Johannesburg - Following the launch of its KUV 100 budget crossover vehicle last year, Mahindra South Africa has stepped up a class with its larger new TUV 300 introduced this week.

The diesel-engined compact SUV has a roomy five-plus-two seater cabin, a rugged body-on-frame design, and an appealing R229 995 pricetag that comfortably undercuts rivals like the Ford Ecosport and Renault Duster.

Catering to local buyers’ insatiable appetite for ‘adventure’ vehicles with elevated ride heights, this Indian crossover straddles the road at a belly height of 184mm, allowing its occupants to gaze imperiously over the rooftops of ordinary sedans and hatchbacks.

Its chunky exterior design, reminiscent of a Daihatsu Materia melded with a Jeep, lends it an air of square-jawed authority and a rear-mounted full-size spare wheel adds to the rugged look.

There is no offroad ability to go with the macho styling, and the TUV 300 (pronounded three double-oh) is pushed along only by its rear wheels, but its rugged body-on-chassis design does theoretically make it more suited to tackling third-world roads.

I was impressed by this Mahindra’s comfortable ride quality when driving it at Monday’s media launch in Gauteng, and with its independent front and rear suspension and high-profile 15” tyres it felt well cushioned on rutted dirt roads.

The TUV 300 is an entirely more refined prospect than the cheapie KUV 100.

Surprisingly competent little diesel 

Power is supplied by a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo diesel with a bigger heart than its modest size suggests, and it wrings surprisingly competent pace from its 73.5kW and 240Nm outputs.

Acceleration is unhurried but once it gets up to speed it cruises happily at the 120km/h speed limit (and more), and does so without any tractor-like clatter. Mechanically it’s fairly smooth and soft-spoken, and wind noise isn’t intrusive either. The five-speed manual transmission shifts smoothly, unlike the notchy operation of the KUV 100.

The very tall roof (it’s high enough so you could wear a top hat) gives the car a top-heavy feel without feeling excessively wallowy.

The Mahindra’s 230 grand pricetag looks very appealing against rivals like the R279 900 Renault Duster 1.5 dCi Dynamique (80kW/240Nm) and R283 900 Ford Ecosport 1.5 TDCi Trend (74kW/205Nm).

The price difference doesn’t ring any alarm bells in terms of build quality. The TUV 300’s hard interior plastics don’t have the rich tactile feel of soft-touch surfaces, but they’re neatly fitted and seemingly solid, and a dual-tone dash inlaid with silver detailing creates an appealingly modern vibe inside the cabin.

The single TUV 300 model available comes with a fairly bountiful spec sheet that includes a Bluetooth/USB/AUX infotainment system with a display screen and supplementary controls on the steering.

Also standard is aircon, tilt-adjustable steering, remote central locking, reverse parking assist, dual airbags, and ABS brakes.

The car also talks to you, with a voice warning when you haven’t buckled up, or when you’ve driven off with the handbrake still engaged.

The cabin’s spacious and the front two rows comfortably accommodate full-sized adults, while in the boot are two kiddie-sized side-facing jump seats that fold down. With the middle seat folded down the 384 litre boot grows to a spacious 720 litres.

The TUV 300 is one of the better Mahindras I’ve driven, and it comes with a 3-year/100 000km warranty and 3-year/90 000km service plan.

IOL Motoring