Auto major Mahindra launches yet another SUV, and Rajesh Karkera/Rediff.com puts its through the paces.
Text and photographs: Rajesh Karkera.
Welcome to the tough and stylish TUV3 Double Oh.' This is what greets you as soon as you turn on the ignition of the latest beast from the Mahindra stable.
A true blue SUV feel at a price range of Rs 8-11 lakhs in Mumbai, which includes two models in automatic transmission -- the T6 AMT and T8 AMT, clearly the first time an automatic SUV is available for this price in India.
If you are looking for a real SUV, your first one, then you cannot go wrong with this one.
Mahindra has packed the TUV with as many features as they could. And the most commendable part is the safety -- even the base version can be bought with airbags and ABS, with EBD as options for just Rs 40,000 more.
Mahindra, who seem to have trademarked rhyming model names -- witness the Bolero, Scorpio, Centuro, Verito, XUV5 Double Oh -- continue the tradition by calling their latest offering the TUV Three Double Oh (and not the three hundred or the three oh oh).
The TUV300 is every inch what it says it is. A robust vehicle built just for Indian roads. Standing tall at 6 feet plus, it has great road presence.
I thought the vehicle looked tough, but then I heard my teenage daughter and her friends call it cute. Cute for an SUV can mean the kiss of death, so shall we settle for tough and cute, then?
In size it's sub 4 metres but don't go by that number. It is one BIG car which will surely draw attention on the road.
After a flood of compact SUVs calling themselves either crossovers or SUVs and positioned at a price range between budget sedans and SUVs, we had a range of choices from padded-up hatchbacks to small-size crossovers. But apart from the Renault duster, nothing really gave us the real SUV feel, as they were just sedans or raised hatchbacks when it came to driving experience.
But not the TUV. Driving the TUV is an experience by itself.
Saying all this is not to mean it doesn't come without flaws. So let's look at the good, the bad and maybe the ugly of it too.
One look at the TUV300 and you will either love it or hate it. There is just no in between.
The front grille has a mean and bold look and the chrome inserts look good. Overall it reminds one of the Jeep Grand Cherokee a little bit.
Look at the sides and the square wheel arches make the TUV stand out from its counterparts. But maybe, just maybe, a bigger set of wheels would have looked better on this beast. Suddenly I had visions of the Toyota Qualis from when it was launched flashing before my eyes.
From the rear the TUV300 does look a bit chopped up. But, then, this was always meant to be a sub 4 metre car in order to avoid the excess taxes that larger sized vehicles attract.
The tailgate-mounted spare wheel with moulded cover has a refined look while the top black fabric adds a bit of finesse to the TUV. Access to the spare wheel is also easy. But one might just end up scraping the paint off the wheel cover while removing the Mahindra logo -- under which resides the nut to remove the spare wheel. Thankfully, this moulded cover for the spare wheel is available only in the top end variant, the T8.
The TUV300's tall frame means you can walk in with minimal effort as it comes with a proper side step, which you will need to get into the rear seat as well.
Once in, you are greeted by a completely different interior styling than what you have come to expect from a Mahindra.
Unlike the XUV500, the dashboard design is minimalistic and not loud at all. The beige and black colour scheme gels well and is rather subtle. The hexagonal centre console, which houses the feature-packed infotainment system, is well laid out in a piano black finish with metallic edges. It is good looking as well as practical. And easy to reach with your left hand while driving.
One can easily reach the controls without taking one's elbow off the arm rest. Along with the dual tone fabric seats, all this makes the TUV's interiors feel good.
Thanks to the large windows and the raised roof, the vehicle's insides feel quite roomy too.
The middle row can also easily seat three adults without a squeeze -- and you realise that this vehicle is actually wider than the Innova! To be honest, though, the seating is rather straight and stiff.
The third row has side seating and is mostly okay for kids and that too over short distances. Or maybe one adult can sit comfortably by stretching his legs across. But for two adults, it’s a no-no. Unless you are feeling romantic with your partner.
Crank up the ignition and the TUV welcomes you with the afore-mentioned voice assisted message. I did wonder what would happen after a few months of use, will it still tell me 'Welcome to the tough and stylist……' or will it allow customisation? Else the same message could become boring over boring.
But the voice assist does tend to be useful when you have the hand brakes on while driving or when you have a door open, it alerts you, as it warns you about low fuel. All this, one would expect only in a high-end car.
Coming back to the drive, there is one major flaw that you just cannot miss. The TUV300 vibrates, shakes, shudders when you start her up! Most of the vibrations are felt through the gear lever, pedals and the steering wheel.
But put it in gear and once mobile, the drive is rather smooth and the 1.5L diesel engine offers excellent city driveability. Moving through the city traffic is quite easy due to the high seating. Plus, the driver's seat is height adjustable.
Drive through the city and you realise that this is a rather safe car, just like the battletank after which it is designed. It is not at all speed hungry. So don’t expect it to give you a 0 to 100 km/hr in a few seconds flat.
The drive has two modes, Eco 'On' and Eco 'Off'. With the Eco in ‘On’ position, the TUV does not start speeding as soon as you press the accelerator, rather It gradually increases speed so as to optimise fuel consumption.
But put the Eco mode ‘Off’ and it does show a bit of power. Now this car being about 200 to 300 kg heavier than the competitors in its range, does not match up to them in terms of power and pickup. But the sheer weight makes it a much much stronger true blue SUV. In addition to the Eco mode, Mahindra has also offered a host of other features like AC in economy mode and the Mhawk ESS (engine start/stop system).
Given its engine specs of maximum gross power of 84 bhp @3750 rpm, and after reading that it won’t perform well at high speeds, I was surprised to see it touch 160 km/hr with ease and it did feel quite stable at that speed.
What did NOT feel very confident was the body roll. So one might just need to bring it down a bit at high speed turns. Or maybe better yet, stay away from turning at high speeds.
Ride and handling
Well, if you are expecting the comfort of a sedan, then this car is not for you.
Because the ride quality is rather hard. This could have been reduced if the seat cushioning was a bit soft, but it isn't.
Drive the TUV slowly over bad roads and it bounces around like a horse. But drive over the same bad road at a higher speed and the TUV tackles it much better. Some might feel that this is a problem. But to me, it just felt that this was one small SUV which can take the abuse of Indian roads without affecting one's pockets in the long run on suspension expenses.
Driving in the city is fun. Even though this is meant to be a small, sub 4 metre SUV, its front look and height make other cars give way in traffic. Which makes you much more confident about driving it in tight spaces.
Offroad driving wasn’t bad at all. With such terrific suspensions that it offers, I just could not resist some offroading and found that it takes on the bad terrain with ease. The only thing I missed here was a 4x4 option. Made me wonder why Mahindra has not given it in the TUV300. Maybe there’s a T10 model in the works?
A must mention here is the number of features that Mahindra has managed to pack into the TUV.
The best and most practical being the ''Static bending headlights’. What this actually means is, at night when you are taking a turn, normally the headlamps are focussed in front and turn with the car, but here, what happens with ‘static bending headlights’ is that as soon as you turn the vehicle, there is an extra set of lights which comes on at the side of the headlamps that focuses on the side path ahead and ensuring no blind spots while turning at night.
Another is the 'Follow me home headlamps' which are useful while alighting in vacant and dim-lit areas. The lights remain on for some time to help you reach a safe area.
The steering-mounted audio and phone controls add to the overall convenience
Along with a host of storage spaces on all the doors, a simple but thoughtful touch is the storage drawer under the driver's seat.
The doors auto lock once you reach a speed of 20 km/hr, and they also unlock when you switch off the engine.
You can control the infotainment system with your android phone using Mahindra’s BlueSense app.
Both the front seats have adjustable lumbar support, which is a big help, I found.
The Good: This is a tough and heavy 7-seater SUV that is made of toughened steel body shell. The TUV300 feels like it can really withstand anything in the way. It has nothing in common with the other cars in its segment. This will appeal to customers who want a real SUV experience for less. With a host of added features, safety, comfort and a roomy cabin.
The AMT, especially, is quite alluring for the price range, being the cheapest automatic SUV in India.
Fantastic driveability and fuel economy.
The bad: Bad vibrations at start and stop and also while idling, in this day and age of refined engines!
Ride quality is quite tough on the faint-hearted.
NVH levels and mediocre.
The Ugly: Rear AC vents would have been a boon.
No room for a dead pedal or left footrest.
The fuel cap is not connected to the body of the vehicle -- but the Mahindra logo on the spare wheel cover is!
The TUV300 price, ex-showroom (Mumbai):
T4: Rs 7,25,397.
T4 Plus (with Airbags and EBD option): Rs 7,62,193.
T6: Rs 7,93,732.
T6 PLus (with Airbags and EBD option): Rs 8,20,014.
T6 PLus Automatic: Rs 8,95,707.
T8: Rs 8,83,092.
T8 Automatic: Rs 9,58,785.