PRETORIA - Mahindra is hoping to cash in on the shift towards automatic transmissions in the double cab bakkie market with a new S11 version of its Pik Up, and South Africa is the first country in the world to receive this new six-speed autobox.

In fact you could say that South Africa is a test bed for the model, which has undergone extensive endurance testing at the Gerotek test facility outside of Pretoria, and this week we were given the opportunity to drive the newcomer on some rough roads in the Magaliesberg region.

For now the automatic gearbox will only be available in the new S11 flagship specification grade, priced at R384 999 for the 4x2 model and R414 999 for the 4x4, and buyers seeking a bit more bling can get the Karoo styling package for an extra R15 000 on both versions. Mahindra SA is intending to offer the autobox on lesser specced models at some point in the future.

The six-speed unit is a new gearbox that’s being used on this model for the first time. It’s paired with the familiar 2.2-litre mHawk turbodiesel engine, which produces 103kW and 320Nm, and as we found out on the launch route, the two proved to be a surprisingly good combination.

The gearbox has well-spaced ratios and gets on with the job smoothly and unobtrusively, without too much in the way of hunting. There is a manual shifting mode too, but it’s unlikely that you’re going to feel the need to take the reins in this way.

Take-offs in S11 are lag free and the 2.2-litre engine impresses with its low down torque and general performance. This motor can also hold its own on the open road and ticks over quietly at highway speeds.

While this cut-price alternative to the Japanese one-tonners is generally quite agreeable to drive, there are a few refinement issues worth pointing out. For starters, there is a fair amount of road noise at highway speeds, owing to its blocky shape. While the steering is a big improvement on earlier Scorpio models, there is a rather wide turning circle that even makes changing direction at intersections more of a workout than in other vehicles. The ride quality is not the best nor the worst we’ve experienced in a bakkie, and the suspension coped admirably with the rugged Breedt’s Pass that we subjected it to on the launch route.

As you’d expect, the 4x4 version with its transfer case and standard Hill Descent Control can make mince meat of challenging off-road trails, although the ground clearance of 210mm is not the best in the business. All Pik Up models come with an Eaton mechanical differential lock and heavy-duty suspension, the latter allowing for a 1095kg payload on 4x2 models and 995kg on the 4x4s.

Moving inside, the S11’s interior is a pleasant enough place to pass time and it has a solid feel to it. The overall design is pleasing to the eye and there is plenty in the way of standard amenities, including a 17.8cm touchscreen infotainment system with satnav and a reverse camera.

The S11 models also ship with automatic climate control, cruise control and a height-adjustable multi-function steering wheel. There is no reach adjustment, however, and I felt that the steering wheel was set too close to the dashboard, making it a bit of a stretch from my ideal seating position.

The S11 flagship model also gets its own unique exterior styling features, such as a new grille and bumper and upgraded headlights that feature chrome inserts.

Those spending the extra R15 000 on the Karoo model get unique decals and styling bars, a rubberised load bay and lockable roller deck system for the load bay. On that note, Mahindra has also made subtle changes to the other Karoo packages that are available for the S6 and S10 models.

As you’ll see below, the S11 auto models come at a R37 000 premium over the S10 manual derivatives, but for the record, in 4x4 guise it’s still R124 000 cheaper than a Ford Ranger 2.2 XLS auto 4x4 and R150 000 less expensive than the Hilux 2.4 SRX.

Tempted?

Mahindra Pik Up Double Cab Prices

S6 4x2 R312 499
S6 4x2 Karoo R322 499
S6 4x4 R342 499
S6 4x4 Karoo R352 499
S10 4x2 R347 499
S10 4x2 Karoo R352 499
S10 4x4 R377 499
S10 4x4 Karoo R382 499
S11 AT 4x2 R384 999
S11 4x2 Karoo AT R399 999
S11 AT 4x4 R414 999
S11 4x4 Karoo AT R429 999

Aftersales back-up comes in the form of a five-year or 100 000km service plan and four-year/120 000km warranty and roadside assistance.

IOL Motoring