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Driving impression: Mahindra KUV100 1.2 K6+ TDiesel

7 June 2016

In short, Mahindra’s first compact crossover was not quite everything we imagined it to be. On photographs, the demeanor and silhouette reminded us of something that can be akin to a Ford EcoSport and probably a price tag to match.

When it broke cover on its local launch, the compact dimensions, gawkish looks and seemingly affordable price tag proved to be a mixed surprise – a lucky-packet-like thrill. We didn’t quite know what to expect.

Starting at R149 995, the bottom of the range K4+ is the most affordable crossover for sale in South Africa and you even get everything you might come to expect from a compact crossover. To give some perspective: reasonable boot space, a foldable rear seat, air conditioning, dual airbags, an anti-Lock braking system (ABS), electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) and corner braking control (CBC) all comes standard across the range.

At first glance, it can be considered a bargain compared to the rest of the field where the Renault Sandero Stepway and Toyota Etios Cross rules with an iron-clad budget fist. But as the trim level becomes more premium, so too, does the price tag with the range-topping K8 Diesel retailing for R197 995 with a list of extra options added; from engine start-stop to daytime running lights and even alloy wheels.

All of these niceties adds up to a premium of around R10 000 more than both its rivals, some serious dough, considering the brand targets a fashion-conscious emerging market of families looking to buy an affordable runabout.

The KUV100 is available in a choice of a three-cylinder, 1.2-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine which produces 61 kW @ 5 500 r/min with a torque figure of 115 Nm @ 3 500 r/min. There is also the choice of a three-cylinder 1.2-litre turbodiesel mill which produces 57 kW @ 3 750 r/min and a torque figure of 190 Nm from as early as 1 750 r/min.

We drove the latter at the local launch fitted to the mid-range K6+ model. While the diesel mill will not set any record boards alight, it proved to be a capable little engine around the city.

The low-end torque (1 750 r/min) is available at little more than a moment’s notice which proved to be quite handy when there is only a small gap in oncoming traffic. On the flipside of the coin, however, the engine’s turning power also collapses quite early on in the engine revolution spectrum at only 2 250 r/min.

Building up speed on the highway, this small torque band proves to be less than ideal. Snatching at the ‘joystick’ gear lever situated high up on the centre console (next to the windscreen wiper stalk) is required to keep the needle’s upwards momentum going.

Each gear shift is completed with a subtle mechanical clunk. Miss the sweet spot and the torque curve will go on a downwards spiral, refusing to provide any more oomph.

A pleasant surprise is the amount of composure with which the ‘Koof’ tackles gravel roads. On a stretch lined with some washboard corrugations, it remained planted with a fair amount of steering feedback to communicate the surface of the road, despite the relatively skinny 185/65/R14 tyres fitted.

The KUV is the boxiest contender in its class as it’s nearly 4cm taller than the tallest competitor, 2cm narrower and 20cm shorter than its shortest competitor. This boxiness counted against it through the corners as there was no shortage of body lean.

Overall quality of the Indian seemed robust, especially inside the cabin, despite a surge of wind noise at higher speeds.

On the launch, the KUV100 proved that it can be an excellent city car with a nippy engine, good fuel economy (Mahindra claims 4.4-litres/100km) and enough stowaway space. Not only is the boot spacious enough for a few suitcases and a week’s shopping, it also has nifty underfloor storage compartments, big enough for any loose items that might find its way inside the car.

What’s more important is that it can also double as a lifestyle car for the family – essentially doing what a compact crossover should do.

It is robust, cheap to run and it has a three-year/100 000km warranty across the model range and a three-year/50 000km service plan for the K6+ and K8 models (optional for the K4+).

All in all, a solid buy, but you got to ask yourself; how about that looks?

Product Line-up:

KUV100 1.2 K4+ Petrol                             R 149,995

KUV100 1.2 K6+ Petrol                             R 169,995

KUV100 1.2 K6+ TDiesel                           R 187,995

KUV100 1.2 K8 Petrol                               R 179,995

KUV100 1.2 K8 TDiesel                             R 197,995

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