Mahindra expands its crossover line-up with the TUV300. Is the only model in the TUV range enough to make a mark?

This, as Mahindra describes it, is the tough and stylish TUV300 with looks inspired by a battle tank. Stylish might not be how you describe its angular, aesthetically dated design, with short front and rear overhangs and a tippy-toes appearance, but it does represent yet another solid addition to the quirky and versatile line-up currently offered by the Indian manufacturer.

With an exterior clearly favouring functionality over form, the interior is a little more forward-looking. The predominantly tan cabin may not be the easiest to keep clean, but with its black plastic trim and neat finishing strips, it’s a comfortable space despite perceived quality that doesn’t match up to the (pricier) competition. While the switches and controls may be a little low rent, the TUV300’s interior boasts armrests for driver and passenger, electric window controls, multifunction steering wheel and plenty of storage compartments.

The most notable inclusion is a third row of seats in the form of two folding pews in the boot that allow it to claim seven-seater status ... and this could be seen as a big selling point for the TUV300. However, the issue with these seats is the awkward positioning and, more importantly, the lack of seatbelts.

According to the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications Act, this is technically legal, although it is patently unsafe and we would recommend owners remove them and treat the TUV300 as a five-seater family car. Because of the seats, there is also no retractable boot cover, meaning any valuable items are always in sight and cannot be securely stowed. With these seats folded up, the TUV300 offers a respectable but not class-leading 288 litres of boot space.

The little crossover’s packaging still affords generous interior space with sufficient head- and rear legroom, as well as 1 128 litres of utility space. It is, however, somewhat let down by the middle row of seats that fold down without a split, making for an awkward obstacle in the way when packing large items.

Unusual in this segment is the TUV300’s engine; it’s an mHawk 1,5-litre three-cylinder turbo-diesel unit that works hard in this car. The 74 kW power output is relatively low compared with those of other contenders in the segment, but it does counter with a healthy 240 N.m of torque. Together with an easy-to-use clutch and short-ratio, five-speed manual gearbox, the TUV300 displays a capable nature in low-speed environments, with little evidence of turbo lag, but it does struggle above the 100 km/h mark, where the engine runs out of steam.

As mentioned before, the gear ratios are very short, with only fourth and fifth gear making it past 100 km/h. And the extended time it takes to get up to these speeds means that overtaking needs both planning and caution. Our in-gear acceleration test results show that, in both fourth and fifth gears, the TUV300 took 9,19 and 9,27 seconds to get from 100 to 120 km/h respectively; 140 km/h could be reached only in fifth gear, and that took an additional 19,18 seconds to hit.

Our acceleration test figures reflected a similar theme, with 0-80 km/h accomplished in an acceptable 10,66 seconds, but time slows quite dramatically after that. With an overall mass of 1 654 kg, its indicated 0-100 km/h time of 16,89 seconds is much slower than other contenders in this segment. The 0-140 km/h figure of 56,89 seconds further supports the fact that the low power output, plus a hefty, boxy design, results in compromised performance.

On the positive side, the mHawk 1,5-litre’s frugal consumption adds to the TUV300’s value proposition. With a CAR fuel index of 6,48 L/100 km and a 6,40 result on our fuel route, it is a rather light sipper that also benefits from an auto stop/start function, as well as an eco driving mode which we would advise be used only in slow-moving traffic, as the system dulls the power delivery further.

There were, however, some inconsistencies in the TUV300’s braking characteristics; most of the 100-0 km/h figures hovered around the 3,0-second mark (a “good” rating), but these were hampered by the occasional 3,4-second result. This pushed the overall average up to 3,22 seconds, which registers an “average” rating on our scale.

Although displaying some body roll, the TUV300 has a comfortable and softly sprung ride thanks to Mahindra’s Cushion Suspension Technology that consists of a double wishbone front and live axle with multilink rear suspension. Aiding these characteristics are the 215/75 R15 Ceat Czar H/T tyres that are both cushioned and quiet.

That said, their grip levels feel lower than the more well-known brands and that, together with the body roll mentioned earlier, doesn’t encourage any spirited driving. Given its angular shape, wind noise is less than expected, but the NVH rating is ultimately let down by the noisy three-cylinder diesel rumble.



TEST SUMMARY

Much like the rest of the vehicles in Mahindra's range, with the TUV300 the automaker must be applauded for offering another solidly engineered, safe product at a competitive price. For that price-tag, you get a spacious family crossover with safety features that include a dual-airbag system and ABS with EBD.

Standard kit is also generous and includes a multifunction steering wheel connected to a Bluetooth audio system, as well as rear parking sensors. Mahindra offers a three-year/90 000 km service plan as standard, further adding to its value.

Our test team's average score of 67, however, represents a rating below some of its competitors. Yes, you are getting a robust car that offers sufficient value, but there were some irks in our test - most notably with the vehicle's nonsensically chosen gear ratios and inconsistent braking times - that saw the team prefer more expensive rivals such as the Honda BR-V and Renault Duster over the TUV300.

National sales figures would bear that out, too, and the Honda and Renault have been notably successful in our knowledgeable market where value for money is becoming increasingly important. The fact that the TUV300 is available only with this one powertrain option further hampers its appeal.

That said, if the TUV's quirky styling, long list of standard features, service plan and comfortable ride tickle your fancy, you could do worse in this competitive segment.

*From the June 2017 issue of CAR magazine