JOHANNESBURG, Gauteng – Although the Mahindra KUV100 has been available locally for only two years, the Indian automaker has deemed a few updates necessary (including the adoption of the "Nxt" suffix). Perhaps the most significant of these is the fact the South African range has been cleverly expanded to include a new base model, the K2+, which is currently priced at just R134 999.

This entry-level variant makes do with 14-inch steel wheels and does not feature an audio system, but it does at least include dual front airbags, ABS and air conditioning. Interestingly, Mahindra SA has put together a finance package for R2 199 per month, including the first year’s insurance. This is paid off over six years with a residual and essentially pits the KUV100 against some of Renault's Kwid packages.

So, what's changed across the range? Well, styling updates include a new seven-slat grille, while the redesigned double-lensed taillamps are complemented by indicators incorporated into the compact side mirrors. The front airdam has been blacked out and new silver skid plates (fore and aft) lend the little Mahindra a sort of SUV pretence. The vehicle sits fairly high (ground clearance is sufficient for gravel roads at 170 mm), as befits a crossover, with good visibility.

The three-cylinder G80 petrol engine we sampled provides 62 kW and 115 N.m, although a three-pot turbodiesel is another option, producing 57 kW and a more palatable 190 N.m.

As the models progress to the K4+ and K6+ specification levels, various features are added. But we drove the top-spec K8, which sports 15-inch diamond-cut alloys, a seven-inch infotainment system (with Bluetooth), rear parking sensors, LED daytime running lights, front foglamps, folding side-mirrors, steering wheel controls and remote locking, among others.

Inside, the seating is comfortable with large cushions, while the gearshift is sited high up next to the wheel within easy reach of the driver's left hand. In addition to the fairly generous seating space, the luggage compartment, while appearing very small, still houses 128 litres (by CAR magazine's own stringent measurements).

The KUV100 Nxt is surprisingly enjoyable to drive, with a forgiving ride quality for a smallish car, but the engine does take some strain at altitude. This means foot-flat driving is often required to keep at the national speed limit, which obviously impacts the otherwise excellent fuel consumption. Indeed, the KUV100 Nxt is far more at home (and in its economy zone) zipping round town.

All models feature a three-year/100 000 km warranty, with a two-year/50 000 km extension on the powertrain. Variants from K6+ upwards feature a three-year/50 000 km service plan (with intervals of 10 000 km).

While this flagship K8 model is fairly well equipped, it's the addition to the range of the new base K2+ derivative that is most significant here. Priced competitively and crucially featuring the basic safety equipment missing on some rivals at this price-point, the KUV100 Nxt K2+ is certainly an interesting option that may well tempt budget buyers away from more mainstream brands...