Mahindra is done with being a mere spectator of the B segment battle which is being dominated by Maruti Swift and Hyundai Grand i10. There is a lot of business to be extracted from this middle class segment and what better way to disrupt the market than introducing a crossover at a hatchback’s price point? The Mahindra KUV100 aims to pull off the same magic that the Renault Kwid demonstrated successfully in a segment below.
Mahindra’s second crossover aims to effect a paradigm shift in the country’s largest four-wheeler segment. It’s not an easy task but the product seems to have covered all the bases on paper. Following the launch, we managed to dial in a few laps at Mahindra’s Chakan test track (an oval with banked turns) to bring you our first impressions.
The Mahindra KUV100 looks better in flesh than in photographs. It is compact yet has all the visual characteristics that qualifies it as an SUV. The tastefully detailed wraparound headlamp clusters (inspired by goggles) which incorporate LED daytime running lights and “Powered By mFalcon” logos set a firm base for what can be described as an energetic design. The narrow grille with claw-like inserts and a massive black bumper with rectangular foglights and silver skid plate add to the sportiness.
The subtle arch of the rooline, flared wheel arches and C-pillar-mounted silver door handles are nice touches. However, the profile looks busy with several crease lines, and the 14-inch wheels are a size too small for the design.
The parabolic crease extends all the way to the tailgate, masking the visual bulk of the rear fascia. The compact windshield, roof-mounted spoiler, and a rugged looking black bumper with license plate enclosure and red foglights round off the exterior styling.
For the number crunchers, the mini crossover measures 3,675 mm in length, 1,715 mm in width, 1,635 mm in height (without roof rails) and has a wheelbase of 2,385 mm. The car has a decent ground clearance of 170 mm.
What the Mahindra KUV100 offers in the compact and super-compact B-Segment is a novelty in body style, a high seating position and a good road presence. A vast majority of the population which is increasingly inclined towards the idea of a crossover would find the latest Mahindra aesthetically appealing.
The interior design is as fresh and youthful as the exterior. The high-mounted dashboard has absolutely nothing in common with any of its UV stablemates and that’s a good thing considering that the KUV100 is here to lure prospective hatchback and sedan buyers.
You’re greeted by a good looking multifunction steering wheel with silver insert and a sporty instrument console. The main highlight however is the piano black floating centre console which houses a short gear lever, vertically stacked AC knobs and a neatly integrated audio system with a 3.5-inch display. The beige and glossy black color theme, with some silver accents thrown in, is pleasing to the eye and does good to enhance the perceived quality.
Speaking of quality, materials used on the dashboard are not the best the segment has witnessed but there is nothing to find fault with it either. Sadly the same cannot be said for some components like the internal door handles, locks, pull-type hand brake and boot/fuel-cap release levers which are of poor quality and feel decidedly fidgety.
The driver ergonomics is mid-way between a regular hatchback and a proper SUV. Nonetheless it’s easy to find a comfortable driving position. The small rear windshield and three rear head restraints hamper visibility at the back but you do get good view of the road from other angles. The seat itself is very comfortable with adequate cushioning, thigh support and side bolstering.
The designers’ decision to move the gear lever and hand brake to the centre console stems from objective of giving the KUV100 a seating capacity of 6. The crossover can be specified with 3+3 seating configuration featuring a small seat between the driver and front passenger. When not required, seatback can double up as a massive arm rest with a cubby hole. The second co-passenger is bound only by a lap belt but the arrangement is much safer than squeezing two passengers in a single front seat. It heightens the practicality quotient by a notch. Neat!
Ingress and egress through front and rear doors are nice and easy. The rear bench appears cramped but once you slip into the seats, the KUV100 somehow manages to generate enough leg room. The seat squab is long enough on both the sides to offer decent thigh support but the middle passenger may feel a bit short changed. The seatback has the right amount of inclination but tall passengers may feel the need for additional headroom.
The cabin has enough storage places, we particularly like the hidden storage compartment beneath the floor at the rear. The boot can gobble up 243 litres of luggage and can be expanded up to 473 litres with the rear seats folded.
To sum it up, the Mahindra KUV100’s interior emerges as a well designed, surprisingly spacious and fairly comfortable place to be in.
Engines and Transmissions
A significant part of the project’s INR 1,200 crore investment has gone into coming up with a brand new family of engines and transaxles. Branded as mFalcon, the 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol and diesel engines are at par with their intended rivals as far as specifications go and are BS4 compliant.
1.2-litre mFalcon G80 Petrol
The G80 petrol motor which benefits from variable valve timing (on both intake exhaust cam shafts) generates 82 bhp at 5,500 rpm and 115 Nm of torque from 3,600 to 3,600 rpm. The motor drives the front wheels via a newly developed 5-speed manual transaxle.
The engine didn’t quite manage to avoid the 3-cylinder NVH syndrome but fortunately it’s not as bad inside as it’s outside. The clutch is light but moving off the mark in first gear is not as intuitive as one would like. The engine noise is always audible in the cabin but post the lower spectrum of the rev range, the noise transforms into a sporty note and gets positively raspy towards the red line.
When driven sedately, the motor feels adequately powerful but it struggles to find extra performance when demanded. Power delivery in low and mid-range feels linear but pretty ordinary. That said, the motor loves to be revved and feels best when the tacho needle is just 1,000 rpm away from meeting the red line. So, one should keep the three-pot mill wrung to extract decent performance and that’s is not gonna go down well if you’re keen on the fuel efficiency. With four people on board, the KUV100 petrol struggled to go past the 100 kmph mark.
It’s very easy to get used to the stubby dash-mounted gear lever. The 5-speed gearbox is easily one of the slickest manual units we have ever come across. The effort needed for the shifts is very minimal and it slots into place in a smooth manner.
Mahindra’s first ever ground-up petrol engine is not a bad performer at all but it’s nowhere close to the segment benchmark when it comes to real world performance.
1.2-litre mFalcon D75 Diesel
The common-rail diesel engine too is noisier than its intended rivals at idling and as expected, the NVH levels inside the cabin are higher than the petrol variant. There is only so much engineers can do to make an inherently unbalanced configuration work with finesse.
Good news is, with 77 bhp and 190 Nm of torque, the real world performance on offer would make you forget about the noise. Diesel is easily our pick as it starts pulling from under 2,000 rpm and doesn’t feel overwhelmed even when you decide to explore its upper echelons. The torque delivery is strong enough to keep pace with most of the compact and super compact cars. The oil burner likes to be in the 3,000-4,000 rpm range, which makes the KUV100 diesel a excellent highway car.
Unlike the petrol variant, the diesel KUV100 had no problems in reaching triple digit speeds. At the track, we managed to clock 135 kmph before we ran out of straight tarmac. We feel it can easily do 150 kmph.
In short, the diesel KUV100 has a better chance of luring prospective buyers away from hatchbacks and compact sedans than the petrol variant. It’s overall driveability and strong mid-range will not go unappreciated. Like in the petrol variant, the gearbox was a delight to use.
The petrol motor has an ARAI rated fuel efficiency of 18.15 kmpl while the diesel motor manages an impressive 25.32 kmpl. We didn’t get an opportunity to even guesstimate the real world FE.
Ride, Handling and Braking
The monocoque architecture and the suspension setup (front – McPherson Struts; rear – semi independent twist beams) make the Mahindra KUV100 closer to a regular car than a utility vehicle but Mahindra’s engineers have tuned the crossover’s ride and handling characteristics to mimic its ladder-frame siblings. What we actually mean is: the vehicle is softy sprung so there is some amount of bobbing at the rear (the track surface can be compared to average Indian roads that are not completely flat).
We experienced excessive pitching every time we went through the gear shifts aggressively and needless to say, the body roll is very well pronounced as well. That said, the KUV100 grips the tarmac admirably well when pushed around tight turns and the straight line stability is not bad at all. The steering weighed up better on the diesel variant but we would reserve our judgment on it until we get to drive the car on public roads.
Despite the soft suspension, the KUV100 responded positively to panic braking. The sudden shove of the brake pedal results in a sharp dive of the nose but the car does come to a halt in a straight line. The bite is adequate and the standard ABS performs as expected.
The Mahindra KUV is available in a total of 7 petrol and 7 diesel variants. The fully loaded K8 variant comes packed with a variety of features such as dual airbags, ABS with EBD, alloy wheels, foglights (front and rear), Micro-Hybrid Start/stop, Power-ECO mode (diesel), steering mounted controls, height adjustable driver seat, daytime running lights, power windows all doors, central locking with remote, 6-speaker infotainment system with Bluetooth, cooled glove box, follow-me-home lamps, lead-me-to-vehicle lamps, rear defogger, puddle lamps, day-night internal rear view mirror and so on.
The Mahindra KUV100 is a very nicely packaged B-segment offering whose shortcomings can be easily overlooked in favor of its compelling value proposition. Of course, there is a room for improvement when it comes to engine refinement, suspension tuning and quality of certain components but at a price range of INR 4.43 lakhs to INR 6.76 lakhs (ex-showroom Pune), the Mahindra KUV100 offers more car than any other offering in its segment and that alone would seal the deal for most customers.
Besides, it looks good inside out, feels like a real SUV, meets future safety requirements, has good fuel economy figures and more importantly can transport 6 passengers in reasonable comfort. We think the Mahindra KUV100 has got what it takes to make the segment leaders very nervous.