By: Ferdi de Vos
Mumbai, India - Indian car manufacturer Mahindra is readying itself for a renewed onslaught on the South African market with a bouquet of technologically advanced new models.
Besides entering the insanely competitive small hatch and SUV market for the first time, other innovations include the introduction of the brand’s first in-house petrol engine as well as a new, advanced automatic transmission. This product offensive from the Indian giant, is part of an international campaign to expand its footprint and widen its appeal in other markets.
South Africa’s importance in this global plan became quite evident during a visit to Mahindra’s facilities in India, as we were the first overseas journalists to sample the manufacturer’s small KUV100 hatch/SUV and the new high-powered version of its TUV300 SUV. Officially the company has been in South Africa for twelve years (although independent distributors imported some of its jeep-type products since 1996) and according to the executive director of Mahindra, Dr Pawan Goenka, some 4000 vehicles are sold here annually.
The current range in South Africa will be strengthened with the introduction of the KUV100 in June, followed by the TUV300, updates for the XUV500 and Scorpio, a relaunch for the improved Thar and possibly a new bakkie.
Small hatch meets SUV
The KUV100 represents an irreverent take on the small hatch and mini-SUV market. While compliant with Indian regulations in terms of vehicle and engine size (it’s less than 4 metres long and has sub-1.5-litre capacity engines) the KUV at 1 635mm stands much taller than its competitors, and is thus also roomier.
This, according to market research done by Mahindra in India, is what buyers want – a hatch with the looks and space of a small SUV, and initial uptake of the KUV100 in its home market seems to support this. However, the design result is somewhat ambiguous; its aggressive grille and nose ensuring good road presence, but its tall greenhouse making it appear very unbalanced. This is further emphasised by its small wheels and tyres, and to what extent its looks will be accepted locally, remains to be seen.
The KUV100 is also the first Mahindra model with an in-house developed petrol engine. Delivering 61kW and 115Nm, the performance of the small mFalcon G80 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo engine compares well with its competitors.
However, the petrol mill, while quite lively and willing, was bested by the mFalcon D75 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbodiesel. Its power figure of 57.4kW doesn’t sound like much, but with 190Nm of torque from a low 1 750rpm it was the power unit of choice to propel the quite hefty KUV100 through the hectic Mumbai traffic and the chaotic highways.
The hatchback/SUV will be available locally with three trim levels, all with dual airbags, ABS and EBD as standard from the entry-level K4+ upwards. The clean and neat layout of the instrument panel and the simple, yet striking design of the centre console with integrated gear-lever for the five-speed manual gearbox were particularly notable in the top model K8 we drove in India. Even more impressive, particularly when compared to earlier Mahindra models, was the quality level of the interior trim and materials, and the cloth seats were comfortable on long trips.
Its high roofline invoked a sense of spaciousness in the cabin and its luggage capacity of 243 litres, expandable to 473 litres with the rear seat folded down, was more than ample.
‘Battle tank’ TUV300
According to Mahindra the design for its seven-seat TUV300 was inspired by a battle tank; and it shows. In stark contrast with the KUV100, the bigger SUV’s lines are basic and angular, and in real life the tall vehicle, while still less than 4m in length, is much bigger than expected – with 384 litres of luggage space that can be expanded to 720 litres by folding away the small inward-facing rear seats.
The model earmarked for South Africa will have a new, more powerful 75kW version of the 1.5-litre mHawk turbodiesel engine, with 230Nm of torque.
Initially the TUV300, with T4, T6 or T8 trim levels, will only be available with five-speed manual transmissions locally, although an auto model could follow later.
Like its KUV100 counterpart the build quality and interior appointments of the utility – aimed at Ford’s Ecosport and the Renault Duster – are surprisingly good, and its handling is acceptable.
But while the smallish engine pulls well at low revs, it soon runs out of breath, and it may struggle to propel the quite heavy SUV (2225kg) forward in South Africa’s hot-and-high conditions.
During our visit we spent ample time behind the wheel of the new XUV500 auto, as well as the facelifted Scorpio, now with a new front end and grille, plus a revised ladder-frame chassis which somewhat improves its ride quality.
The six-speed auto transmission in the XUV is a peach, and should add to the medium-size SUV’s allure when it lands here in September, also in all-wheel-drive form.
The Wrangler-esque Thar 4x4, now with revised interior trim and a new rear diff-lock, is also due for reintroduction to the local market in the third quarter of the year.Star Motoring