Kool Utility Vehicle is “kwerky” and fun to drive

Brian Joss – Quirky is the first thing that comes to mind when you get behind the wheel of the refreshed Mahindra KUV100 NXT, a sort of crossover SUV which has a higher-than-normal 170 mm ground clearance   KUV is the acronym for Kool Utility Vehicle.

The test vehicle, the K8, is the flagship of the expanded range which includes the entry level K2+, followed by the K4+ and  the K6+ with different spec levels and more features as you drive up the line-up. The K8, for example, has a bigger 7-inch infocentre with Bluetooth, a USB port and audio, as well as a button on the key fob to open the tailgate, rear parking sensors and electrically-folding side mirrors.. The “infotainment centre” is operated by manipulating the knobs, no swiping the touchscreen to get the info you need. There is also a gearshift indicator and the Intellipark reverse parking sensors give high-pitched audible warnings. The handbrake must be one of the worst I’ve encountered: It’s a pull and twist affair which takes some getting used to. It was really irritating. It wasn’t “kool” at all and I don’t know what the engineer was thinking when he designed it.

Although the gear lever is situated high up, to the right of the controls on the centre console, it is within easy reach of the driver. It adds a bit to the “kool” factor. Some styling changes include a redesigned seven-slot grille, a new silver skid plate, blacked-out surrounds for the integrated fog lights and 15″ diamond-cut dual-tone alloy wheels sit in flared wheel arches. The fist-shaped side mirrors, now have side turn signals, and the recessed rear door handles in the C-pillars are a carry-over from earlier models. The integrated roof rails are apparently more aerodynamically efficient.

The tail gate and rear bumper have been given a complete makeover and the spoiler is new, too. The headlights incorporate LED daytime running lights.

The KUV also has a stop-start function which works. The earlier vehicles I drove also had this feature but it didn’t work so I had to disable it.

Inside, there have been several cosmetic changes especially in the K8. This includes new fabric for the upholstery, piano black detailing on the K8 and a new temperature control panel on models fitted with climate control. A cooled glovebox, useful to keep stuff “kool” is another plus. A neat touch is a basic medical aid kit for minor cuts and abrasions or to staunch blood until qualified help arrives. An armrest for back seat passengers, follow-me-home and lead-me-to-vehicle headlights, speed-sensing door locks and front and rear 12V power outlets are a feature of the KUV100. The rear has enough space for two adult passengers; three would be a bit of a squeeze.  The engine is Mahindra’s much vaunted low maintenance mFalcon. The 1.2-litre three-pot motor delivers 61Kw and 114 N.m of torque. The front-wheel drive K8 is mated to a five-speed manual transmission. Gear shifts are smooth and the 1.2 litre is a peppy powerplant.  It easily kept up with the daily traffic flow but it’s not a ‘Speedy Gonzales’ although the TV ad which shows a couple in their respective KUVs racing to buy a carton of milk would have you believe otherwise. Nevertheless the ad gets the message across that it’s fun to drive.  If you’re driving at the legal limit and you want to overtake you’ll have to shift down, otherwise the K8 cruises quite happily at 120km/h. But you might have to put pedal to the metal to keep it at 130km/h and above.  I enjoyed driving the KUV and surprisingly, for a small car, it didn’t judder over every road imperfection. The KUV100 holds the road well but at higher speeds the steering is a bit wishy-washy.

The build quality of the K8 proved to be excellent with no mysterious rattles or squeaks and there was hardly any wind intrusion in the cabin.

There is some body roll but nothing that you can’t control.   The seats, front and back, are comfortable, and the driver has a good view of the road.

There is extra storage space under the passenger seat in front and bottle-holders in the doors. The boot appears small with 243 litres of luggage space, which can be increased to 473 litres, with the rear seats folded flat. Safety features include dual front airbags;  ABS and CBD are standard across the range while the K6+ and K8 get EBD.

Mahindra claims fuel use of 5.9 l/100km which is wishful thinking. My figures in a town and country cycle were almost 7l/100km. Which is not too shabby. But it only has a 35-litre tank so you might have to make more pits stops than are strictly necessary.

Summing up: I enjoyed driving the wannabe SUV. It is a comfortable and pliant ride and the KUV100 has a personality all its own. The KUV100 K8 NXT

1.2 litre is probably more at home in the city streets than on the long and winding road. The pull and twist handbrake was most annoying. Most times I left it in gear and didn’t bother using it.  It’s one of the few gripes that I have apart from the manually operated infotainment centre.

It carries a price tag of R199 999 and includes a 3-year/100 000 km standard warranty, 2-year/50 000 km powertrain warranty and 3-year roadside assistance plan. The  K6+ and K8 derivatives additionally have 3-year/50 000 km service plans as standard. Service intervals are 10 000 km for all KUV100 NXTs.

CAPTION: Cool: the Mahindra KUV100 NXT.  Picture: Quickpic

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