Watch Expert Review of Mahindra KUV100
I’ll start off with a small disclosure - I really like attending Mahindra press conferences and events for there always is one thing in common - passion. Be it the conglomerate backing a startup SmartShift, to the drive of the TUV3OO around Mahindra’s production facility or even Mahindra’s new pick-up; the Imperio - the zeal and zest of the head honchos remains constant. I admire that commitment towards innovation. Now, Mahindra say that the KUV is the outcome of 4 years worth of blood, sweat and tears of over 350 employees. A total of 1200 Crores were pumped into developing the KUV100 that includes an all-new design, two new engines and a new transmission. Talk about being frugal about your money!
The KUV100 is a SUV in Mahindra’s books. Is it really one? Let’s find out!
The official press pictures of the KUV created quite a stir a month back. The aggressive curves and creases coupled with some trademark Mahindra quirk found mixed reactions. What wasn’t too evident from the pictures however was the overall dimensions. How would the claimed ‘micro SUV’ look? Will it be as butch as it is supposed to be? Or is it just another hatchback with some cladding underneath?
In flesh, the KUV does manage to look like a scaled down SUV rather than a bloated hatch, especially from the front three-quarters. The design, like most Mahindra’s follows an all-out ‘love it or hate it’ philosophy. What you most certainly cannot do, is ignore it. The KUV1OO drew so much attention on our drive back from the Mahindra facility, that it needs a special mention. Also, most casual onlookers were youngsters. Considering the fact that the KUV is aimed at the youth, the design seems to be spot on.
The front houses a pair of sleek headlamps with integrated daytime running lamps - that Mahindra say are inspired by Sunglasses.. The headlamps are partially smoked and flows into a panel over the front fender. We particularly like the thin red stripe detailing that the headlamp cluster houses. The grille, although quintessentially Mahindra is extremely sleek and houses six vertical ‘teeth’ finished in chrome. The massive front bumper gets a generous amount of cladding that breaks the bulk of color at the front. The vertically stacked foglamps (that have a chrome surround) and the faux skidplate finished in matte silver do all they can to give the KUV an SUVish face.
Over to the side, the clamshell hood sits snugly over the front fender. A sharp crease flows from the headlamps onto the front doors. Another crease emanates from just under the C-pillar, arches over the tail-lamps and finishes into the boot. The KUV follows a tall-boy approach; which means that the roofline is substantially high. The rear door handles are positioned next to the windows, which is a quirky touch. However, it being finished in matte silver sort of defeats the purpose of the handle being there in the first place. Another crease (at the bottom half of the doors), chunky roof rails and the flared wheel arches sum up the side profile.
Our biggest gripe with the design have to be the wheels. The 14” Spider design wheels do absolutely nothing in adding to the appeal of the profile. Mahindra had a similar flaw in the TUV, the KUV retains that flaw. The wheel looks one size too tiny and the skinny tyres do not aid the ‘SUV’ positioning. We heavily recommend upsizing the tyres, not just for the looks but also for the added grip - but more on that later.
The rear is rather clean by Mahindra standards. Sometimes, you do tend to wonder if the Mahindra designers lose interest by the time they reach the rear end of the vehicle. The Scorpio, TUV and now the KUV share the same issue again. A design that starts off with zeal at the front looks lost by the time it goes past the C-pillar. The creases that flow in over the block tail-lamps look like an afterthought. Viewed dead-on from the rear, the KUV is almost slab sided, completely flat and devoid of anything interesting. The integrated spoiler, cladding and the dual rear foglamps do spice it up a bit. And before I forget, the wiper placement looks like a last minute patch job as well.
Coming to proportions, the KUV 3675mm long, 1655 mm tall (including the roof rails) and 1715 mm tall. While this isn’t exactly SUV territory, it is just enough to make the KUV look like a big SUV went inside a photocopier at 50%. The design is quirky and has a lot of hits (and misses too!). What it definitely is, is eye catching. Mahindra have also launched the KUV in some funky colors like the ‘Flamboyant Red’, ‘Fiery Orange’ and an ‘Aquamarine’ too.
The doors on the KUV open nice and wide, ingress and egress is definitely a strong point with the little Mahindra. You tend to walk inside the cabin of the KUV, much like in a WagonR. Once inside, you are greeted by a light grey interior. The seat fabric too, is finished in this grey shade. There are hints of piano blacks, matte blacks and dull silver around to break the monotony. We think the KUV could’ve done with a livelier looking interior. Since when is grey young and trendy, eh Mahindra?
Color palette aside, the KUV is offered with flexi-seating. The buyer can opt for a 3+3 or a 2+3 configuration. It is key to note, that those opting for a 3+3 configuration get integrated headrests at the front, whereas the 2+3 gets two proper seats at the front with adjustable headrests. The driver’s seat is adjustable for height and the travel, both in terms of reach and height is enough for the shortest of drivers. However, the seat compound is slightly hard. While this is better over long journeys, you wouldn’t want such a hard compound seat on a daily basis. The seat could’ve definitely done with more cushioning as well as shoulder support.
The middle ‘seat’ is usable, but barely just. All three passengers will be jostling for shoulder space at the front. This particularly affects the driver since the gear lever is exactly in front of the middle occupant. Shifting to 2nd/ 4th/ Reverse will see the driver elbowing the middle occupant in the chest. Also, the front row needs to be slid all the way back for the middle passenger to have enough legroom. Else, the passenger’s knees tend to foul with the centre console. This seat can be flipped down into what possibly is the biggest central armrest known to man. While this is super convenient, it does make reaching the pull-type handbrake lever a tad bit tricky. Again, when shifting to 2nd or 4th or Reverse, the elbow fouls with the armrest. Also, with the six-seater arrangement, you lose out on a lot of storage space. The five seater version has nifty floor mounted cubby holes. Mahindra say, that the middle seat is for moments when you have an extra guest and do not want to take another car. For strictly occasional use, the arrangement works fine. Do bear in mind that the middle occupant gets no airbag cushion. But, it does get a lap belt and Mahindra say that the centre console has been designed in a manner to reduce any unforeseen injuries to the middle seat occupant.
The rear is surprisingly spacious. There is generous amount of headroom and legroom. In comparison, it is noticeably better than the Swift/Dzire and more or less on par with the Grand i10. For reference, I (roughly 6ft tall) could sit behind my own driving position without too much of a fuss. Seating three at the rear too is possible, the floor is flat for the middle occupant to rest his feet. Rear seat occupants get a central armrest with cupholders too. We think that the rear bench could have been slightly more reclined, it is a tad upright for our liking. Another plus, is that all three occupants get adjustable headrests at the rear - a segment first.
The layout of the dash is pretty straight forward, something that places function over form. The centre console is a vertical plastic slab finished in matte black with a ‘KUV1OO’ badge slapped on for good measure. It houses a couple of AC vents, an integrated music system, vertically stacked controls for the air-conditioning and the dash-mounted gear lever. The gear-lever positioning is just right, there are no ergonomic issues on that front. However, like mentioned before, with the armrest folded down, the elbow does tend to foul while shifting.
The air-conditioning we think comes straight from Arctic. It is amongst the best air-conditioning units out there. Even though the KUV does not get rear AC vents, the cabin is cooled down extremely quickly. The downside to this is that the fan is extremely noisy. Maintaining a conversation with the fan running on speed ‘2’ is just about possible.
The music system is mated to 4 speakers and a couple of tweeters. Sound quality is mediocre and nothing that would wow you. For the audiophiles, please look towards an upgrade. For someone who enjoys his casual FM listening and Bluetooth streaming - the system does just fine. The 3.5 inch screen on the infotainment gets white text layered over a dull-grey/black background. Text is readable (even under direct sunlight) and the system is extremely intuitive to use. The top spec K6 and K8 variants also get Mahindra’s BlueSense App compatibility, that functions as a bluetooth remote for the music.
The steering is a simple three-spoke unit that gets some silver highlights and controls for the music and calls. The switch quality in particular isn’t too great, it feels cheap and plasticky. It’s a similar story for the stalks behind the steering wheel - not the best quality Mahindra could’ve used, that’s for sure. The wheel can be adjusted for rake, but not for reach.
Behind the steering lies the instrument cluster that houses a rev-counter, a speedometer and an MID. The MID is sandwiched between the two analog dials and displays the temperature, fuel, gear, odometer and a couple of trip meters. The orange accents on the instrument cluster looks trendy. Like all other Mahindras, the dials do a full sweep on startup.
The KUV gets it’s share of features too on the inside. Key among which are - the chilled glovebox, illuminated key ring, sunglass holders, led roof lamp etc. Storage spaces, though not a lot in number are well thought out. For example, there’s a 1 litre bottle holder on all four doors, some storage under the passenger seat, a coin holder next to the driver and even an under-floor storage under the 2nd row.
The bootspace is a respectable 243 litres, which isn’t as accommodating as the 256 litre on the Grand i10 but far better than the Swift’s 204 litre boot. However, the mouth of the boot is extremely narrow and the loading bay is substantially higher off the ground compared to the Hyundai or the Maruti.
Overall, a pleasant place to be in let down slightly by the grey theme and the stiff seats. It has just the right amount of features and space for the price point.
The KUV debuts two new engines and one new transmission for Mahindra and Mahindra. The new engine family is called mFalcon . It is in line with Mahindra’s tradition of naming their engines after birds of prey like the mHawk/mEagle. Both engines have been developed ground up and are mated to the new 5-speed manual gearbox. Let’s glance through the specs before we get on to how they drive.
|Engine||1.2 litre mFalcon D75||1.2 litre mFalcon G80|
|Fuel Efficiency (ARAI)||25.32km/l||18.15km/l|
The 1.2 litre diesel motor comes in at a time where half of Mahindra’s portfolio has been rendered unsaleable in Delhi due to the recent diesel ban. The engine shakes and shudders to life on turning the key. It does have the characteristic three cylinder drone and hum, and it can be felt on the pedals and the gear lever. Thankfully, the gear lever doesn’t do a little dance on shutting the car off (like the Scorpio/XUV). The vibrations could have been better controlled on the car; at higher rpms - the engine manages to feel coarse. The noise insulation however, is appreciable.
The clutch is light and bites in just where you’d want it to. Power delivery is linear and it doesn’t have the surge of power that one expects when the turbo kicks in (like in the Swift for example). Turbo lag is well controlled and the engine has a nice low end. Cantering around the city is fairly easy in the diesel. 100km/h, in 5th gear comes at around 2500rpm and the KUV feels extremely relaxed doing this speed. It did manage to hit 130km/h on Mahindra’s test track with 3 above healthy people on board. However, at this point, the engine did feel slightly strained and reluctant to go any faster.
The claimed mileage is a phenomenal 25.32km/l thanks to microHybrid tech. The diesel motor also gets Eco and Power modes. There was a perceptible difference in throttle response when toggled between the modes - we reckon the eco mode is great for cruising at a steady speed on the highways. Within the city, the throttle response might just be a bit too dull in Eco.
The petrol motor is an all aluminum unit. While this contributes greatly in keeping the overall weight of the engine down, it does not suppress the engine noise too well. Much like the diesel, the petrol motor too has a lot of vibrations on startup and idle.
Torque isn’t as easily accessible in the petrol unlike the diesel. The low-end isn’t a strong point for the petrol motor you will need frequent downshifts to keep the revs in the mid-range where the actual grunt lies. Peak torque is generated at a relatively high 3500 rpm; you really need to step on it to extract any sort of performance. The engine is quite peppy when kept on the boil, though nowhere as close to the Swift.
Outright performance simply isn’t the petrol motor’s cup of tea. It will do a 100km/h all day long cruising, but progress beyond that is slow. This engine is best suited to the confines of the city, it does feel strained on the highways. Take it easy and the petrol KUV will return 18.15km/l say Mahindra.
Ride and Handling
The steering is light which makes the car extremely chuckable. Parking, taking quick U-turns are quite easy and one-handed affairs. It does weigh up nicely as the speeds climb. Feel and feedback is substantially better than the Grand i10 (especially at high speeds) and a couple of notches below the benchmark i.e. the Swift. Throwing the car in a fast corner will scare you silly. There is no other way of putting it. It is best that one drives this sanely around the ghats. Being overzealous with the throttle whilst going into a bend is just going to end in a sorry crash.
Body roll and understeer. Two terms that describe the KUV’s handling capabilities in my books. The height contributes to the body roll whereas the skinny tyres contribute to the later. We recommend upgrading to a better set of tyres, the 185/65 R14 tyres do not do much in terms of grip and handling.
The little Mahindra gets disc brakes at the front and drum brakes at the rear. Brakes bite in very early and stopping power is adequate. However - it does nose dive significantly under braking. The skinny tyres again do not inspire a lot of confidence under hard braking.. Pedal feedback again, could have been better.
The suspension on the KUV has a long travel. While this does cushion out all the bumps and undulations on the road, it also manages to toss the passengers around a fair bit. For example, going over a speedbreaker at around 10km/h saw all occupants in the car sway side to side. It is tuned on the softer side and does make for a comfortable ride. However, the soft setup with the tall height is a near perfect recipe for body roll.
The KUV isn’t the most dynamically established by a long shot, the Swift still retains that crown. However, it does just fine for the city and an occasional highway stint. Just be slightly careful around the twisties, will you?
The KUV then is job-well done by the boffins at Mahindra. The KUV isn’t a car for the well-groomed salt and pepper haired gentleman. It’s for his 18 year old who has a crazy streak and a ton of friends. The ‘Kool Utility Vehicle’ is an interesting take at a compact hatch and that should get it a lot of takers!