Seek enlightenment: 2018 Mahindra TUV300 T8

 

Indian cars come pre-loaded with bad press. Some is deserved because a few early examples were poorly assembled and unreliable. Others arrived here with less than desirable safety specs. But they aren’t all bad. Test-driving a Mahindra TUV300 could even make you smile.

Our test car, a T8 (next-to-top trim level) with five-speed manual transmission, was built like a Churchill tank. With build quality on par with recent Chinese vehicles (read, pretty good) it has safety equipment and features to match those of most others retailing at around R230 000.
The only model available here, it uses a 1500 cc twin-turbo diesel engine, seats seven at a pinch but has plenty of room for the other five, treats gravel roads with disdain (that Indian background) and is priced head-to-head with other small school-run kiddie movers like Toyota Avanza and Suzuki Ertiga. Unlike them, it’s built on a ladder frame chassis and has rear-wheel drive.

Unfortunately, being built like a battlewagon works against it. Tipping the scales at 1625 kg with 75kg driver and full tank, it needs low gearing in order to stay decently mobile. The rev counter indicates 3100 rpm in top gear at 120 km/h and effective top speed is around 140. Some overseas reviews say 156, but you might wait a while to get there. The engine runs out of steam at around 4500 rpm, which is fairly common for a diesel.

Another “plus” it could do without is ECO mode. It strangles performance and, we suspect, could have been the cause of some unflattering performance evaluations. For example: Most overseas reviews put TUV300’s zero to 100 km/h sprint at around 14 seconds but others reckon it’s closer to 17 and needs a further nine seconds to reach 120 km/h.

Driving the car as most owners would, while ignoring that switch, we found day-to-day performance about average for a small car with typical, 74 kW motor. It proved flexible in almost any gear around town, kept up easily with city- and freeway traffic, reached 120 km/h on the open road comfortably and rolled on readily to 130-plus when emergencies arose. Lesson: Don’t believe all the bad.
Seats are covered in light tan cloth with darker inserts. Numbers six and seven fold down from the sides, have no safety belts and are suitable for users no taller than about 167 cm. The rear bench’s single backrest is a touch too upright for sustained comfort, headspace is grand and foot room is good but knee space is only fair. Two head restraints with two-and-a-half belts look after safety. The cushions are rather hard and thin, although those in front are much better.

The driver’s chair adjusts for elevation while both offer lumbar support and built-in armrests. One sits high but there is always more than sufficient headroom. Under-thigh support is good and cushion depth is too. Big, square windows make it easy to see where you’re going and handling, thanks to its 10.7-metre turning circle, is a dream.
The central console offers a cup holder, small oddments trays and two 12-Volt sockets. The parking brake, properly placed for RHD, has a smooth and positive action, the long gear lever works comfortably and smoothly and music input sockets are on a panel just ahead of it. Air, electronic systems and entertainment controls are simple and easy to use with the steering wheel, adjustable for elevation only, adding sound and phone buttons. Sadly, there’s no resting pad for the clutch foot when it’s idle.
The back door opens sideways but even with attached spare wheel is not unduly heavy. The sill is 76 cm above ground level and 18 centimetres deep. There’s a grab handle for those climbing into the space while a bottle bin and two slots in the door look after storage. There is a dedicated internal release handle with locking tab. When the second row backrest is folded flat, using a pull-tab at bottom rear, it leaves a 35 cm step in the storage area.

Equipment includes two airbags, ABS brakes with EBD, Bluetooth phone and streaming connectivity with voice messaging, fog lights, hydraulic power steering, cornering head lamps, air conditioning, powered windows all ‘round, welcome and follow-me lighting, roof rails, side steps, alloy wheels, autolocking and rear parking assistance.

Useful, or possibly just irritating, is a recorded voice that welcomes the driver on first startup each day, informs him or her that “ECO mode is now engaged” and “Do wear your seatbelt to ensure a safe journey.” We hated it. Just saying.

The Mahindra TUV300 isn’t perfect, nothing is, but it offers a good balance of properties at this price point. It deserves a second look, so seek enlightenment and try one.

(Test unit from Mahindra SA press fleet)

The Numbers
Price: R229 995
Engine: 1493 cc, mHawk100, 6-valve, three-cylinder twin-turbo diesel
Power: 73.5 kW at 3750 rpm
Torque: 240 Nm between 1600 and 2800 rpm
Performance: See text
Car magazine Fuel Index: 6.5 l/100 km
Tank: 60 litres
Luggage: 384 – 720 litres
Warranty: 3 years / 100 000 km with roadside assistance
Service plan: 3 years / 90 000 km

Text by Gordon Hall
Pics by Quickpic