Driven – Mahindra TUV300 Compact SUV

I just drove the Mahindra TUV300 for a good 200 kilometers. The drive included Pune’s city roads, some gravel tracks and really rutted mud paths, and then of course smooth highway roads. Here are drive impressions of Mahindra’s latest SUV in town.

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Design: Alright, but you won’t like the height

A compact SUV, the TUV300 competes with the likes of the Ford Ecosport and the Renault Duster. One thing is certain though. The TUV towers over competition. It looks very butch from up front and the the bonnet is even higher than that of the XUV500. Big street presence? Check. Straight lines and a mix of edges give the TUV300 a raw appeal, and the SUV did get a fair share of second glances on the road.

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It may have looked over the top in other colours, but in black, the front doesn’t look overdone. The design begins to lose composure from the flanks. Viewed side on, it’s simply too tall, and this makes the design disproportionate. The TUV300 looks “compressed” from the side, which is how compact sedans look, and that’s not a good thing. Mahindra could have done better by raising the body’s clearance from the ground but alas. This one’s still top heavy.

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The design gets smarter at the rear, and the compact SUV has a striking similarity to the Skoda Yeti. That’s a win there. Getting into the driver’s seat is easy with a footboard placed conveniently. Once in, the first thing that strikes you is about how high you’re sitting. This is an S-U-V. There’s a downside. If you aren’t very tall (5’7″ or 5’8″), the edges of the bonnet won’t be visible to you, even with the height adjustable driver’s seat at its tallest position.

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Interiors: Mostly fine

Now, this is where Mahindra could have made the ergonomics a little better. Being able to see the edge of the bonnet makes SUVs very, very maneuverable despite their large sizes. But since the TUV300 is just 4 meters long, Mahindra seems to have ignored this “nice-to-have” attribute. Apart from this, visibility is excellent all around, with both the wing mirrors open of course. The box like shape of the TUV300 makes it super-maneuverable in traffic. You will find yourself pulling into gaps that you couldn’t have in curvier cars. Just imagine what this SUV could have been with clearly visible bonnet edges.

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The interiors are excellent. They look very premium, but what seems soft touch isn’t so. Yet, the textured dashboard, the piano black finish for the center, arm rests for the front seats and plush door trims make the TUV300 feel very nice.

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It’s one of the best SUV interiors Mahindra has done, despite not having soft touch plastics. Plenty of storage areas, multiple 12V power sockets, an AC that’s a chiller, a large glove box and plenty of map lights make the SUV very convenient. And yes, Mahindra does offer an AMT variant.

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Engine

The 1.5 liter, 3 cylinder engine (80 Bhp-230 Nm) settles into a smooth idle and is very quiet. At idle, but for the vibrating gear knob and the buzzy steering, you won’t know that there’s a diesel powering this SUV. The clutch is light and the TUV300 darts ahead spiritedly. Keep it under 2,000 rpm and you can happily drive around town with good refinement levels. The torque between 1,000-2,000 rpm is very linear. This makes the TUV300 very easy to drive even in heavy traffic.

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Beyond 2,000 rpm, the engine note gets gruffer and you realize that it’s a 3 cylinder motor that’s powering this heavy SUV. The torque gets stronger between 2,000-3,000 rpm after which it’s more of the engine getting gruff rather than leading to any significant progress. The motor revs freely to 5,000 rpm, but you don’t want it to go there as its three cylinder nature becomes apparent. Though you can hear the engine when revved hard, it’s a muted whirr. Vibration levels are kept very much in check. Just don’t expect the “creamy” smoothness of the 2.2 liter Hawk diesel here.

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The gear shift of the 5 speed gearbox vibrates and this is a standard Mahindra SUV trait, one that tells you that it will be a while before the automaker does a Hyundai, Ford or Renault, in refinement. The power steering was a pleasant surprise.

Ride: Good in the city, OK on the highway

Getting suitably heavy at speed, and light but with plenty of feedback even at lower speeds, the steering makes the TUV300 a joy to drive. Yes, this is a “tall” SUV and there’s plenty of body roll. But once you get the hang of it, driving the TUV300 spiritedly can be fun. You just need to figure out the limits, and stay well within.

The ride is another aspect that’s very good on this SUV. While the TUV300 is no Duster and doesn’t deliver a flat ride quality, its suspension is firm yet supple enough to make potholes and other road imperfections seem like nothing. Good job with the suspension, Mahindra. You can jump speed breakers on this SUV, but just make sure you grip the steering well. Mahindra have also stuck to the ladder frame chassis on this one. This means that the TUV300 will not ride as flat as a Duster or Ecosport at higher speeds, but when it comes to handling broken roads, the sheer toughness of a ladder frame wins.

The TUV300 is peppy till about 100 Kph. Give it a few more seconds and 120 Kph comes up without drama. But at speeds over 100 Kph, you don’t feel very confident considering the height of this SUV, compounded by the short wheelbase. Maybe a longer body or wheelbase may have helped. Yes, you have airbags and ABS+EBD. But then again, the TUV300 is best enjoyed at 100 Kph and below. It’s a highway cruiser, not a scorcher. The brakes are good at speeds under 100 Kph, which is again why over-enthusiastic drivers won’t suit the TUV300.

Space

Talking space, there’s plenty even in the second row despite the TUV300 being a sub-4 meter offering. It’s better than the Ecosport, and the jump seats at the rear means that at least one lean adult can fit in there. So, you’re looking at a 6 seater for all practical purposes, and that can squeeze in 7 if the situation demands.

Verdict: Value for money

All in all, the TUV300 is a good buy (T8 variant – 8.48 lakh rupees) for the kind of price at which it’s being offered at. Don’t expect Ford Ecosport or Renault Duster levels of refinement or even performance. We’re not even getting the Hyundai Creta here. What you’ll instead get is a value-for-money, practical SUV that will thrive on poor roads. Remember, it still has a tough ladder frame and 180 mm of ground clearance.