Mahindra’s KUV100 is fun to drive despite its quirks and odd design

Despite its quirks – and it has a few – I enjoyed driving Mahindra’s new KUV100, clearly marked the K8 at the back. Which was a surprise considering that few manufacturers today highlight the model. Probably as a cost-saving device.

Brian Joss – The KUV100, pronounced Koov, is odd-looking and appears to have been designed by the same team that devised the camel: they weren’t sure whether to give it one hump, two humps or three. In the end they came up with a camel with two humps (bactrian) and a camel with one hump (dromedary). And in case you were wondering a camel with three humps is pregnant.

The Mahindra KUV100K8: odd looks do attract attention. Picture: Quickpic

So I am not sure if the Indian-developed KUV is a sports utility vehicle posing as a hatch or a hatch pretending to be an SUV. When you turn on the ignition the engine sounds like a buzz saw. I was a bit taken aback because today diesels are really quiet. But then I was in for another surprise.

The tank holds 35 litres, including five in reserve.  After driving twice to Stellenbosch from Milnerton, a few shopping trips to the mall and a meander along Melkbos the fuel warning gauge suddenly gleamed a bright red, although there were five litres in reserve. But as far as I am concerned it’s 30 litres.

When I pulled in to the garage forecourt I pointed to the diesel pump. The petrol attendant had other ideas and directed me to the lead-free dispenser. Whenever I stop at a garage to fill up I always get out of the vehicle to check that they’re putting the correct grade into the vehicle. And on the inside of the fuel cap it clearly said petrol. When I asked the pump jockey how he knew that it was petrol, he said, it’s what he gets paid for. I owe him a vote of thanks.

The KUV100 is Mahindra’s first foray into the compact SUV market, and according to the manufacturer, it is aimed at buyers of conventional hatchbacks. It is powered by the in-house developed mFalcon G80 three cylinder 1 200cc all-aluminium engine mated to a five-speed manual gear box. The engine delivers 61kW@5 500rpm; torque is 115N.m from 3 500rpm and drive is through the front wheels. The KUV100 can accommodate three adults at the back. Inside, the cabin is neat. It has a floating dashboard, which accommodates the joy-stick type gear lever. Gear changing was smooth too.

There is the usual instrument cluster including a gear indicator. Bluetooth, an auxiliary slot and USB port are in addition to the radio and CD player. It has an air-conditioning system and electrically adjustable windows and mirrors. The single colour display screen is hard to read, except when the fuel is low and the indicator glows bright red. The one thing that annoyed me most was the stop-start feature which often failed to restart at the red lights. And in Cape Town if you don’t put foot the instant the traffic starts to flow the angry hooters behind you will soon get you going.

The boot is not cavernous: it expands to 473 litres from 243 litres (the back bench seat can be folded flat) but not flush with the floor. At least I couldn’t get it to sit flush. And there is an under-floor storage area at the rear. You have to give the boot lever, which is situated next to the driving seat, on the floor, a hefty yank to work. So until I figured that out the shopping bags went on the back seat. Although the boot has a keyhole, the key wouldn’t go in.

There is a good view of the road from the driving seat, and speaking of seats, they were comfortable, at the rear as well, even if the upholstery felt a bit thin. The three-cylinder engine moves along at a rapid pace once the torque kicks in.  And there’s power to spare if you want to overtake. It also performed reasonably well on the test route which included a few “hill climbs”. However, it’s not a Speedy Gonzales. The KUV exhibited a lot of roll around corners, and the electrically powered steering, leaves a lot to be desired, it feels fuzzy and you have to work to keep it in a straight line. The steering wheel is tilt-adjustable. I thought that the gap between first and second gear was a bit too wide. When you change to second you notice quite a drop in power and it takes a while for the KUV8 to get going again. The ride is comfortable and hoovers up the bumps and potholes with relative ease. Braking is good too. As for fuel, I recorded figures of just more than 7litres/100km in a town and country cycle. More than Mahindra’s claimed 5.9 litres/100km with CO2 emissions of  139 g/km.

Safety features include two air bags; ABS anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and corner braking control (CBC) as standard, a collapsible steering column, and child safety locks on the rear doors. The headrests are adjustable. The KUV is equipped with the ubiquitous cup holders, on the armrests, front and back, as well as one-litre bottle holders in the door pockets and 12V accessory sockets front and rear. Power windows, central locking and an immobiliser system are standard across the range which consists of the KUV100 1.2 K8 Petrol, the test car, which carries a price tag of R179 995, the KUV100 1.2 K4+ Petrol ,  KUV100 1.2 K6+ Petrol,  KUV100 1.2 K6+ TurboDiesel  and  the KUV100 1.2 K8 TurboDiesel. As a matter of interest  the turbodiesel produces 57 kW at 3 750rpm and 190 N.m of torque from 1 750 rpm, Mahindra said.

Summing up: the Mahindra KUV8 is clearly aimed at the budget conscious and those who want a SUV but can’t afford one. It has its pros: it’s comfortable; the engine is surprisingly peppy; it’s fun to drive and its odd looks do attract attention. I think it’s good for city driving and the daily commute and even though the boot is not big it would be suitable as a mom’s taxi. The cons are the woolly steering; the small fuel tank; the annoying start-stop feature which stops more than it starts and the noisy motor. 

The price includes a three-year/100 000 km warranty on all models, and a three-year/50 000 km service plan on the K6+ and K8 derivatives (optional for K4+).

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