Mahindra recently launched its revitalised double cab S10. It’s better on the inside, they said. It’s better under the bonnet, they said. It provides even better value for money than before, they said. To find out if the latest S10 Pik Up 4×4, which sells for R355 000, is really as good as Mahindra reckons it is, we took it on a 1 500km road trip, and tackled the lesser-known Ongeluksnek Pass, in Lesotho.
The police officer smiled from ear to ear.
“Good morning gentlemen!” he beamed. He seemed genuinely happy to see us.
“Morning sir. We’re just heading up the pass. We’ll be back in a couple of hours,” we said. We handed over our passports.
“No problem. Our computer system is down, so please just fill in these forms for us. While you do that, I’ll go and unlock the border gate so long,” said the police officer.
If the immigration computer system was down at Oliver Tambo International Airport, it could be quite annoying. You wouldn’t expect it to happen at such a major hub. But here, at this seemingly godforsaken border post, a working ‘system’ is probably a small miracle.
The policeman was back after unlocking the gate. Our passports were stamped, and the paperwork completed.
“So how many cars do you get here per day?” we pondered. Clearly it’s not a lot.
“It depends on the time of year, but normally it’s about one car per week. We actually get more adventure bikers than cars,” he answered.
This was Ongeluksnek Border Post. Situated about 45km from the Eastern Cape town of Matatiele, the post is a gateway between South Africa and the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho.
Curiously, there is no Lesotho border post here. So, if you do enter Lesotho through Ongeluksnek Pass, and there’s no ‘entry’ stamp in your passport, you may face some raised eyebrows when you want to exit the kingdom at another post. That’s another reason why there is so little traffic here, we suspected.
“That bakkie…” started the policeman. “Is that a new one?”
He was pointing to the Mahindra Pik Up S10 parked nearby. Next to a Toyota Land Cruiser police bakkie.
“Yes, it’s Mahindra’s latest double cab. Some new styling, new interior and an upgraded engine,” we replied.
“Nice. Nice. Well, enjoy the drive,” said the friendly officer of the law.
A couple of minutes later we were through the unlocked gate, tackling an almost non-existent tweespoor track. It was very clear that there hadn’t been a vehicle on this ‘road’ for quite some time.
The altitude was 1 834m above sea level.
Interestingly, the pass has a speed limit of 20km/h. There’s even a sign to this effect. It’s soon clear, though, that actually achieving 20km/h on this track would be quite an achievement: it’s a bumpy, slow-going business. We could hardly imagine a cop jumping out from behind a bush with a speedgun.
The Mahindra Pik Up 4×4 double cab has a loading capacity of 995kg and it can tow up to 2 500kg of braked trailer. The leaf spring rear suspension, rounded off with an independent wishbone set-up at the front, was never designed with comfort in mind. Instead, hard labour is more relevant. So the ride is firm.
On this rocky road, the steering system displayed some interesting traits. When the front wheels hit a rock or rut, the impact was clearly felt through the steering wheel, the wheel reacting quite violently in some extreme cases. So we had to hang onto the thick-rimmed wheel with some tenacity.
And while we’re at it: the driver’s door features a panel that hosts the electric window controls. During normal driving, this panel is perfectly serviceable. On this rough and tough track, however, when you have to steer quite a lot and arm movements are quite pronounced, the driver’s right elbow connected with that panel in several painful instances.
For the rest, the cabin is really a cool place to spend time. The interior of the previous generation Mahindra Scorpio Pik Up – the company has since dropped the ‘Scorpio’ name for the bakkie – featured all the bells and whistles, but the quality of the fittings and materials were not always up to scratch.
The latest version corrects that, with higher quality fittings, a considerably more modern design and layout, as well as even more standard kit. This includes a new touchscreen infotainment system with satellite navigation, climate control, electric windows all round, rain-sensing wind-screen wipers, follow me home headlamps, light-sensing head-lamps and static bending headlamps.
Overall, the interior is vastly improved over the previous generation. Two airbags are now standard in the S10 Pik Up, too.
On the subject of improvement: the drivetrain probably represents the biggest advance over the older model. The previous model was powered by the same four-cylinder 2 196cc engine, producing 89kW and 290Nm of torque at 1 600r/min. That mill was mated to a five-speed manual gearbox.
The Mahindra bakkie tips the scale at around two tons. If you add a heavy load on the ‘bak’, performance was barely adequate. Carrying a heavy load on the open road would mostly require a voet-in-die-hoek driving approach to try and maintain 120km/h on steeper hills. More often than not, that required a brisk shift to fourth gear and plenty of engine revs to maintain momentum.
The upgraded drivetrain changes the game quite extensively. Mahindra has made a number of small refinements, and there’s now a bigger turbocharger and an intercooler that actually gets to breathe fresh air (the bonnet scoop on the previous generation bakkie was closed, so it had no effect on performance).
The uprated mHawk engine now produces 103kW of power and 320Nm of torque (1 500–2 800r/min). A new six-speed manual gearbox results in an infinitely better driving experience, more power and less fuel.
The ratios of the six-speed manual ‘box is perfectly suited to the mill’s torque and power delivery curves, so there’s always reserve juice on tap. Cruising at 120km/h on the highway is no longer a challenging perspective… hook sixth gear, set the standard cruise control and the Mahindra will run up and down hills while hardly breaking a sweat.
At that speed the engine ticks over at about 2 400r/min.
We didn’t have a heavy load on the ‘bak’ – but we reckon the Pik Up will deal with extra weight admirably.
Back to the Ongeluksnek Pass. We had only covered a few hundred metres when the first patch of tricky arrived: a climb up a particularly slippery looking section, with some mild axle twisters along the way.
It was time to go low-range. To add to the occasion, we deflated the Mahindra’s 245/75 R16 high profile tyres to 1.8 bar. In this age of fashion over function, where modern 4×4s are often fitted with low-profile rubber more suited to the N3 than a gravel road, the 16-inch all-terrains on the Mahindra are quite welcome. On a rough old track like this, the higher the sidewalls of the tyres, the better.
We reached the first axle twister, puttering along in first gear. The front wheels pushed through the rut. Then the rear wheels hit the axle twister. For a brief moment the Pik Up ground to a halt… but then it continued, the rear wheels finding traction.
It was the Mahindra’s MLD at play. Or mechanical locking device. Or limited slip differential in common terminology. So if one of the rear wheels loses traction and starts slipping, the limited slip diff prevents all power being sent to that spinning wheel, so both wheels are kept in powered rotation, ensuring traction and forward momentum are maintained.
It’s all rather mundane, really. You crawl up a section of rock in first gear, a rear wheel loses traction, the MLD system kicks in, and off goes the Pik Up. No wild spinning of wheels with rocks flying all over the show, the engine revving hard. It’s all very calm, and very collected.
We continued to climb. As we ambled up the mountain, a few more Mahindra Pik Up traits reared their heads. Like the turning circle. The bakkie is nearly 5.2-metres long, and the turning circle is… well, enormous. You need to plan around tight turns.
Another interesting Mahindra feature is the so-called ‘Micro Hybrid’ function, activated or deactivated via a button on the dashboard. What it really is, is a stop/start system. Because the Mahindra is fitted with a manual gearbox, the system activates once you’re stationary, select neutral and let out the clutch. The system can be deactivated via that dash-mounted button, which is what we did on the pass.
The Mahindra climbed and climbed. There was no drama. Finally, we arrived at the last few hundred metres, which are the steepest. This is the most difficult part of the climb. There were also patches of slippery mud, lined with rocks. Rounded off with some rather high drop-offs.
Using a dab more momentum, the Mahindra conquered the muddy patches, too. We arrived at the last challenge: a batch of rocks, on a steep incline. Here again, with the 2.2-litre mHawk engine ticking over at idling speed, and in first gear in low range, the bakkie clambered over the rocks in a most unflustered manner.
And then we reached the summit, 7.4km after leaving the South African Police Service station. The altimeter indicated 2 547m. Mind, that’s higher than Sani Pass.
From the escarpment, the views into South Africa to the south are quite splendid. In the hazy distance the outskirts of Matatiele were just visible.
The track on the plateau continues deeper into Lesotho, to the Maphooaneng Pass (less of a pass and more of a stunning tweespoor track snaking around a beautiful lake) and eventually the town of Mphaki.
The wind was howling on the escarpment. So much so that we actually pondered the fact that a door may be taken clean off its hinges if we opened it with the wind tearing in from behind.
On a day like this, you can’t really blame the Lesotho government for not operating a border post here. It’s truly remote. We didn’t hang around long.
Down the pass we went, and going down is certainly much easier than heading up. Besides the few patches of mud we encountered, the pass was mostly dry. If it’s wet, or if there is snow, we imagine this track would be a much different beast. Deep tyre ruts, where other 4×4s had clearly spent some quality time, attest to this.
We arrived back at the border.
“How was the road?” asked the friendly policeman again, in the process of stamping our passports.
“The track was a bit rough but not too bad,” we replied. “The bakkie did a good job.”
“It’s a nice one, that,” he said, pointing to the Mahindra.
We left the post, and headed back towards Matatiele. We were feeling a little bit… disappointed. We had been expecting at least a measure of hardship on the pass. But there had been nothing. Whatsoever.
The Mahindra handled the tough conditions in its stride. The engine was refined, powerful and sipped very little fuel. The cabin was a reasonably cool place to spend plenty of kilometres.
And you get all this for R355 000. That’s around R200 000 less than the main-stream double cab 4×4 offerings.
The previous generation Pik Up clearly lagged behind those mainstream offerings, in all but the value for money departments. But this new version, with its refined drivetrain and all the other positive attributes… for a saving of R200 000 you can sure forgive the Pik Up its few imperfections.
Throw the four-year/120 000km warranty in the pot, as well as a five-year/90 000km service plan and a four-year/120 000km roadside assistance plan, and the value for money prospects look even more rosy.
The Mahindra Scorpio Pik Up is dead.
Long live the Mahindra S10 Pik Up.
Ongeluksnek: An accident waiting to happen?
The pass – which can be directly translated as accident neck pass – is said to date back to 1861. That’s when Griqua leader Adam Kok led his people from Philippolis in the Free State through Lesotho, all the way to a place now called Kokstad. Back then it was in the so-called Griqualand East region, nowadays it’s part of the Eastern Cape.
And the name? According to legend, a member of the Kok travelling party accidently shot himself with his rifle while traversing the pass. So the name stuck.
The pass lies within the borders of the Ongeluksnek Nature Reserve, and you need to get a (free) permit at the entrance to the park.
More information: visiteasterncape.co.za; Tel: +27 43 701 9600.
Mahindra S10 Pik Up
Engine Four-cylinder turbodiesel, intercooler
Displacement 2 196cc
Power 103kW @ 3 750r/min
Torque 320Nm @ 1 500–2 800r/min
Transmission Six-speed manual
Fuel tank 80 litres
Actual fuel consumption average 9.4 litres/100km
Range (@ 9.4 litres/100km) 851km
Suspension Front independent, double wishbone coil sprung; rear leaf springs
Ground clearance (claimed) 210mm
4WD system Part-time, selection between 2H, 4H and 4LOW
Traction aids Mechanical locking device (MLD)
Tyres 245/75 R16
Towing capacity (braked trailer) 2 500kg
Price R354 995