ZEEGNITION/Adil Jal Darukhanawala
Homegrown auto major Mahindra & Mahindra on Thursday launched its new compact SUV named TUV300 in India with a price tag starting at Rs 6.9 lakh (ex-showroom Pune).
The best of so many segments, incorporated into one substantial package!
Visually large but compact to the core styling
Best ever manifestation of body-on-ladder construction
Designed, engineered and built in India
So there you have it, three pretty strong statements attributed to the spanking new Mahindra TUV300 (pronounced three-double-oh) that debuted yesterday and Adil Jal Darukhanawala has the answers to the questions that logically pile in whenever a new vehicle rushes in to set the passions soaring and the tongues wagging.
How has Mahindra managed to pull off a butch SUV look in a sub-4-metre package?
Good question to start off with because the first salvo on the senses is of course visual and the TUV300 has enough presence to stand out – literally and figuratively. It has that typically solid and robust don’t-mess-with-me demeanour born from its Jeep legacy but one that has been brought bang up to the minute in terms of overall packaging. The cleverly blacked-out B-pillar treatment and that Range Rover Evoque-inspired rear end treatment makes the floating roof apparition into some sort of a design statement. However, the homogeneity of the design and its proportions benefit from a high bonnet line, the machined look on its flanks especially the squared off wheel wells, the ridiculous short and highly desirable front and rear overhangs (probably the best in the business in the country), the Jeep Cherokee-inspired front-end treatment plus the sportily hung spare tyre on the rear tailgate, this is one good looking but very honest design to hit the sub-4-metre segment and the market like the proverbial ton of bricks! Those hit by this force are sure to come plastered by ear-to-ear smiles.
Does the sub-four-metre design of the TUV300 though allow it to be a proper 7-seater?
The answer is a very emphatic NO though the buyers and the maker would both disagree! Let me explain: Mahindra’s packaging team has done what is needed to deliver rudimentary accommodation for passenger numbers 6 and 7 in the rear section sitting face to face with interlocking knees. This is more of a legislation-busting move that also helps offset some price points due to lower taxes/duties and owners are happy on lower price outlays at time of purchase. Heck even I would be happy to pay less but I couldn’t ever see myself asking someone to sit in the rear section. Jokes aside, the TUV300 is a fantastic 5-seater with an added option to cram in another two homo sapiens in some discomfort. However, the five lucky ones do get great space and comfort thanks to a very ergonomic design that also incorporates sensible materials that are pleasing to the touch and operation.
Does the TUV300 sport monocoque construction like its bigger double-oh sibling – the XUV500, or does it have the traditional body-on-ladder frame chassis?
The TUV300 is perhaps the best manifestation yet, in India for sure, of the traditional body-on-ladder frame configuration. However, while some would try to dismiss it as old world tech, you have to factor in the fact that new advances in material technology coupled to absolutely fine-specced suspension components tuned perfectly to the vehicle’s mass and layout delivers a vehicle that has a brilliant ride quality (so very important a consideration in India), decent handling without upsetting the applecart, great poise under braking and a very well sorted out steering system. To top it all though are pre-engineered crumple zones in the chassis long rails and front cross members to mitigate impact forces in the unforeseen case of a collision from reaching the passenger cabin.
So do you mean to say the TUV300 will ride like a car and track true or be rough and tumble like a rigid truck to cart loads?
Hey this is 21st century and any throwback to the original short wheelbase Jeep from the 1940s might have you living in the past but the TUV300 is one tough cookie. It has the credentials to blast down dirt tracks with aplomb, take on our lunar-surfaced roads and also thunder down freshly laid ripply tarmac and cemented roads with a ride quality that is very well damped and mighty comfortable. The twin wishbone coil spring front suspension working with a stabilizer bar is pure contemporary as is the multi-link set-up at the rear. Mahindra’s engineers worked to perfect the ride and handling with a top notch US design and engineering consultancy that was spawned off from within the Ford Motor Co., and as everyone knows, there yet exist many SUVs and pick-ups in the US which feature body-on-ladder construction yet have brilliant road manners. The TUV300 mirrors the traditional Yanks but in a smaller and more efficient package.
How does the interior treatment of the TUV300 compare to the hi-tech interiors of the best-selling XUV500 (barring the gimmicky dashboard treatment of course), is it in the same vein or low rent?
The good news flows from the strong solid visuals of the exterior into a cabin that is modern, comfortable, classy and adequately appointed. There’s a fine medley of form and function with the most ergonomic seating in the front and at the rear (no dickey seat area which I refer to here which please note) coupled to the generous space for heads, elbows and legs allowing a relaxed attitude over short sprints or long hops. The dashboard is very well designed and configured with controls falling easily to hand. The instrumentation is clear and adequate, the steering wheel, stalk switches for lights and wiper-washer and gear lever have a reassuring tactility, the infotainment system works seamlessly (BlueTooth connectivity, navigation and yes that sound system, it’s just purrfect!). If at all I have to nitpick I must say that the placement of the window winder switches on the central console and not on the driver’s door armrest jars especially when the same are on the back doors! Sometimes you don’t need to think about saving so much that an inconsequential detail becomes the subject for much debate and discussion – it just doesn’t augur well at all for the otherwise brilliance of the product.
What makes the TUV300 move? Is it just bodies or also the mind and soul?
The motive power for the TUV300 is a three-cylinder 1.5-litre common rail diesel engine with a two-stage turbocharger, the first in its class in the country. However, this engine isn’t to be confused with a similar three-pot layout mill that appeared in the oddball Quanto because the 1493cc unit – branded the mHawk80 - has been re-worked across its internals with loads of friction-busting tech in the valve gear and in the way the ancillaries are run. Thanks to the solid engine mounts and the dual mass flywheel, the NVH levels are dismally low and that’s a huge plus point. Factor in a 5-speed manual gearbox that comes straight off the Scorpio along with a brand new rear axle and the staple driveline configuration is not just complete but brilliant in its performance and delivery.
However, there is a very well-engineered automated gearbox as well, designed and engineered by Mahindra working with Ricardo. This is the real deal, and will be offered, as an option to the manual, for all those who need a tough vehicle to navigate the urban jungle but don’t want to break into a sweat pumping the left foot! What is very pleasing about the performance is not about the 84bhp of power or the 230Nm of torque on offer but the strong surge of thrust from as low as 1400rpm all the way to 3000-3100rpm and this doesn’t taper off at all thanks to the dual-stage turbocharging that keeps the drive lag free. The engine was an eye opener in our test drive on the Mahindra test track at Chakan with a very unstressed operation whatever engine speed we had the engine running and in the top two cogs, with minimal throttle pressure the engine could pull strongly from as low as 40km/h and spool up to strong ton-up speeds.
Will there be a four-wheel drive version of the TUV300? And does it have any off-road cred?
Logical question this and on the face of it the answer has to be YES but don’t expect conventional hardcore 4WD hardware. Instead, I think the way Mahindra would go and that’s what would bring in the major benefits would be AWD – all wheel drive that is such a boon on traction and car control on tarmac! Yes the TUV300 has good enough attributes to hammer away on the loose – an 180mm ground clearance and the shortest overhangs of any Indian built vehicle plus also a great wheelbase to track ratio that makes it easy to steer and handle. However, I think one area where the TUV300 can benefit massively from the present is in its choice and size of tyres. Presently it runs on 215/75-R15 radials and while the aspect ratio is right, I think that going to a slightly larger diameter would be very beneficial along with better grade of rubber.
How well equipped is the TUV300 on the safety front?
The Mahindra TUV300 breaks new ground for an all-Indian vehicle to offer dual air bags plus ABS and EBD as options even on the base version while these would be standard in the mid- and top-end offerings. It also helps to have static bending headlamps along with the follow-me-home operation incorporated in them. The eco-mode with start-stop micro hybrid tech is another welcome addition as is the digital immobilizer.
Where will the TUV300 be positioned – micro-compact SUV or in a class of its own?
I think it is logical to state that the first rivals in its cross hairs are of course the likes of the Ford EcoSport and also the Renault Duster / Nissan Terrano badge-engineered twins if similar body style automobiles have to be considered. However, with the TUV300 priced between Rs 6.90 lakh and Rs 9.12 lakh (ex-showroom, Pune) I also think that bestselling cars like the Suzuki Swift D’Zire and the Ertiga would also feel the heat. Overall, I think the SUV story the world has experienced and continues to enjoy has now manifested itself in India going lower down the scale and here the TUV300 is best placed and engineered to succeed. It might be compact in size but mighty large in its allure and it is for this reason that its expected sweep of sales will see not just traditionalists from the UV fold take to it but the influx from other segments would be overwhelming and that as they say is proof why SUV-styled vehicles would only proliferate going forward