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.