Last week we took off from Delhi towards Rajaji National Park and then further up in the hills of the Uttarakhand region – a journey that was meant to test our vehicle’s long distance drivability, passenger comfort, endurance and overall performance. Thankfully, we had one that seemed to be just perfect for the proceedings. The Mahindra TUV300.
Launched last year, the TUV300 is the younger sibling of the wildly successful XUV500. And when Mahindra sent us the updated T8 variant powered by the mHawk100 engine (produces 100 bhp) to test, it seemed like the perfect drive for the highway and hills as we went chasing the monsoon. We drove 1000 odd kms over 7 days and encountered a fair bit of rough weather, winding mountain roads, steep inclines and thunder showers. Although not quite the powerhouse, the TUV300 is no pushover either. It is built tough, sure footed and secure. But more on that later.
The first impression of the TUV300 can go either ways. It is an unusually tall and wide bodied sub-4 meter SUV with a design inspired by nothing less than a battle tank. When the initial concept sketches were released, honestly we quite liked them and the whole thought process was sort of appealing. Also, there was much to look forward to as Mahindra had just pocketed the acclaimed Italian design house Pininfarina. But the final product when launched was a bit underwhelming. A lot had to do with its mishmash ‘Jeep meets Hummer meets Range Rover’ inspired design, which got sharp yet mixed reactions early on. Some were overly critical, while others felt it was quite a breakthrough for its segment. We personally felt that the Mahindra-Pininfarina team was capable of much more, and this was validated later when they revealed the brilliant XUV Aero Coupe concept at the Auto Expo 2016 earlier this year. If only there was a bit more of Pininfarina in the TUV300 as well.
With time, people seem to have warmed up to the TUV300 design. It has been consistently clocking impressive numbers since launch, and with more TUVs on the roads, there is more familiarity and acceptance. Much of the new found respect for this Quanto replacement which many saw as a ‘Bolero with an urban makeover’ has been due to its outstanding street presence and attention grabbing ability.
The design of the TUV300 is actually quite simple and uncluttered, but a tad bit unusual. It is an interesting combination of squarish lines and sharp angles, with short overhangs, an upright fascia, a flat & wide bonnet and roof, swept back B-pillars, square wheel arches and high ground clearance. It is boxy and military-like without much muscle. The tall and wide design sits on surprisingly small 15″ alloys which makes it look a bit awkward when viewed from the side. There is no cladding either to give it that added muscle. However, the daunting front grille with chunky vertical slats and chrome inserts are quite impressive. Combined with an edgy swept back headlamp design and chrome lined fog lamps, it gives the vehicle a phenomenal front presence; one you would not like to mess with on the roads. The mounted spare wheel at the rear and the ribbed roof and roof rails give it some rugged appeal. There are also sidesteps and a rear step for easy ingress and egress, which adds to the tough look.
While we would have personally liked more fluidity and a bit of muscle in the design, we reckon there are enough people out there who swear by this one-of-a-kind rugged compact SUV, which clearly stands apart in a segment crowded with soft crossovers and wannabes. Not just that, it even dwarfs other small but premium SUVs like Hyundai Creta and Nissan Terrano in comparison. Like it or hate it, you just can’t ignore the TUV300 on the road. It is one hell of an attention grabber.
The simplicity in design continues into the interior as well. The TUV300 has one of the best looking cabin amongst all vehicles from the Mahindra stable. The dual tone dashboard design follows clean lines with faux silver and chrome inlays, with no flashiness on display. The beige and grey cabin is surprisingly refined and well finished, with good quality material and surfaces all around. Except for some odd squeaks and rattles from the door trims there wasn’t much to complain.
The top of the line T8 variant we drove comes equipped with a 2-DIN audio system that supports bluetooth, AUX and USB, charging points in the front and rear, static bending lights, a height adjustable driver seat, tilt power steering with mounted controls and parking sensors. There is an engine start/stop feature and a fuel saving eco mode button too. Other than that, the car falls short of competition in terms of its feature list. The infotainment system is very basic (no touchscreen here), the air conditioning is manual and there are no rear AC vents even though this is a 7-seater. And you do miss a rear parking camera. Storage options are plenty, with large door pockets to hold 1 litre bottles, a dashboard tray on top of the central air-con vents, cup holders, cubby holes and a bottle holder in the central console.
Once inside, the TUV300 doesn’t really feel like a sub-4 meter vehicle. The cabin is spacious and airy with a large windshield and huge side windows. There is more than adequate headroom, ample elbow room in the front and a second row bench that can seat three adults comfortably. The front seats come with individual arm rests and are comfortable, offering height and lumbar adjustment. Although it has been improved, a bit more cushioning in the second row bench would have been nicer. Leg space is also pretty decent for a vehicle this size. If you feel like stretching out and putting your feet up, the two extra seats at the back are for you. They are narrow, don’t have seat belts and are at best good for fitting in a couple of teenagers or doing short distance drop offs.
The grab handles are placed high up and when you reach for them with outstretched arms, it’s a bit of an awkward position to be in – you are actually sitting, but your arms feel like you are standing.
The TUV300 offers an excellent driving position with a commanding view of the proceedings. The well sized steering offers a good grip, but is a bit on the heavier side. The A-pillars are broad and positioned in a way that obstructs the line of vision specially on winding hill roads. The instrument cluster has a twin pod design with chrome rings and gives out information on fuel range, trip distance and current gear indicator. Which really isn’t necessary unless it is a gear shift indicator. The lack of a dead pedal is another pain point.
Mahindra’s 1.5-litre mHawk100 diesel engine has a 2-stage turbocharger, which considerably improves its low end performance. While the earlier version produced 84 bhp, this one has a peak power output of 100 bhp at 3750 rpm and 240 Nm peak torque in the 1600-2800 rpm range. The additional power is a relief, but still feels a bit inadequate as it doesn’t quite translate to quickness on the road. It takes a while for the revs to build up and reaching three digit speeds takes forever. A lot has to do with the fact that the TUV300 is a classical body-on-frame construction which makes it considerably heavier as compared to the monocoque structure of its competitors. And it is not exactly the best illustration of aerodynamics either.
Things are a bit sluggish at take off before the turbo kicks in at around 1500 rpm and the vehicle gets into its zone. If you are in a higher gear at low revs it pulls along well, which means you don’t have to keep shifting gears in stop & go traffic. But it doesn’t mean that you can effortlessly overtake in a lower gear. Split second overtaking requires shifting to a lower gear and timing it right. Out on the highways, it makes up in the mid and high ranges and cruises comfortably. Revving beyond 3750 rpm puts considerable strain on the engine and anything above 100 km/h takes visible effort.
The good thing is that the TUV300 is a rear wheel drive, but one would have liked to see a 4X4 option too. Sadly there isn’t one. Which means that while the battle tank construction can take on some extreme rough handling, it may just be a bit weak hearted to do so.
The transmission in our drive was a five-speed manual setup, although an automatic variant is also available. We faced a clutch burn issue while navigating some really steep inclines and had to allow the vehicle to cool down before resuming our journey. This in a brand new vehicle was surprising. While the Mahindra service team was swift to respond and resolve it, a bit of enquiry at our end revealed that the gear box and clutch issue with the TUV300 may need some attention in the long run. The vehicle weight, engine power, clutch and gearbox aren’t quite in perfect harmony when it comes to withstanding crunch situations.
The ride quality in the TUV300 remains bouncy and thanks to its proportions, there is considerable body roll as well. Potholes and road irregularities don’t go unnoticed and there is a fair bit of vibration and juddering when idle, which makes the start/ stop function annoying to use.
The safety features impress in the TUV300 as it comes with dual airbags across all models. It has disc brakes in the front and drum brakes at the back, which when combined with ABS and EBD gives adequate stopping power.
The claimed fuel efficiency is 18.04 km/l, but during our week long drive, we averaged 12.15 km/l. If not for the hills, we would have done much better.
The TUV300 is available in nine variants, with a starting price of INR 7.38* lacs (ex-showroom Delhi) for the base T4 variant. The T6 variant starts at INR 8.05* lacs (there are 3 options including an AMT) and the T8 variant (4 options including two AMTs) starts at INR 8.92* lacs. The T8 with the mHawk100 engine which we drove is available for INR 9.00* lacs. The range topping T8 variant is the mHawk100 with an AMT and is priced at INR 9.74* lacs (current ex-showroom prices Delhi).
All in all, the TUV300 is a practical vehicle and rather good value for money. For customers who want to rule the road with some rugged style and stand apart in a world of hatchbacks, entry level sedans and crossovers, this is pretty much it. We had a few people ask us details about it on the road and a group of businessmen even made us open the boot to see if there was enough space to stuff in their garment samples. It took them all of 30 seconds to decide in favour of it.
The TUV might fall short in terms of flair and finesse when compared to Ford’s EcoSport or the latest poster boy Vitara Brezza. But it has a raw butch appeal that finds favour amongst those who need to bulldoze their way through an ordinary day – be it at work, home or anywhere in between. They could be small & medium enterprise owners, traders, self employed folks, and people with largish/ joint families. Or the young entrepreneurs from the start up generation who take their weekends and outdoors rather seriously.
The way things stand, much like Mahindra’s earlier cult followers for the Thar, Scorpio and XUV500, the TUV300 with its rugged, outdoorsy appeal is well on its way to have a mini tribe of its own.