argue that open-top off-roaders are always fun, but driving an open-top off-roader at 80-90 km per hour in the badlands of Haryana, jumping over rocks and splashing through little ponds of water and throwing up so much dust that silica covered all the occupants of the car from top to toe isn’t something you can do with such ease with every off-roader.
The vehicle is perfectly balanced. That becomes apparent when you throw it into turns; the huge tyres grip even loose mud perfectly well (though we were in fourwheel mode) and the six-foot wide vehicle, which rides over a foot above the ground, never lets you feel that it is getting ahead of you. Fair enough, there is this sneaking suspicion that the engine is revving a bit higher than it needs to, but this vehicle is designed for military needs, and a bit of fuel economy lost is really not a big deal, since performance is the key. The ride quality is decent—yes, you do get jolted around a bit, but if you drive through stone quarries, you can’t really expect not to get your spine jolted.
As far as cutting its teeth as a military vehicle goes, the Axe can seat up to eight fully equipped infantrymen. A light machine gun can be mounted on the front passenger side; and there is storage space for a rocketpropelled grenade launcher and other weapon mounts. Also interesting is the provision for tanks that hold 240 litres of water in the car itself. And the Axe has a range of over 750 km thanks to its 100-litre diesel tank.
MDS is but one of many contenders for this requirement, and the initial order might be a paltry 200. But in developing the Axe from scratch, Mahindra engineers have shown their prowess again, and the Axe will be a strong contender for the Indian Army.