Drive around any rural area and it will not be long before you see a Mahindra bakkie.
Known for their basic, but robust construction, models like the Bolero and Scorpio have proven popular, particularly in the farming and small business communities. They might lack the style and equipment of some rivals, but they are designed and engineered to operate in parts of the world where there is little infrastructure.
Mahindra has changed tack slightly in SA, mainly through its attempt to take on the lucrative passenger car market with SUV models, but bakkies remain a major part of its line-up.
Now it wants to try to take on some the bigger players with the new Pik-Up. It is based on the latest generation Scorpio SUV, but because the bakkie is sold in markets where Mahindra cannot use the Scorpio name, it has called it the Pik-Up.
The new model features a “higher level of luxury, especially in the double cab”, says Sanjoy Gupta, CEO of Mahindra SA. And no, because we know what you are thinking, he is not one of those Guptas.
He says he expects it to appeal to a larger audience and is confident that it will increase the brand’s sales in SA and beyond our borders.
“Let’s not kid ourselves, we’re up against the big boys,” says product manager Hans Greyling. It is unlikely to worry the big boys though, including Toyota, Ford and Isuzu, no matter how confident Mahindra is in its product. The company has a way to go in SA before the badge has the same appeal as its rivals, but it is a dramatic improvement over the last generation.
The styling is unique, adding a slight amount of lifestyle looks but without going too far beyond its utilitarian appeal.
There are daytime running lights and decent amounts of chrome but there are still a few odd elements. For example, the load bed sits at a slant of almost 2° compared to the cab, which side-on makes the Pik-Up appear as though it has broken its back. Perhaps an engineer can explain it or perhaps the entire design department just stood in front of the bakkie and nodded their approval.
The other thing is those extended wheel hubs. As far as we can tell they have no function, except that of some sort of retro look harking back to the days of locking wheel hubs.
Inside things have changed even more. The plastics remain mostly of the hard-wearing variety, which is perfect for a vehicle that is expected to be robust. But our initial impression is that in some cases they actually match some of the more upmarket rivals in perceived quality. Fit and finish seemed rather good and overall the design is a huge improvement.
Equipment levels are also high, at least in the top specification S10 double cab we drove, which costs R354 995. It features a decent list of safety equipment including multiple airbags, ABS and more although the Scorpio SUV without airbags did not fare well in the GlobalNCAP crash test.
It has plenty of convenience items such as a multifunction steering wheel, cruise control, electric windows, climate control and a touchscreen infotainment system with navigation and audio-streaming capabilities. It is the poshest Mahindra bakkie yet.
But what really surprised was the way it drove. It features a 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine which on paper does not seem that powerful with 103kW and 320Nm, mated to a six-speed manual. However its ability to deliver torque on demand was impressive, with it pulling away uphill in sixth gear.
The ride comfort was good, with a relaxed driving position, body roll that was well below our expectations and good seat comfort. Mahindra has decided to appeal to a more international audience and those traditional beige seats that are so popular in India have been replaced with classier black trim.
With the range starting at R187 995 for the single cab 4×2, Mahindra is being more aggressive with its pricing and equipment levels. It has elevated its Pik-Up beyond a workhorse model to something that has a dose of style and wider appeal.
It is not going to worry the establishment too much given the badge snobbery in SA, but we will be surprised if the company does not achieve its goal of increasing its sales. – Mark Smyth