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.
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.