The TUV300 on test here technically competes with cars such as Ford’s Ecosport, Renault’s Duster and Honda’s BR-V, but in typically Indian fashion it undercuts them all in price, and by quite a hefty margin too. It also brings some unique aspects to the high-riding, pseudo-adventure vehicle game with a bakkie-like body-on-frame chassis design, rear-wheel drive and space for seven passengers - but more on those later.
Adventure vehicle categorisation is a bit of stretch though, because, while it does have a decent 184mm of ground clearance there is almost zero off-road ability here. I actually got stuck with a spinning right rear wheel on the very same angular driveway entrance a buddy had just negotiated without problems in a lowered hatchback. That said, it’ll be at least as good as its aforementioned front-wheel drive rivals when it comes to straddling middlemannetjies or travelling the odd rutted out of town route.
The TUV’s body-on-frame design might mean little to buyers in this league, who wouldn’t know a unibody from a unicorn, but it’s because of this unconventional setup that occupants sit so high up in relation to the road. And that’s the name of the game with the current crop of crossover SUVs - the more altitude the better. The TUV is deceptively lofty, and at robots I noted various 4x4 bakkie drivers sitting at eye level with me. Its funny dimensions do make for a rather peculiar looking package, as this Mahindra seems almost as long as it is tall.
On top of the elevated seating position is an even higher roofline, and Abraham Lincoln could sit in here without removing his trademark top hat. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t all make for a top-heavy feeling on the road, and the TUV300 struggles to keep an even keel around sharper corners at speed. It may bob and sway more than the competitors mentioned above when driven with enthusiasm, but it still manages ride quality well with cushiony springs and balloony 15-inch tyres that smother rough surfaces with softness.
Under the hood is a 1.5-litre turbodiesel with just three cylinders, but it’s impressively torquey and with only a trace of turbolag. Outputs are rated at 74kW and 258Nm, but it’s the latter figure that makes for calm, low rev cruisability. Ratios in the five-speed manual transmission are long, so shifts are infrequent and it’s possible to hang onto one gear for speed ranges that might require two or three in other cars.
Our test car returned an average diesel consumption of 7.9 litres per 100km over a week of mostly traffic congested commutes. That was with its auto stop/start function disabled, however, because in the TUV it kicks off and fires up with a judder that could be measured on the Richter scale. It was also quite slow to react, and I found it better (and safer) to drive without it.
The cabin is far better presented than other recent Mahindras, and as long as you don’t mind the beige bomb that’s exploded over the entire interior (minus a small bit of dashboard and the steering wheel), it’s all well made and styled with 21st century taste. Controls are a little last season however, with a basic two knob radio and three knob climate control system; but I must say it’s refreshing to use such a simple arrangement in a world full of overly complex touchscreens today. Old school is still cool.
Now, about those sixth and seventh jumpseats. Absolutely terrible. They’re side-mounted flip down chairs just like you get in a Fortuner, but they’re so small only a pair of toddlers would fit there ... at a squeeze. And even worse, they have no seatbelts. Unbuckled toddlers are unacceptable in our book, so even if South African homologation laws allow belt-less seating, we think these poor attempts at cramming in extra passengers would be better unbolted and left out.
I would like to say that this seat deletion would free up some cargo space, but it wouldn’t actually help much because the rear wheel housings intrude so far into the boot.
Mahindra claims a 384 litre capacity, or 720 with the middle bench folded, and while that may be true they’re the most awkwardly shaped litres we’ve seen in a long while. If head room is the TUV’s forte, boot space certainly isn’t. Count on around six bags of groceries only.
A very high riding alternative to the usual compact crossover suspects. The TUV300 is easy to drive and offers a commanding view of the road, but if you need space for seven souls, we urge you to look elsewhere.
Follow Jesse Adams on Twitter @PoorBoyLtd
MAHINDRA VERSUS RIVALS
1.5 turbodiesel, 74kW/258Nm, 184mm ground clearance, 7 seats - R229 995
Ford Ecosport Trend
1.5 turbodiesel, 74kW/205Nm, 200mm ground clearance, 5 seats - R283 900
Honda BR-V Comfort
1.5 petrol, 88kW/145Nm 210mm ground clearance, 7 seats - R252 900
Renault Duster Dynamique
1.5 turbodiesel, 80kW/240Nm, 210mm ground clearance, 5 seats - R279 900