EVEN if the end result is a little awkward it is easy to see what Mahindra’s trying to do here. The KUV100 introduced to the South African market in June is the Indian brand’s take on small crossover/hatch design, with Nissan Juke-esque body curves mish-mashed together with Ford Ecosport-like dimensions.
From some angles the look is quite funky – namely the front where its slitty grille and wraparound headlights borrow some styling cues from Range Rover’s Evoque.
But, its side profile is let down by a set of especially dinky 14-inch rims and tyres which give an illusion of top-heaviness.
Mahindra throws the term SUV around quite liberally in the KUV’s press material, but at only 3,6m long and 1,6m tall it hardly qualifies as a genuine sports ute.
In fact it is also a bit smaller than the Ecosport, and is more on par with your average B-segment hatchback.
Ground clearance is above average though, and at 170mm it will bomb along a rocky road without much risk of ripping bits of undercarriage off.
Its suspension feels tuned for scarred third-world surfaces with soft dampers and squidgy springs that laugh off most potholes, though it does bob with every gear change and lean excessively around traffic circles.
Tight turning circle
Its electrically-assisted power-steering is vague to say the least, but an especially tight turning circle is a redeeming factor.
I pulled off a remarkable U-turn on Melville’s 7de Laan on a busy Friday night. No mean feat, that.
Our test car was a 1,2 mFalcon D75 K8 model (bizarre but true) which, when translated from Mahindra to English, means top-of-the-range turbodiesel.
Power comes from a 1 198cc three-cylinder with outputs of 57kW and 190Nm and, while it looks weak on paper, it actually performs quite nicely.
Torque delivery is almost instantaneous, with a broad rev range that spreads evenly across five forward gears. There is no trip computer so measuring average fuel consumption was done the old-fashioned way with odometer readings and a calculator.
After a week-long test the KUV returned a respectable average of a little more than six litres per 100km. Pity then, that it sounds like a wood chipper full of wheel nuts.
This is one of the loudest turbodiesels we have come across, exacerbated by gearing which has the engine revving high in open-road driving.
A lack of sound deadening material also means the engine clatter echoes through the cabin at all times. Refined this mFalcon is certainly not.
Cabin quality is also disappointing, and though we can forgive the dominant drab colour (some Asian markets love beige/grey interiors) its chintzy plastics won’t cut it against similarly priced rivals.
Our test car was also specced with optional vinyl seat covers which not only fit very poorly, but also prohibit use of the folding rear seat backs.
The steering is adjustable for height, but not reach, so some taller drivers might find the seating position a little compromised.
A dashboard-mounted manual gear lever adds to the KUV’s quirk factor, but also requires a further forward driver’s seat than usual.
The controls seemed to suit my average-sized frame, but a poorly placed handbrake will irk whatever body size is behind the wheel.
It is an old-school bakkie type ratchet below the dash that is impossible to use without jamming knuckles. Besides that one ergonomic disaster the rest of the layout is quite well thought out.
Three simple HVAC control knobs are as easy to reach as they are to understand.
I also liked the uncomplicated stereo system with a basic black and white LCD display, and pairing my phone for phone calls and audio playback was very straightforward.
Bluetooth connectivity and steering wheel controls come standard in the K8 as well as middle-spec K6 KUV100s.
Remote central locking is also standard, but would intermittently refuse to work in our test car.
Glitches sometimes happen, but we have heard other journalists reported the same problem on their petrol-powered KUV.
A stiff gearshift seems to be another intermittent problem with the KUV.
The vehicle we drove on the media launch in June was afflicted with this problem, but the gears moved smoothly in the car we drove for this road test.
Mahindra’s KUV100 comes with decent spec levels and a raised ride height that’s desirable in the budget hatch segment these days, but its awkward styling and cheap interior will play against it.
Mahindra KUV100 D75 K8
Engine: 1,2-litre, 3-cylinder turbodiesel
Gearbox: 5-speed manual/automatic
Power: 57kW @ 3 750rpm
Torque: 190Nm @ 1 750-2 250rpm
Price: R197 995
Warranty: 3-year/100 000km
Service/Maintenance plan: 3-year/50 000km – Star Motoring.
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