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Fun Motoring on a Budget? Mahindra’s locally-assembled KUV100

Is it a mini SUV or is it a hatchback? From having lived with it for 4+ days, I’d say it is a crossover. SUV because it has high ground clearance and some utilitarian features like the rear seat that converts to a utilitarian flat-bed. Hatchback because its… a hatchback!

Mahindra says that it has sold over 100,000 of these across the globe including Europe, Africa, Korea, Australia and South-Central America… and this one is assembled in Sri Lanka. Indeed, as I write this the news is out that the 100th KUV 100 built in Sri Lanka has been sold. Would (or should) the fact that it is built in Sri Lanka add value to the car and its re-sale value, remains to be seen. One thing for sure, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. So, read on to find out for yourself about all the pros and cons.

One disadvantage that this car has compared to similar priced (although technically not brand new like this one) gray market Kei cars, is the fact that this one comes only with a manual gearbox – although Ideal Motors says that the AMT variant is in the pipeline. Curiously, while we Sri Lankans love our automatics, it’s still the manual that reigns king in India, a country with far worse traffic to boot!

 

EXTERIOR

Externally the car has a SUV-ish stance, and sits on 15-inch diamond cut alloy wheels, and indeed with its high roof and high ground clearance, gives the impression that it is a largish car. Overall, the design is quite pleasing to the eye and looks bang up to date. For those of us who like “winker mirrors” yes, this one has winker mirrors!

As far as styling goes, the front has a wide front grille, and large pulled back headlamps with LEDs. The side profile looks aggressive and also has its rear door handles integrated into the rear window panel aka Honda Vezel and indeed Alfa 156 from 1997. Compared to the front, the rear is less aggressive, and decently modern. The KUV100 is available in seven colours, namely Pearl White, Aquamarine, Dazzling Silver, Flamboyant Red, Fiery Orange, Designer Grey and Midnight Black.

On our trip out of the city, it was mainly rainy weather, and our Pearl White KUV 100 got pretty dirty by the third day. Thus, I decided to wash the car one morning; and only then that I realized that I can’t reach the top of the roof without a stool; much like our Defender! So yes, that part is definitely SUV-like.

 

MECH & TECH

Powering the 1,875kg KUV 100 is a 1.2-litre, three-cylinder engine that produces 82bhp of power and 115Nm of torque. The ground clearance is a class-leading 170mm; and indeed, it has long-travel suspension that can easily take up the rough and tumble of village type roads and terrain.

The suspension set up consists of Independent McPherson Struts in front and Coil Spring and Shockabsorber with semi-independent twist beam. The car sits on 185/60R15 tyres on diamond pattern alloy wheels. The gearbox is five-speed manual with the gear shift mounted on the lower dash a la France of the years gone by (or like the original ‘Breadvan’ Civic Type-R).

 

DRIVING EXPERIENCE

I jumped into the Pearl White KUV 100 to see what it is all about. At first glance the interior looks – cue the gaps – not too bad. While there’s a lot of plastic and look-alike carbon fibre about, the locally manufactured seats are comfortable and the controls are easy to use. A clear and legible instrument panel greets you as you fire it up and the infotainment system does a little song-and-dance animation routine that ends with the Mahindra logo.

When you begin exploring the cabin further, you’ll find a fairly comprehensive (for this price point at least) set of features. Air conditioning, remote central locking, fog lamps, electric power steering, power windows, 7-inch captive touchscreen infotainment with Bluetooth connectivity, console mounted “joy-stick” type gear lever, reverse sensor, automatic engine stop-start and steering mounted controls to name just a few. There is a 12V power source but no USB port for charging, forcing me to carry my own USB adaptor during my four days with the car.

There’s enough room in the front for two adults to sit comfortably. The rear seats are also quite spacious with ample leg and head room. With the rear seats, you can fold up the seat and fold down the back rest to form a very large and useful luggage area – if there are no rear passengers that is.

Start up the engine, and at idle you feel the typical vibration of the three-cylinder engine’s rocking motion. Rev it up, and the vibration disappears. The gears fall in to place with a nice solid action and the five-speed gearbox is well mated to the engine, making it a nice and peppy car to drive in town. There is a slight lack of torque very low in the rev range but once you get it spinning circa 2,000rpm it picks up nicely with a meaty punch in the mid-range.

Ride quality is very good, considering the tall stance of the car. The driving position is also SUV like; giving you a commanding view in front. However, the rear view through the rear-view mirror gives you tunnel vision through the smallish rear glass. A large set of well positioned side mirrors compensate for that, giving you a very wide angle of vision.

Around town, the KUV 100 drives well. There’s enough power on tap to keep up with traffic and parking is an absolute breeze. Having got used to a couple of long vehicles as my daily runners, the tight turning circle and indeed the short length of the car made it that much more versatile in town. As a city car it can’t be beaten. The electric power steering and clutch pedal are very light and require minimal effort, reducing driver fatigue in traffic.

Getting out of town, I pushed the KUV100 to 100 km/h on the expressway. It felt quite steady at this speed, had more urge for overtaking if necessary and cornering at high speed also gives you confidence which is a reflection of good suspension geometry. The brakes have a progressive feel, though more bite would be welcome.

 

LIVING WITH IT

Inside the KUV 100 you get the feeling that you are in a much bigger car. It is versatile in that five people can travel in it with reasonable comfort. If you are travelling by yourself and/or with only one other person; as most of us do most of the time, there is ample room in the back with the seat folded down to carry a decent amount of luggage. As mentioned earlier driving and parking in the city is a breeze due to the great manoeuvrability.

You get power windows on all four doors. The air-conditioning is superb and temperature controller is electronic (although not a full climate control with automatic temperature maintaining). It’s also got remote central locking. The aforementioned 7” touch screen infotainment with Bluetooth connectivity is great for a car at this price point. The sound system is quite decent to boot. By the way although it doesn’t have a reverse camera, what it does have is an intelligent reverse sensor system that warns you of obstacles when reversing. The three passengers in the rear gets adjustable head rests as well… and the driver’s seat is height adjustable albeit manually.

 

SAFETY

The standard safety features include dual airbags and ABS brakes. Also included as standard are Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), front seat belt pre-tensioners, child safety locks on rear doors, speed sensing automatic door locks, automatic hazard warning lamps on panic braking, anti-theft security alarm, anti-slip clips for driver side floor mat and ISOFIX child seat mounts on rear seat.  

 

FUEL ECONOMY AND PRICE

Officially Mahindra claims some 18 km/l for the KUV 100. However according to our estimates, the best we could achieve was around 13km/l. That is of course driving “normally” without any concerns to fuel savings. A nice touch the info screen gives you a readout on the ‘range to empty’ so that you can plan your fuel stops in advance.

At Rs. 3,250,000 this is one of the cheapest brand-new cars around at the moment in Sri Lanka. Yes, the import of cars has been (temporarily) stopped. But not to worry about the Mahindra KUV 100 – it is built in Sri Lanka and thus manufacturing goes on, so there is ample stock.

 

FINAL WORDS

The Mahindra KUV100 is a one-of-a-kind hatchback that aspires to be an SUV. If you’re looking for something unusual that might even turn heads; and at a budget price, then look no further than the Mahindra KUV100. What we have here is one of the most refined Mahindras built up to date. It’s got a nice and peppy engine, slick gearbox, well-trimmed and spacious interior, and a commanding view over its rivals. The icing on the cake is its competitive pricing, which currently is unmatchable.

 

Tech Specs

Engine

1,198cc, 3-cylinder

82bhp @ 5,500rpm

115Nm @ 3,600rpm

 

Transmission

Five Speed Manual

Front-wheel-drive

 

Suspension

Front Macpherson Strut

Rear Semi Independent Beam

 

Brakes

Front Disc

Rear Drum

ABS, EBD

 

Wheels & Tyres

185/60 R15

 

Misc

Length 3,700mm

Width 1,735mm

Height 1,655mm

Kerb weight 1,875kg

Gr. Clear 170mm

Boot Vol 243L

Fuel Tank 35L