Mahindra ROXOR Review: First Drive
Engine: 2.5L turbodiesel
The age of the classic 4×4 is truly upon us. Iconic 4×4 vehicle shapes are re-emerging everywhere, and classic vehicles are fetching impressive used market values. The “new” Mahindra ROXOR sets to capitalize on this trend and reintroduce the classic Willys CJ3 to the North American market, but not in the way you might hope.
The ROXOR is being sold through powesports dealers as a UTV, or side-by-side. It will not be street legal in the US, as there is no way it could meet safety, crash or emissions standards. So yes, you can now buy a new modern interpretation of the Willys CJ3, but you’ll have to keep it off public roads in most states.
Mahindra has continually made a version of the old Willys CJ3 since 1947. The version they make for the Indian street legal market today is called the Thar. The Thar looks much more like a Wrangler from the 1990s than it does an old CJ, but that is because it has been modernized to meet the road legal standards that have developed in India.
MANA, Mahindra Automotive North America, is exclusively building the ROXOR at its new headquarters and manufacturing facilities, 400,000 sq/ft worth, in Auburn Hills, MI. They have already invested over $230 million into the program, and plan to invest another $600 million by 2020. The $19 billion Mahindra Corporation has big plans for the North American automotive market, and the ROXOR is just the beginning. With 50% of global off road vehicles (ORV) sales coming from the US, Mahindra thinks it’s a good place to start.
Knock-down vehicle kits will be manufactured in India and shipped to Michigan, where they will combine with about 20% US sourced content to create the ROXOR. MANA is aiming for 51% US content in the ROXOR, but that will take some time to accomplish.
The DNA of the original CJ is alive and well in the new ROXOR. While it offers a few modern touches, it has nearly the same metal body, boxed steel frame and solid axels suspended from leaf springs at all four corners. Modern touches like hydraulic power steering, front disk brakes, quality high/low beam headlights and proven all terrain tires make the ROXOR easier to live with than the original.
Be prepared for the ride you’d expect from a classic fully leaf sprung CJ3. It is certainly not smooth off road, especially at speed, but I would call it fun. While Mahindra recommends 28 PSI in the 30-inch BFGoodrcih T/A KO2 tires, airing them down to a much lower PSI greatly improves the off-road ride characteristics. The ROXOR also comes with a very basic mono-tube shock, which is ripe for replacement with an upgraded aftermarket unit.
Powered by a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder turbo-diesel this little off-road machine isn’t exactly fast, and there is a Bosh engine controller that limits the vehicle to 45 mph. The turbo-diesel puts out 62hp and 144 lb-ft of torque, resulting in great low-end that makes driving the ROXOR at slow speeds through difficult terrain extremely enjoyable. The power delivery is smooth and overall it’s impressively quiet.
One thing you won’t get with the ROXOR is an automatic transmission, at least not yet. You must be able to handle a proper 5-speed manual transmission in order to drive the ROXOR, making it one of the more unique setups on the side-by-side market, as most models use CVTs. Besides being unique, it’s one of the easiest manuals that I’ve ever driven. The clutch pedal is light, the gearbox smooth and the engine is really hard to stall.
At launch the ROXOR will come in a base model ($15,400) and a Limited Edition LE ($18,400) model. The vehicle is essentially the same, but the LE model adds on a ton of useful bolt on accessories like a 40-inch KC HiLights Light Bar, Bestop Bikini Soft Top, Warn M8000 Winch, HD front bumper and winch mounting plate, HD battery and an MTX AM/FM Bluetooth Sound Bar.
Useful features aren’t limited to the LE model though, as every ROXOR gets some thoughtful touches, like the under seat locking storage, under both seats. There are quite a few accessory switch cutouts, with covers, in the firewall, which will make it extremely easy to add electric accessories. A solid grab bar is mounted within easy reach of the passenger, with a fun sticker behind it that says “Don’t Do Anything Stupid!” While that might not be too hard for the passenger, the driver might have trouble following that suggestion, as the ROXOR is a hoot to drive and push the vehicle’s limits.
A ton of accessories are in the works for the ROXOR, both by the company itself and the aftermarket industry. Things like a hardtop, full soft cabin enclosure, e-lockers, bead lock wheels and more are coming very soon. Comfort features like AC and heat are also in the works. Even heated and cooled seats and a heated steering wheel are already being tested. While the ROXOR is just a two-seater now, rear passenger seats will also be available soon.
As with any new vehicle there are still kinks to work out and improvements that can be made. At over 20-feet, the turning radius on the ROXOR is quite bad. Apparently in order to get the gearbox into 2wd you need to be in 4Hi and rolling. While I was never able to get the ROXOR into 2wd, 4Hi and 4Lo were easy to engage and are really the only drive modes you’re going to need with this off road only vehicle.
Another little gripe we have is with the headlight rocker switch, which has its low beam on an up click and high beams on a down click. The issue is that the neutral centered position turns the lights off, which is not intuitive. More than once myself and other test drivers left the headlights on without knowing it. The standard horn on the ROXOR can also be best described as “cute,” as it makes a pathetic little sound. A dead pedal for the driver’s left foot would also be a welcome addition, as when bouncing around off road it’s nice to brace yourself into the seat with pressure on your left foot.
Both models of the ROXOR are arriving at powersports dealers across North America now. The company has over 150 dealers already signed up, and expects to have about 300 very soon. It shouldn’t be hard to find a dealer near you to go check one of these fun machines out for yourself.