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  • The TUV looks best from rear-three quarter.
    The TUV looks best from rear-three quarter.
  • High driving position gives a commanding view ahead. Two-...
    High driving position gives a commanding view ahead. Two-tone dashboard and four-spoke steering wheel nicely designed.
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Mahindra TUV300 review, road test

11th Jan 2016 8:00 am

Read the Mahindra TUV300 review, road test from Autocar India; It is tough as nails, but is it good enough to set the sales chart ablaze?


  • Make : Mahindra
  • Model : TUV300

Mahindra is India’s largest utility vehicle maker, and when UVs and SUVs are your bread and butter, you need to make sure you have all the bases covered. So, with the sudden emergence and booming popularity of the compact SUV segment, the company knew it needed to get a piece of the pie. It first had a crack at it with the Quanto, but this awkward looking and crude quasi-SUV based on a shortened Xylo chassis simply lacked any finesse. The TUV300 is underpinned by the new Scorpio’s chassis, and the strength and toughness that comes from using a traditional body-on-ladder-frame construction is its USP in a segment full of car-like monocoque crossovers. In fact, the ‘T’ in TUV stands for ‘Tough’. However, the trick up its sleeve is a cost-effective Automated Manual Transmission (AMT), which is a first for Mahindra, and also a first for an SUV in India. We put Mahindra’s latest baby through our rigorous road test to see just how tough it is.

The TUV300’s engine shares the same block as the one in the Quanto, but the mechanicals have been significantly reworked. This 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine in the manual-gearbox car now makes 82.4bhp – which is 16 horses less than the old motor, and the AMT version gets less power still; just 79bhp. Couple that with a kerb weight of 1,560kg, and it’s not a recipe for high performance. The manual TUV300 takes a lethargic 19.5 seconds to get to 100kph, by which time a Ford EcoSport, especially with its new 99bhp diesel motor, would have left it far behind. However, in city traffic, performance is not that bad; in fact, it’s pretty good.  Impressively, there’s hardly any turbo lag, and credit has to be given to the well-calibrated two-stage turbocharger for this. The TUV pulls nicely from low speeds even in higher gears and driveability is surprisingly good. You can pretty much stay in third gear all day long, shifting down to second only when you reach crawling speeds. However, show the TUV an open highway and it struggles. In fact, at 100kph in fifth gear, the engine is spinning at a high 2,600rpm. It will rev as far as 4,800rpm but there’s more noise than speed at this point, as power tails off beyond 3,800rpm. What’s impressive is the refinement in everyday driving, which is quite decent for a three-cylinder motor, with minimal vibration when you’re on the move.

Like we said, this car’s trick card is the AMT gearbox, but unfortunately, it isn’t the joker in the pack but the joke. Developed in-house by Mahindra, the AMT is inherently jerky and temperamental, which makes it difficult to drive smoothly. The problem is the sudden way the clutch engages, like a racing driver popping the clutch when the lights go green. It’s like an on-off switch and this lack of progression makes moving off the line, especially on a hill, quite tricky, and a gentle throttle input is vital for a smooth take off. The gears shift with an inconsistency too. Keep feeding the throttle gently and it will shift up at a high 2,400rpm. In slow moving traffic, the gearbox sticks to second unless you come to a complete halt. Mash the throttle and you can feel a long pause before each gearshift takes place, which is annoying when you need quick progress. It didn’t impress us in our acceleration test either, taking 22.63sec to hit 100kph. That’s 3.1 seconds slower than the manual – it’s down on power by 3.5bhp and the AMT’s long pauses between shifts cost it some time. However, in-gear times were good, with 20-80kph dismissed in a decent 11.74sec and 40-100kph taking 15.64sec in kickdown. On open roads which allow a steady throttle input, it won’t disappoint you unless you are in a tearing hurry.

With a heavy kerb weight, bluff shape and relatively short gearing, we didn’t expect the TUV to do wonders in our fuel economy test. However, it returned a decent 11.4kpl in the city, which is partly due to the flexible nature of the engine. The manual version (and surprisingly, not the automatic) gets a special ‘Eco’ mode for the powertrain, and in this mode, the revs are limited to 3,500rpm and throttle response is blunted. While it did impress in the city run, on the highway, the brick-like aerodynamics and shorter gearing meant the TUV returned just 15.58kpl.

There’s no running away from the fact that the exterior design is not a strong suit for the TUV and it doesn’t make a good first impression. The idea was to give a compact SUV the rugged look of a full-size one, and to that end, Mahindra has retained an upright, boxy shape that squeezes into every last millimetre of the four-metre length restriction. The oddly raked B- and C-pillars, blacked out D-pillar and the thick shoulder line don’t do much to disguise the overall bulk of the car, and neither do the massive square wheel-arches which make even the 15-inch wheels and 75-profile tyres look small. The front is garnished with rectangular chrome grille slats that draw just a little too much inspiration from modern Jeeps, headlights reminiscent of the ones on the Bolero, and a large and ungainly front bumper with a huge rectangular air dam and square fog lamps that just look excessive. Rear styling is very simple, and of course, the spare wheel is mounted on the side-hinged rear door. It may be rugged, but the design is also too utilitarian, especially compared to modern-looking compact SUVs like the Ford EcoSport, and once again shows a lack of design maturity from Mahindra.

Sitting on a modified version of the new Scorpio’s hydroformed chassis, the TUV is more rigid and about 80kg lighter than the Quanto, and this should aid performance, fuel economy and overall dynamics. At the front, the TUV uses a double wishbone suspension with coil springs and a stabiliser bar, and in the rear, it gets a multi-link suspension with coil springs and a stabiliser bar. Wheel travel is pretty generous and it can take a bit of off-roading too without scraping its underbody. However, considering the ‘rugged SUV’ image that Mahindra has crafted for this car, we feel it should have been given a 4x4 system, at least as an option. Is that on the cards, Mahindra?

It’s a high step into the cabin, but once you climb in, you immediately get a great sense of space. The front seats are wide and supportive. However, they are lacking in lumbar support, which doesn’t help on long drives. The driver’s armrest doesn’t foul with the handbrake or the gear lever and that’s a good thing. Visibility out the front is also quite good, with the tall seating position and large windows giving a commanding view of the surroundings. However, the thick A-pillar does create a bit of a blind spot, and rear visibility isn’t too great because of the spare wheel and the small glass area. The parking sensors do help, but it’s better to check your surroundings beforehand.

The second row seat is surprisingly spacious for a sub-4-metre car with more than enough legroom, headroom and shoulder room. The rear bench is wide enough to seat three passengers with ease but the cushioning is quite flat and though thigh support is good enough for most, very tall passengers might find it a little short. As with the Quanto, Mahindra has decided to squeeze a pair of side-facing jump seats in the boot of this compact car, and surprisingly, they offer a bit more space all-round than that car, but even two average sized adults will have to interlock their knees to sit there. Not only is it uncomfortable to sit in the third row, it’s unsafe too (there are no seatbelts). So, for all practical purposes, the TUV300 is a five seater.

The big surprise is the step-up in cabin quality which is right up there with more expensive Mahindras like the XUV500. Fit and finish is now quite up there with international standards and there are some rough edges but some of the plastics look pretty upmarket. The central console uses a good blend of colours, from textured black plastic to dull silver and bright chrome, to glossy black surfaces as well. The overall layout of the dashboard is quite clean and nice – a pleasant departure from the over-styled dashes of some Mahindra SUVs. The instrument binnacle with the twin circular pods look nice, and the trip computer in the instrument cluster shows the range, optimal gear at any RPM, and lots of other useful information. However, the small infotainment screen, with its old-fashioned fonts and colours, looks seriously outdated.

The sound system on this top-spec version isn’t good either and easily distorts even when you gently crank up the volume. There’s no CD player, but USB, aux-in and Bluetooth telephony – now regular fare – are standard on the top-spec T8 model. Safety wise, the T8 gets two airbags and ABS, but the best part is that Mahindra offers airbags as an option on the two lower variants – T4 and T6 – as well. Apart from the base T4, all variants get ABS as standard as well.

Mahindra also seems to have got the steering wheel position right this time – it no longer slopes away from you like in a truck. Pity they haven’t quite sorted out the gear lever then – it is a bit too tall and is quite notchy in action with very long throws. And though the pedals are well sited, the lack of a dead pedal will be an annoyance on long drives. On the topic of ergonomic flaws, Mahindra did relocate the power window switches to the door pads in the Scorpio, but in the TUV, they continue to be placed oddly in the centre-console. Speaking of which, storage space in the centre console could have been much better executed, given the amount of space there is here. The cavities aren’t deep enough, giving them minimal utility.

The old-school ladder-frame chassis, 1,626kg kerb weight (1,654kg for the AMT version) and tall 1,839mm height don’t point to a great dynamic package, especially compared to its monocoque-built competition. It certainly does not impress with its ride quality. The TUV gets tossed about at slow and medium speeds and passengers sitting at the rear will be uncomfortable after a prolonged run on bad roads. The only solace is that the long-travel suspension sitting on tall, 75-profile tyres can go through even crater-sized potholes with barely any noise. As the speeds rise, the TUV is constantly moving around, and it gets bouncy when it runs over expansion joints – definitely not a good thing.

Handling is another sore area and although the steering is an improvement by Mahindra standards, there’s still lots of slack around the straight ahead position. It is best to bleed all the speed before approaching a corner and turn in gently. There’s that inevitable top-heavy feeling, which can be a bit hair-raising at speed through a sharp corner, but it doesn’t roll as much as you might expect it to.

Tough, spacious, practical but lacks sophistication. The TUV300 might be a compact SUV with a footprint shorter than four metres, but it carries the core values of old-school Mahindras – space and toughness. It is a bit too utilitarian in most aspects, performance and dynamics aren’t great, fit and finish though improved has a long way to go and the design comes across as a bit too garish and unrefined for most. But you have to consider who its real target audience is. It doesn’t seem like Mahindra is anticipating a lot of demand from urban areas, where an easy-to-drive and stylish crossover would be preferred. The TUV, instead, makes a strong case as a product for the growing demand for SUVs from Tier II and III markets, whose tastes and requirements are completely different. It is ideal for such markets, where roads aren’t always well paved and the extra two seats will be appreciated too. The tough styling will likely go down better there too, while upmarket features like Bluetooth and parking sensors are also very welcome these days.The TUV300 is a big step-up from the Quanto, but still lacks the sophistication to pass muster as a regular car. But as a tough runabout in tough conditions, it does the job. With prices ranging from Rs 6.98-9.20 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi), it’s decent value too. 

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