Mahindra just launched the KUV100, a car in the same price range as hatchbacks like the Grand i10 and the Swift, but with all the DNA and styling of Mahindra’s SUVs. So where does this car really fit in? One look at the car and you know Mahindra have styled it to appeal to a market which is lapping up SUVs left, right and centre. The car gets modern looking headlamps flanked with black trims stretching nearly all the way back to the A-Pillar. The car gets black cladding and roof rails keeping with the SUV styling. The grille and nose, though distinctively Mahindra, does seem to be inspired by the Range Rover Evoque. Plenty of slashes and cuts keeps the sides interesting while the Volkswagen-like tail lamps look really smart. The 14-inch wheels do look small though and the KUV100 ends up looking a bit spindly legged as a result. One thing’s for certain, it definitely looks better in the flesh, than it does in pictures.
But how does it feel to drive? What’s it like against traffic and potholes and away from the test track? The KUV100 gets two engine options — an 82bhp 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine (Mahindra’s first all-new, ground up petrol engine design) and a 77bhp 1.2-litre three-cylinder diesel engine that’s derived from the petrol. These are the first of Mahindra’s mFalcon engine family and plans are on to make six engines from this family — three petrol and three diesel, with future petrol engines getting turbocharging and direct fuel injection. We drove the 1.2 diesel and found it to be surprisingly peppy. There is barely any lag from the low inertia turbocharger and all 190Nm of torque kicks in as low as 1750rpm. This, coupled with what feels like short gearing makes for peppy performance. The engine spins to around 4750rpm, but to get the best out of it, you should upshift at 4000rpm. It is also quiet and smooth enough when you are cruising though maybe not as refined as a Swift diesel. The brakes are great as well, and all variants come with ABS and EBD as standard.
The KUV100 gets a five-speed manual gearbox, and it is quite a joy to use. Unlike older Mahindras, this gearbox gets short throws and the shift quality is light. You don’t have to wrestle the gear lever about and the clutch feels light and easy to modulate as well. The diesel KUV100 is a micro hybrid and gets start-stop functionality as well as Power/Eco modes — the latter really dulls throttle responses, so we switched back to the Power mode soon enough. The ARAI claimed fuel efficiency figure for the diesel is 25.32kmpl (the petrol managed 18.15kmpl).
The KUV100 gets McPherson struts up front and a non-independent twist beam at the rear and the Cayman Dynamics tuned suspension setup is really good. The KUV100 absorbs bumps really well and the suspension doesn’t crash through potholes. High-speed stability is good and you can confidently fly over broken bits of Road without worrying about getting thrown off the line. Directional stability is good — the KUV100 displays good body control and grip, but the steering does feel vague off centre and it takes a bit of time before you get used to the way it handles when you turn.
Now coming to the insides of this car. Our test car is the regular five-seater version but Mahindra is offering a 3+3 seating layout. The centre armrest in the front seat flips back to make way for a bench-like seat up front. We did manage to sit in the 6 Seater and see how comfort was up front. If the front seat is pushed back on its rails, the car can seat six for a short time without any complaints. However, things might get uncomfortable on longer journeys. Also, the lack of a headrest and the inclusion of only a lap belt for the middle passenger means his safety is slightly iffy. In the Back however, the KUV100 gets headrests for three and Mahindra is offering dual front airbags as an option on all variants (they are standard on the top-end K8).
To make space for the front middle passenger’s legs, the gear lever sprouts out of the centre console and it s position takes about five minutes to get used to. However, this positioning makes the centre console quite broad and that means you are forever brushing your knees against it. That aside, it is an interestingly laid out dashboard with vertically arranged air-con knobs and a rather small screen for the audio system that comes with USB, aux-in and Bluetooth Connectivity. Fit and finish is good for its class and there is decent space for something that is so compact. The seats are very comfortable and you get height adjust for the driver’s seat as well as steering rake adjust. There's a lot of cubby holes all over the car. In this five-seater version, what would have been the sixth seat has been converted into a cubby hole, replete with cup holders and a rubberised mobile phone holder. There are covert spaces as well. The six-seater gets a hidden box under the front passenger seat while there is an under floor box for ‘shoes’ in the rear. A good smugglers car? Yup!
Other practical bits include the 243-litres of boot space that extends to 473-litres when you drop the rear seats. Oh, the boot opening is quite narrow thanks to those broad tail lights.
It is rather well equipped — you get power steering, power windows, alloy wheels, a driver information system, fog lamps, power mirrors, DRLs, ABS, EBD, Airbags, steering mounted controls, rear wiper ISOFIX child seat mounts and remote entry in the K8. What’s missing is reverse parking sensors, but we can live with that because the KUV100 is priced at a rather affordable Rs 6.76 lakh. The diesel range starts with the K2 at Rs 5.22 lakh while the petrol K2 starts at Rs 4.22 lakh and goes on to Rs 5.91 lakh for the K8. At these prices, it falls bang into the highly competitive hatchback segment which, isn’t a bad place for the KUV to be. With it’s SUV proportions, it just might be able to stand tall amongst its competition.