In this job there are test cars that are gone too soon, and test cars that seem to hang around in the office carpark for a suspiciously long time. With the latter, it is either because nobody else wants to drive them or because the fleet management company has forgotten to collect them.
In the case of this Mahindra I suspect it was the former. Now I broadly refer to it as “the Mahindra” because I’m still not sure what to call this peculiar-looking SUV, thanks to the confusing muddle of badges stuck to its various panels. D75? KUV100? K8? What we’re dealing with here is a rolling monument to abstract fridge poetry.
In fact the only badge that made some vague sense was the one next to the bonnet that read “Powered by mFALCON”. Millennium Falcon? Star Wars? Han Solo? Possibly. Except when I popped the bonnet I found no exotic sublight-drive engines. No, what I found was a wood chipper.
Or at least something that sounded like one: a wood chipper gargling a mixture of marbles and fossilised goat testicles.
Diesel motors have come a long way since the 1980s and 1990s. They’ve reached a level of silken refinement that many people thought impossible back when they were the exclusive reserve of tractors and combine harvesters. The three-cylinder diesel engine wedded to this Mahindra, however, has not come very far at all. Rough as a prairie dog’s bottom? Most definitely.
Although, for all its boisterous clatter, the mFALCON actually shuffled the 1 155kg Mahindra along at a fair rate of knots once all the torque kicked in at around 2000rpm. A strong mid-range, that’s one thing this car does have.
What it doesn’t have is a start-stop system that works. I lost count how many times the engine failed to restart after coming to a fuel-saving halt at traffic lights. Much to the deep annoyance of all those people stuck behind me. So unless you have an overactive right wrist I would recommend turning this thoroughly useless feature off.
Another feature that didn’t work — or worked erratically at best — were the ridiculous “ghost shadow” lights that beamed off the bottom of the front door frames. Ford has these in its latest Mustang. Open the doors and a pony logo magically appears on the ground below to wow all of those within a 10m radius. Land Rover calls them “puddle lights”. Swing aside the door of your Evoque and the car’s attractive silhouette suddenly beams into the muck waiting to soil your shoes. In the Mahindra I was met by a blurred KUV100 logo — or was it D75 or K8? I can’t remember now. Anyway, it doesn’t matter because this gimmick only worked once in the time I had it.
There was further consternation attached to the Mahindra driving experience. Like the boot that didn’t have a dedicated opening latch, which meant that you have to use the key at all times. The tacky chrome gear knob surround fell away one morning; the driver’s seat rocked backwards and forwards when braking or accelerating. Those silly-looking 14-inch wheels and scarily vague electric power steering didn’t inspire much confidence out on the highway.
Neither did the build quality of the cabin, which was atrocious. With seat material no thicker than my T-shirt and brittle dashboard plastics to rival that of a cheap model airplane kit, the long-term prospects of the KUV100/D75/K8/ mFALCON didn’t appear all that good.
So to avoid any unnecessary wear and tear — or another piece of chintzy interior trim coming apart in my fingers — I parked it on P5 and climbed back into my seven-year-old, 147684km-on-the-clock Daihatsu Materia that immediately felt sturdier, safer and a bit more refined. Eventually, nearly 10 days later, (a new record) the Mahindra had vanished: no doubt whisked away to another semi-reluctant road-tester somewhere who I expect probably did the exact same thing as me. – Thomas Falkiner
FAST FACTS: Mahindra KUV100
Engine: 1 198cc three-cylinder turbodiesel
Power: 57kW at 3750rpm
Torque: 190Nm at from 1750 to 2250rpm
Transmission: five-speed manual
Top speed: N/A
Fuel: 4.4l/100km (claimed combined)
CO2: 117g/km (claimed)
Price: From R197 995