What is it?
Why should I buy it?
For its SUVish looks, good interior space, and yet a compact footprint
Why should I avoid it?
It’s ergonomics are awry, lacks finesse and is uninteresting to drive
What is it?
The facelifted version of the Mahindra KUV100 that was first launched in 2016. This refreshed KUV100 NXT takes things a step forward with its cosmetic changes and interior updates, albeit without any mechanical changes. We put the car through its paces in this first drive review.
The KUV100's face has been altered with a modified chrome grille and a split headlamp cluster in keeping with Mahindra's new design philosophy. The bumper's lower section has been tweaked, thus giving the front a better appearance overall, if not a very handsome one. On the sides, the new design pattern for the alloys is the most prominent change so far, which gives the car a funky appearance. The wheels have also been up-sized to 15 inches suiting the tall profile and adding to its presence. The rear bumper gets a faux skid plate and new reflectors while the spoiler gets black flanks and the tail lamps are similarly detailed to spruce up the look. Although its overall design with the curvy lines and a bloated shape still looks a bit eccentric, the SUV-like looks certainly improve the appearance of this compact hatchback.
How is it on the inside?
The cabin has been carried over from its predecessor, which means we still have a spacious interior with good headroom, knee room and shoulder room in both rows. The grey upholstery is now black, which looks better and goes well with the piano black inserts on the dashboard. However, nothing has changed on the ergonomics front. The pedals still are off-set and the centre console fouls with the driver's left leg. Sure, the front centre back rest doubles up as an arm rest, but the cup-holders are still set far behind. Visibility still isn't great. Besides, the manual air-con control knobs are replaced by buttons, which I am not really fond of. The earlier ones were simpler and less confusing. Thankfully, the plastic air vents are of better quality now, but then again, the door latches still feel flimsy. The seats continue to lack contours for lateral support even if they provide good thigh support.
The biggest improvement, nonetheless, is the addition of a 7-inch touch screen system in place of the 2-DIN audio system seen earlier. The new one integrates USB, mp3 and bluetooth with in-built navigation, while also providing info on the car like fuel efficiency, DRL settings etc. It's quick, easy to use and the touch response is good too. If only it provided support for Android and Apple CarPlay too. Otherwise, in terms of utility, the KUV still scores high for its unique under seat and rear floorboard storage options. Features like electronically foldable OVRMs, puddle lamps, switchable interior LED lighting, start-stop function to save fuel, power and eco mode, rear parking sensors, etc. are quite handy. Though the car gets ABS and dual airbags, it still misses out on push button engine-start/stop and a rear view camera.
How does it drive?
The KUV100 NXT continues to be powered by the same 1.2-litre petrol and diesel engines that power the outgoing model, mated to a five-speed manual transmission. What we have here is the diesel one with the three-cylinder mFalcon D75 turbodiesel motor producing 77bhp and 190Nm of torque. The engine makes little sound, if at all any, and still settles into a thrum if not clatter at idling. However, rev it beyond 3,000 rpm and it gets noisy and starts to feel coarse. Its refinement is nowhere close to the four-cylinder mill housed by the Swift or the Figo. Nonetheless, the power delivery is linear, turbo lag is minimal or almost nil thanks to the smaller turbo. This, paired with the generous torque available from as low as 1,800rpm, helps the vehicle pull away nicely without any fuss. Trudging along in traffic becomes easy due to a minimal need to change gears constantly.
It’s only while driving out on the highway, you realise that the engine starts to lose its fizz post 3,500rpm. But once you get a hang of it and manage to keep the revs in the meat of the power band (2,000-3,200rpm), the KUV100 can make swift progress to achieve triple digit speeds. You will still have to shift to a lower gear to manage a quick overtake. The five-speed gearbox feels notchy, but is easy to use with the short throws. However, it is the clutch pedal with its tight spring action, which will make it a tiresome job for your left leg on long drives or in traffic.
Now, the KUV's suspension has been tuned to be on the softer side. Since it also has a good ground clearance, all uneven surfaces are taken in its stride with ease at low speeds. However, side-to-side rocking gets prominent and at higher speeds the rear kicks out on harsh bumps. The vertical movement also increases, making the ride floaty. The ride doesn't settle until it finds a flat stretch. Likewise, the steering is another aspect that sits firmly in the list of cons. It is big for a compact car, lags a bit and feels vague. It makes more than three turns from lock to lock which makes parking a tedious job despite having such a compact footprint. One can steer through a corner at low speeds, but at higher speeds, its entire dynamics undergo a change. The car understeers and the body roll becomes pretty evident at that point to the extent that it will make all the occupants feel uneasy. Thankfully ABS is available, but still the car doesn't feel surefooted under hard braking.
Should I buy one?
The KUV100 NXT will be preferred by people who love SUVs, want a spacious cabin and still want it to be of a compact size. The refreshed KUV also adds some new features to the package. However, this particular K8 variant is priced at Rs 7.46 lakhs, thereby putting it in the same price bracket as that of the Maruti Suzuki Swift ZDi and the Ford Figo Titanium Plus TDCi. While both of them are more refined with a four-cylinder motor, the Figo also gets a more powerful engine.
Where does it fit in?
If one opts for a dual tone colour in this same variant, its price goes up to Rs 7.53 lakhs, making it more expensive than the Maruti Swift ZDi and Hyundai Grand i10 priced at Rs 7.49 lakhs and Rs 7.42 lakhs respectively. In terms of body style, there’s the Fiat Urban Cross and the Toyota Etios Cross, but they command more premium.
Pictures by Kaustubh Gandhi