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GAUTENG – Love them or hate them, there's no denying the convenience of baked beans as a meal. It's practical, too. Not only is preparation quick and easy, but the humble foodstuff can be taken on camping trips or hikes, not to mention the fact it remains edible some five years after being canned. It's not the most glamourous meal in the world, though. Heston Blumenthal, for instance, wouldn't be terribly excited by the prospect of having plomped in front of him for lunch. 

And that’s fine. Beans have their place in the world. Much like the Mahindra Pik Up. The Indian workhorse has been around for a good couple of years now, with a nip here and a tuck there keeping it reasonably fresh. Recently, Mahindra decided to offer the bakkie with an automatic gearbox. Dubbed the S11, it offers a similar specification level to the manual S10, with a few minor cosmetic changes. Indeed, the S11 sports new side mirrors (with integrated indicators), an updated radiator grille, subtly restyled headlamp clusters as well as new foglamp, which manage to inject an element of freshness into the Pik Up. Step inside and the subtle upgrades continue. Sitting in the middle of the facia is a new seven-inch infotainment touchscreen, which includes a reversing camera, satellite navigation and Bluetooth compatibility. 

If these additional features are too tame for your liking, you could opt for the Karoo edition. Sporting unique Karoo decals along its flanks, as well as a custom-designed lockable roller deck, model specific nudge bars and alloy wheels, the Karoo S11 provides all the amenities of the standard Pik Up, with some added flair.

Whichever Pik Up you choose, the seating offers a commanding driving position. While the cloth pews are comfortable, lower back pain can be expected on longer journeys if you're susceptible to such things. As a consolation, both front seats do offer individual armrests. Outward visibility is rather impressive, thanks largely to the slim A-pillars. 

Generously equipped, the Pik Up S11 comes standard with a variety of amenities, including electric windows, climate control and central locking. Dual front airbags, as well as ABS with EBD, take care of things on the safety front.

The six-speed auto works rather nicely with the mHawk 2,2-litre turbodiesel. Producing 103 kW of power and 320N.m of torque, the oil-burner allows steady but respectable progress when mated to the new six-speed automatic. The S11 holds its own on a country road, as well as on the highway. 

Sourced from Aisin, the gearbox features a manual mode, with sequential shift. Even though the gearbox is smooth and the changes fairly quick, the Pik Up sometimes hesitates in downshifting. Even with the accelerator fully depressed, the ‘box won't kick down, unless you take your foot off the pedal and apply it again quickly. The manual override comes in handy in such instances, especially when going uphill.

The ride is well judged, offering an acceptable quality, upset only by the sharpest bumps and ridges. Despite the slow steering and lofty ride height, the Pik Up never feels unstable. It heads through corners with ease, providing you’re sensible and adjust your speed accordingly.

On rougher terrain, the Pik Up comes into its own. Navigating the Breedts Nek pass, the S11 scaled rocks and inclines that would scare off many an SUV. With an impressive approach angle of 34 degrees, the Mahindra made light work of clambering over rocks and ridges. More impressively, the automatic gearbox didn’t put a foot wrong, and made the task of climbing the mountain all the easier. 

After reaching the summit, we slowly navigated the downhill section. With the deep ridges and potentially tyre-destroying rocks seemingly everywhere, slow and steady driving was required. Thanks to a new hill descent control system (which uses engine and vehicle braking to regulate speed) fitted to the 4x4 S11, the task was completed with ease.

The new six-speed automatic variant of the Pik Up 4x4 is certainly more than capable of tackling the rough stuff, and does so with aplomb. What's more, at R414 999, it offers exceptional value. 

It may not be the Michelin star restaurant fillet mignon that is a sophisticated luxury SUV or premium leisure bakkie. And it may eschew fancy paintwork and large alloy wheels for a rough-and-ready attitude. But the Mahindra Pik Up is an automotive can of baked beans. Exactly what you want when venturing off the beaten path. Dependable, rugged and seemingly unburstable.

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