WHEELS

The Mahin­dra TUV300 is the lat­est com­pact SUV from the in­creas­ingly in­flu­en­tial In­dian man­u­fac­turer. It’s cheap and some­times frus­trat­ing, but it has a heart of gold.

go! - - Contents - WORDS & PIC­TURES CYRIL KLOP­PER

The Mahin­dra TUV300 is strange look­ing and some­times frus­trat­ing to drive, but it has char­ac­ter.

It’s easy to un­der­stand why com­pact SUVs are all the rage: They’re easy to park, a dod­dle to ma­noeu­vre around town and they prom­ise to take you on a camp­ing week­end. They’re also in­ex­pen­sive to own and there are lots of good-value mod­els to choose from, like the new TUV300. Mahin­dra says the de­sign is in­spired by an army tank, and the TUV cer­tainly has a chunky ap­pear­ance and a larger body than its main ri­vals, the Ford EcoS­port and the Re­nault Duster. The styling might not be as di­vi­sive as the Nis­san Juke’s, but it does il­licit strong feel­ings of ei­ther ap­pre­ci­a­tion or dis­ap­proval. Some­thing I find a lit­tle odd is how the doors an­gle up and back­wards. If you stand too close and open the door, the top cor­ner will smack you in the head Over­all though, I find the boxy shape rather en­dear­ing. It cer­tainly at­tracts at­ten­tion, al­though I’m not sure whether that at­ten­tion is nec­es­sar­ily ap­pre­cia­tive… When it comes to the in­te­rior, there’s this joke: My hus­band can only see in shades of beige. He’s been di­ag­nosed with colour bland­ness. Sorry, it’s a ter­ri­ble joke. But it is true that beige is the least ex­cit­ing colour known to man. And Mahin­dra has some­how man­aged to find the least ex­cit­ing shade of beige to use through­out the in­te­rior.

The dash­board is the only at­trac­tive part. The black and sil­ver bits look good and al­though the ma­te­ri­als are clearly the cheap­est on of­fer, the dash­board still feels well made and prop­erly fit­ted. It’s bet­ter than the dash in the Ford EcoS­port, but not as good as the Re­nault Duster’s. The front seats are rea­son­ably com­fort­able and fea­ture fold-down arm­rests – a nice touch, par­tic­u­larly on a long road trip – and the back seats are firm with ad­e­quate legand head­room for av­er­age-sized adults. The TUV300 has no ISO­fix an­chor points, which will turn away par­ents with young chil­dren. There are also two fold­ing seats right at the back, which are al­most point­less. The two peo­ple seated there are forced to face each other, knock­ing their knees to­gether. You could ar­gue that these seats are meant for small chil­dren, but then there are no seat­belts… Uhm, hello?

Driv­ing the car is… in­ter­est­ing. A dis­em­bod­ied male voice with an odd ac­cent an­nounces if you’ve for­got­ten to put the hand­brake down or if you’re not wear­ing your seat­belt. The same voice greets you ev­ery morn­ing when you turn the key. It’s fun at first, but by the fifth day the nov­elty be­gins to fade. An­other in­ex­pli­ca­ble de­tail is where the but­tons for the elec­tric windows are lo­cated: be­low the hand­brake lever…

The three-cylin­der diesel en­gine starts off noisy but qui­etens down as it warms up. The vi­bra­tions never cease, though: You’ll feel the en­gine in your hands and feet while idling at a traf­fic light. Then there’s the mad­den­ing stop-start sys­tem. When en­gaged, it switches the en­gine off at traf­fic lights and you have to fol­low a spe­cific se­quence to get go­ing again: Step on the clutch pedal, al­low the en­gine to jud­der back to life, then shift into gear. If you don’t fol­low this ex­act pro­ce­dure, the en­gine won’t start and you’ll be left stranded while an­gry mo­torists around you hoot and ges­tic­u­late. Once you get go­ing, how­ever, the TUV300 of­fers a com­fort­able ride. The sus­pen­sion soaks up bumps bet­ter than the EcoS­port and over­tak­ing is easy enough thanks to good mid-range torque. The tall shape causes no­tice­able body roll through the bends, but wind noise is sur­pris­ingly low. The gear-lever throws are long and re­mind me of a 20-year-old bakkie, but gen­er­ally the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is pleas­ant. It’s easy to be un­kind to in­ex­pen­sive ve­hi­cles. You have to keep in mind that the man­u­fac­tur­ers are do­ing their best at a very slim profit mar­gin. Re­tail­ing for R230 000, the TUV300 of­fers good value. The quirks men­tioned are eas­ily offset by the money you’ll save. And it’s of­ten those same quirks that be­stow char­ac­ter. Yes, the TUV300 is a car you can learn to love. Af­ter you’ve given it a pet name, of course.

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