• slider image
  • Overdone styling with excess of creases reflects lack of ...
    Overdone styling with excess of creases reflects lack of design maturity.
  • slider image
  • Headlamps with stretched plastic extensions inspired by s...
    Headlamps with stretched plastic extensions inspired by sunglasses.
1 / 0
Rating 7 7

Mahindra KUV100 review, road test

9th Mar 2016 2:06 pm

Less than a year after the launch of its TUV300, Mahindra has launched another sub-four-metre SUV. We find out what’s different.


  • Make : Mahindra
  • Model : KUV100

Mahindra and Mahindra (M&M) is best known as an SUV maker and the company currently holds around 40 percent of India’s SUV market. So, at a time when crossovers and SUVs are a rage, it would seem unusual for M&M to go against its grain and develop a mass market hatchback like the KUV100. The company has cleverly positioned the car as a ‘young SUV’, which has caught on well with Indian buyers. At last count, this new Mahindra commanded a two-month waiting period for delivery.

The KUV does seem to be a unique product, but does it have what it takes to sustain the initial excitement? Is it truly a different take on the proven hatchback formula? Does it deliver on space, practicality, performance and efficiency to be considered a worthy alternative to conventional hatchbacks? Only an in-depth road test could give us the answers.

M&M has done lots to minimise friction in the KUV’s engines and has also equipped both petrol and diesel versions with its Micro Hybrid or start/stop tech to maximise fuel economy. However, all this tech hasn’t made the KUV100 has fuel efficient as it should be, especially the petrol variant. The petrol KUV delivered 10.2kpl in town and 15.5kpl in our highway driving cycle. Driven in Power mode, the KUV100 diesel returned 13kpl in town and 17.3kpl on the highway. What we found is that the large air-conditioner puts quite a load on the engine, which has an adverse impact on fuel consumption. Driving with the air-con off improves efficiency considerably. 

Shorter in length, yet taller than similar-priced rivals like the Maruti Swift and Hyundai Grand i10, the KUV100 has the upright stance of a mini-crossover. However, the basic shape is characterised by odd proportions. For instance, it features an SUV-ish front end and hatchback-like rear end. Yet, what you can’t deny is that the KUV looks distinct.

The headlights that extend nearly all the way back to the A-pillar lend it a unique face, and the pinched grille (à la the Range Rover Evoque) is neat. Mahindra’s designers have relied on excessive cladding on the front bumper and even a faux scuff plate below to drive home the point that this is not your average hatchback. Overdone it may be, but the pseudo-SUV front end is perhaps still the KUV’s best angle.

In profile, the KUV doesn’t work from a design standpoint, with clichéd styling cues and wonky proportions. Like the sharp crease that leads in from the headlights, the unduly chunky pontoon-like fold at the rear doors and the smart 14-inch wheels that look lost under the oversized wheel arches. Also, the KUV’s rear door handles sit flush with the window rather than on the doors; an arrangement we first saw in India on the Chevrolet Beat.

As mentioned earlier, the KUV’s tail is unmistakably that of a small hatchback albeit – you guessed it – with plastic cladding on the bumper. The only notable element is the neat detailing in the protruding tail-lamps. In all, the design lacks maturity and we can only hope the Mahindra-owned Italian design house Pininfarina clears these wrinkles when the KUV’s facelift is due.

Under the skin, the car is very similar to the hatchbacks it will compete with. The KUV too, positions its engines transversally within its monocoque body with power channelled solely to the front wheels. There are two points of note here. The KUV is only Mahindra’s second monocoque product after the XUV, so a lot of the learnings from that project have been applied here. Secondly, the KUV is the first car to feature petrol and diesel engines from the all-new mFalcon range.

The suspension duties are handled by an independent MacPherson struts set-up at the front and a non-independent torsion bar arrangement at the rear. Electrically assisted power steering is standard across the range and commendably, so are anti-lock brakes and electronic brake distribution. Dual front airbags are a standard fit on the top-spec K8 KUVs, but are available as part of a Rs 22,000 ‘+’ pack on the base K2 and mid-spec K4 and K6 versions too.

If you don’t already know, your friendly salesperson will go to great lengths to point out that the KUV cabin’s USP is the advantage of six seats, just like on the Datsun Go. This has been made possible by positioning the gear lever and handbrake lever on the centre console, freeing up floor space for the additional seat up front. But what distinguishes the car from the Datsun Go is that the KUV is certified as a six-seater. Though three adults can squeeze in up front, the middle passenger legroom is limited, making it more suitable for a child. Question is, would you want your most precious cargo seated within striking distance of the centre console and gear lever? Also, folding down the middle seat backrest turns it into a large armrest and that is the best way to use (or rather, not use) the sixth perch. However, the flat bench type front seat doesn’t offer the kind of back or side support the standard version’s shapelier individual chairs do.

High-set seats and flat floors, front and back, mean getting in and out of the KUV’s cabin is easy. What’s also a relief is that unlike the exteriors, the KUV’s cabin is smart and restrained in design. The ‘bowed’ dashboard that rises towards the middle is the centrepiece and comes finished in nice, textured plastics on the top, though quality lower down is not great. Boring monochrome display for the audio player apart, we didn’t have much else to complain about with the well laid-out centre console. Drivers will also like the three-spoke steering wheel that’s good to hold, though the inconvenient pull-type handbrake is unlikely to find many fans. On our test car, the handbrake lever malfunctioned, making hill starts quite tricky.

Those seated on the KUV’s rear seat will be surprised by the space and comfort on offer. There’s generous leg, head and shoulder room, the backrest position is just right and there’s even a foldable centre armrest. And all three rear passengers get adjustable headrests, which enhances their overall comfort levels. The spoiler though is the blanked-out space after the rear windows (there to accommodate the exterior door handle) that cuts outside visibility. Form unfortunately followed function here. 

In terms of utility space, the KUV offers plenty. Each door gets a bottle holder, there are two cup holders in the armrests, the glovebox is large and there’s even a hidden recess on the floor near the rear seat. The six-seat version also gets a removable storage bin that sits under the front passenger seat, though there’s no ◊ ∆ dedicated space to keep smaller items like a mobile phone. The five-seat version is more practical in that sense, thanks to the large cubby between the front seats. Boot space, at 243 litres, is not massive but the rear seat does fold to increase capacity. Trouble is, the boot sill is high and the loading lip is narrow.  

It was no secret that Mahindra had been developing a new family of small-capacity petrol and diesel engines, and the KUV100 is the first recipient of the new mFalcon range. The petrol engine, called mFalcon G80, is an all-aluminium, 1.2-litre three-cylinder unit, which uses a four-valve head and variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust. Pumping out 81.8bhp at 5,500rpm and 11.7kgm from 3,500-3,600rpm, the petrol KUV doesn’t stand out amidst peers for max power or torque.

However, performance is more than acceptable. Sure, the KUV’s 15.13 second 0-100kph time does put it behind rivals, but if you look at in-gear times, it’s actually quicker than the Swift and Grand i10. The KUV’s relatively shorter gearing undoubtedly helps here.

What also works in the KUV’s favour is that part-throttle response is pretty good, which makes ambling around town quite relaxed. However, it’s when you floor the throttle or want to execute a sudden overtaking move that this engine falls flat, quite literally. Power delivery is flat and lacks any sense of urgency and it’s only when you are in the 4,500-6,000rpm range that you get a second wind or surge. But it’s a bit pointless as average users will rarely ever push the KUV so far into the rev band. Just as well, because the engine gets thrummy and loud at high revs. Engine refinement is a bit disappointing especially the petrol engine which vibrates quite a bit at idle and rocks on its mounts. Clutch engagement could be smoother too, though the five-speed gearbox won us over for its slick and accurate action.

The diesel KUV uses a 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that Mahindra has labelled ‘mFalcon D75’. A cast iron block and aluminium head make up this engine, while diesel is fed via a common-rail system at a pressure of 1,600bar. The engine makes a respectable 77bhp at 3,750rpm, while its 19.37kgm max torque figure is on par with the larger-hearted four-cylinder Swift diesel’s output. That said, in outright acceleration contests, the KUV won’t keep up with the Swift. The KUV will hit the ton from a standstill in 14.85 seconds, while the Swift will do the same in 1.2 seconds less. But compare the KUV diesel’s performance to the three-cylinder Grand i10 diesel’s, and you’ll find the Mahindra to be significantly quicker.

In everyday conditions, the KUV diesel is actually quite nice to drive. There’s minimal turbo lag and the diesel motor feels quite responsive as the turbo kicks in from about 1,500rpm. There’s a gentle surge that comes in at 1,800rpm and it stays put until 3,500rpm after which, the engine takes its own sweet time to rev harder. If you are patient enough, you can have the engine rev to 4,800rpm, but doing so only increases the noise level without any real rewards in performance. As you would have gathered, this is not an exciting or punchy engine, but one that feels well in tune with the rigours of urban driving. Taking it easy is the best approach here, and one that also keeps the engine noise levels to a minimum.

Interestingly, it’s the KUV diesel and not the petrol that comes with two drive modes. Power is the default mode, while Eco (that can be activated via a button near the steering) switches to a more conservative fuel consumption mode in the interest of optimising fuel economy. Switching from Power to Eco, you can immediately feel throttle responses get duller. In Eco, the engine also revs to just 3,500rpm. Expectantly, performance takes a big hit in this mode. How big? Well, the KUV, in Eco, posted a 28.88 second 0-100kph time, which is nearly twice as long in Power! But to say that the Eco is unusable would be an overstatement. True, it can be frustrating to use in fast-moving traffic or on the highway, but it is acceptable in the rush hour crawl and is a clever way to save fuel. Speaking of which, the petrol too would benefit from an Eco mode, as the efficiency is quite poor, especially with the AC on. The large compressor puts a disproportionate amount of load on the engine. A city figure of 11kpl and a highway of just 13 kpl are well below cars in its segment. 

On both motors, the star of its drivetrain package is the slick-shifting five-speed gearbox; the shift action has a short throw and is remarkably crisp. Just wish the clutch was a bit more progressive. Neither of the KUVs comes with an automatic or AMT gearbox, but you can be sure Mahindra is looking in this direction.

To further fine-tune the suspension to suit Indian driving conditions, Mahindra has partnered with US-based Cayman Dynamics – the same company that helped develop the TUV300’s suspension. And the results, at least as small cars go, are largely successful. The KUV’s suspension absorbs small and medium-sized bumps admirably well, and thanks to the 170mm of clearance, the small Mahindra isn’t caught out on the largest of speed breakers either. But before you ask, the KUV is no good off-road. Even large urban potholes gobble the KUV’s small 14-inch tyres, so you have to be careful on them. Also, the suspension doesn’t work as quietly as some of the competition’s, and you can hear a fair bit of the action underneath, and at times, even the dampers on rebound.

At higher speeds, it’s easy to tell the KUV is a softly sprung car. There’s a constant up and down motion, especially from the rear suspension and this is most felt when the rear seats are unoccupied. Drive fast and you’ll also notice lots of wind noise near the A-pillars. The KUV’s soft setup and high centre of gravity also mean it’s not that well tied down around the bends. There is plenty of body roll and even the brakes could do with more bite. The slow ratio steering is not the most feelsome either, but it feels well weighted and though a bit dead around the centre position, it gives more than enough confidence in typical driving conditions.

All said, the KUV still comes across as the best-driving Mahindra in a long, long time. The dynamics seem a lot more sorted than the original XUV500’s and though the KUV100 doesn’t have the dynamic prowess of a Swift, it’s not far away from average hatchback standards.

In the age of touchscreens, the KUV’s monochrome display looks a bit dated. However, it doesn’t lack in functionality. Apart from the regular USB, aux and Bluetooth telephony, it gets Mahindra’s Blue Sense app. With the help of this app, a passenger with a paired phone can control certain audio functions and also get vehicle statistics such as distance to empty. That said, connecting the phone is rather difficult. Also, the sound quality is just about average and the blaring omission of a CD player may not go down well with most buyers; after all, Honda added this feature after a lot of customer complaints. 

Priced between Rs 4.45-6.84 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), the KUV100 competes with a whole host of hatchbacks on price, but stands apart as a fresh take in the segment. No doubt, some amount of off-road ability would have done justice to the "young SUV" tag and the overall ride and handling falls a bit short of class standards. Also, the KUV100's pair of mFalcon engines can't quite match the class-leading Japanese (for petrol) and European (for diesel) units for performance, refinement and efficiency, but they get the job done. Buyers with large families will be drawn to the KUV's ability to seat six and there's lots of storage space all round. It's also an easy car to drive and one that copes well with the urban grind. There's no doubt that the baby Mahindra is unique and abounds with lots of clever ideas. That it's so very different from its rivals is the most compelling reason to buy one.

Copyright (c) Autocar India. All rights reserved.

Tell us what you think.