Mahindra KUV100 first drive review

The Indian automobile market has been split into various new segments over the last few years. Each of them however, has shown unpredictable growth and fall. Sometime back, the compact sedan segment came into full swing and threatened to take over the premium hatch category. See the sales charts today and the top 10 models sold in India are still hatchbacks. The Hyundai i20 and Maruti Suzuki Baleno is enough proof that the Indian car buyer is even willing to spend a premium to drive a hatchback. Carmakers however, will continue to start new segments and launch unique models to try and tempt the hatchback buyer. The latest challenger is the KUV100, an SUV that aims to destroy its hatchback competition.

The KUV100 (Kool Utility Vehicle One Double Oh) is Mahindra’s newest SUV and the smallest they’ve ever made. The hatchback footprint makes it one of the most compact SUVs around. The vehicle’s unique styling is meant to appeal to the younger audience. The face features the signature grille that’s sleek, but misses out on the centre bucktooth. A clamshell bonnet also gives the KUV a more premium look.

In a passing glance, the headlamps will remind you of the EcoSport, but look closer and you’ll notice some interesting detailing. The lamps wraparound the entire front fender, which is a unique  design and something we've never seen done before. Mahindra says that the design has been inspired from wraparound sunglasses. The extra length meant that the engineers had to split the unit in two sections. While the main section houses the headlamp and LED DRLs, the second part is actually an extension that smartly incorporates the engine badging and side indicators. The lower section of the bumper isn’t body-coloured, giving it a dual-tone appearance. The bumper houses neat fog lamps and a contrasting silver mock bash plate too. Since the grille is small and not as imposing as its siblings, there’s a large blank portion below that will probably house the registration plate. The front track is wider than a few hatchbacks and this gives the vehicle added presence.

Move to the side and it does take some time just to get used to the design. The short length and the longish front section make it look less proportionate. There’s a lot of detail on the sides too, like the character line running from the headlamp. The rear haunch is further accentuated thanks to the prominent line that runs upwards from the rear door, all the way to the taillamps. Even the mirror caps get some detailing. The side is more hatchback than SUV. The pillar mounted rear door handles are similar to the ones on the Chevrolet Beat. This gives the KUV100 an appearance of a two-door vehicle. The handle can be operated from both sides and is finished in contrasting silver so it doesn’t go unnoticed. The wheel arches are prominent and there’s cladding too (not available on the base trim) to give it that rugged SUV look. The 14-inch wheels however, look small. Top variants get alloy wheels as standard and the design is said to be inspired by a turbine. The rear end is quite smart with the rectangular taillamp that protrudes slightly upwards since it sits below the extended haunch line. An integrated spoiler is standard in the higher variants.

The interior is a nice place to be in. A light grey and gloss black dual-tone theme makes it feel even roomier inside. The dashboard looks smart, and is split in two sections. It’s a neat layout and unlike the exterior, the design is a lot simpler, but striking nonetheless. The centre consle isn’t cluttered despite incorporating the stereo and climate control knobs. Even the gear lever and handbrake is mounted onto the console, which results in a lot more space being freed up in the front (more on that later). The steering wheel is chunky and sculpted well for extra grip and the silver accents similar to the centre console look sporty. Instrumentation is clear and easy to read. the twin pods get chrome rings while the centre display seems to be borrowed from the TUV 300. The door pads gets the same gloss black inserts and it flows well from the dashboard. Fit and finish is impressive for a vehicle in this segment, especially when compared to other Indian cars. The only complaint is the flimsy lock switches in the door handles.

The KUV100 is surprisingly spacious for a vehicle this size. Quite a bit of space is freed up at the front thanks to the centre console mounted gear lever and handbrake. There is no division between the passenger and driver's side and the floor is flat. It does take some time to get used to it, but the reason for such a design is that the KUV100 is a 6-seater. Unlike a conventional car that gets two bucket seats, the SUV gets a regular driver seat and a bench like passenger seat with a foldable middle section that can seat small adults and children. Although it is optional on most trims, it comes standard in the base trim. The centre seat also folds up to act as an armrest for driver and passenger as well offer two cup holders.

The entire passenger seat also folds upwards to give access to an under seat storage compartment. This section houses a removable storage bin with handles that can carry upto 10kg. That’s not it, the rear section of the cabin also features a flat floor and there’s a covered storage area under it. Apart from these storage points, the KUV100 also features a sunglass holder, bottle holders on the door pads and rear armrest with cup holders. The front seats are comfortable but the seats in the 5-seater model seemed to offer slightly more under thigh support. Rear seats are good too while kneeroom and headroom is impressive. The 243-litre boot is better than most hatchbacks that it will rival and can expand to 473-litres with the seats folded.

The KUV100 offers both diesel and petrol engine options. The 1.2-litre mFalcon 3-cylinder units have been developed in-house, are all-new and future protected to meet Bharat 6 emission norms if necessary. A new 5-speed manual transmission has been mated to these engines. The G80 petrol unit displaces 1198cc and produces a maximum power of 82PS at 5500rpm while 115Nm of torque is available between 3500 and 3600rpm. The all-aluminium motor fuel-injected motor offers dual-variable valve timing on both the intake as exhaust sides too. Mahindra says that the motor is light-weight and because is a 3-cylinder motor, there’s lesser friction. We were quite impressed with the NVH levels and the motor is eager and quite peppy too. It may not be as rev happy and refined as the Hyundai i10 or Honda Brio engines but does a good job in offering good performance and drivability. The higher torque figure available at a lower rpm ensures there’s good mid-range poke and roll-on acceleration is impressive. Compared to most hatchbacks, the motor seems to offer a better punch. We couldn’t test the KUV100 but did cross 130kmph in the test track. Claimed fuel efficiency is 18.15kmpl.

The diesel motor is turbocharged and features an aluminum head and cast iron block. The mFalcon D75 unit is claimed to offer best in class power, 77PS is produced at 3750rpm while 190Nm of torque is available from just 1750rpm. Just like the petrol motor, the diesel is also an undersquare motor and displaces 1198cc. We were impressed with this engine too, engine clatter and noise is well insulated and despite it being a three-cylinder diesel, vibration levels isn’t a concern. The engine is well tuned and offers good low down performance with very little turbo lag. It’s an eager motor and one of the best compact diesels available today in a car in this segment. The gearbox offers precise and smooth shifts (petrol and diesel) and is a delight to use. The diesel KUV100 also crossed 130kmph on the test track. A higher top speed is possible, we will confirm this when we test the SUV very soon. The claimed fuel efficiency is an impressive 25.32kmpl. The diesel model also gets two driving modes, power and eco like on the TUV 300. The fuel tank capacity is 35-litres on both models.

The KUV100 features an all-new monocoque chassis, this is Mahindra’s second offering to use such a construction after the XUV 500. This has led to a lower kerb weight and better dynamics when compared to a conventional ladder frame. Since the KUV100 is primarily an urban vehicle, there is no 4wd on offer and there are no plans to offer such a variant in the future. The SUV is more hatchback when it comes to handling and holds the line well when pushed hard too. It isn’t the best in class but the vehicle is agile and quite nimble compared to other compact SUVs. There is a bit of body roll displayed but is well controlled. The steering is light and weighs up well as speeds increase, it could have been perfect if the unit was more precise.

Ride quality is impressive too, we could not drive the car outside the test track but drive it over speed breakers and rough patches. Both the models absorbed them well as the suspension is set towards the softer side and features longer travel. The KUV is not an off-roader, there’s 170mm of ground clearance on offer but this is more hatchback than SUV. The Renault Kwid in fact offers 10mm more clearance. There is however a sump guard offered as standard. Braking is good in terms of distance to stop but the feel has to improve. ABS is however standard across all variants.

Like most Mahindras, the KUV100 offers quite a few features. Both the petrol and diesel variants get 7 trims levels each. K2, K2+, K4, K4+, K6, K6+ and K8. The + trims offer driver and passenger airbags as an option while the fully loaded K8 gets the LED DRLs, alloy wheels, front and rear fog lamps, puddle lamps and start/stop technology. Priced from Rs 4.42 lakh (ex-showroom, Pune), the KUV100 has all it takes to give many hatchbacks a run for its money. Besides it is quite appealing and has left us very impressed indeed.