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Truth be told, when we first caught sight of camouflaged pictures of the Mahindra TUV300 doing the rounds on the internet, ‘impressive’ wouldn’t be the right term to describe the emotion that resounded back in the office. It looked like an offspring of Frankenstein and a shoebox. Now, with the drapes done away with, what stood before us was a car that still stood boxy, yet, didn’t look as dreadful as perceived originally.

Okay fine, so the heavy jaw-line teamed-up with the thick grille-slats up front might give the TUV300 very low-budget Grand Cherokee-look. And once we walked around the SUV, which the company claims to have drawn inspiration from some battle tank, could certainly see where Mahindra was going with this one. There are hard lines all over the sub-four meter car that give the little Mahindra an imposingly, albeit compressed, stubby stance.

Even SUV, including its hard shell tailgate mounted spare wheel cover looks, if anything, tough. Overall, looks aren’t one of the TUV300’s strongest points and one might even wish it had bigger wheels than the slightly off-looking 215/75 R15 radials it comes with.

The TUV300’s cabin is a real surprise. It’s like no Mahindra that we’ve seen before. The variant that we’ve stepped in to today, the T8, is one of the seven trims that the company has on offer. It’s essentially the top-of-the-line variant, minus the autoshift (or AMT) gearbox. As soon as you swing a door open, you are treated to an overly pleasant design with sober dual-tone colour scheme which, for once, is neither over-the-top loud nor looks to be put together under a stringent budget. Fit and finish is definitely better than before, but there still is some room for improvement.

‘Inputs from Italy’s Pinninfarina design studio’ is what Mahindra had announced at the time of the TUV300’s launch back at its factory in Chakan, Pune. Very much evident, and very much appreciated. Everything from the high, uncluttered dashboard, down to the hard materials and use of silver finished plastic bits around the cabin looks well thought out and we’d even go so far as to describe it as being classy. The XUV500-inspired instrument cluster is informative and looks great too.

You’ll have to quite literally climb into the cockpit of the TUV, so it feels quite tall, and it’ll feel even more so on seeing the amount of headroom available once seated inside the TUV300. The cabin feels nice and airy with the big window area, good amount of cubbyholes and storage spaces for oddities up front flaunts much of the little Mahindra cabins practical side too. The seats are a tad flat, yet offer decent support and space for comfortable drive over long distances.

The driver even gets some lumbar support. However passengers seated in the two jumper seats at the tail end will feel confined for space and rather uncomfortable on long drives considering the TUV300 lacks rear ac vents. Mahindra has even made good effort to keep NVH levels low inside the cabin, with there’s very little grunt from the engine seeping into the cabin.

Beneath the TUV’s flat bonnet lies a new member of the mHawk engine family - the mHawk80. The 1493cc, 3-cylinder motor puts out 82.5bhp and 230Nm of grunt with the help of twin-stage turbos. At the wheel, the motor is a treat at city speeds, with a moderately light steering and a decent amount of torque available lower down in the rev band.

Try to gather serious momentum really quick, and you will be disappointed. Grunt kicks in from as low as 1,500rpm and is stront up to the 3,800rpm mark, after which the motor sounds very stressed and runs out of breath. You’ll really have to work the five-speed manual ’box to get up to triple digit speeds in a jiffy. going from 0-100kph takes you 18.61secs. The 5-speeder with its short throws isn’t the slickest in the business. Once up to triple-digit speed, the TUV shows off some good aptitude in the ride and handling department – thanks to the anti-roll bars and the third-gen Scorpio derived chassis.

Considering the gross weight of 2225kg, performance of this tank-inspired compact SUV doesn’t completely disappoint. Although this T8 variant comes with a decent amount of features like electric ORVMs, driver’s seat height adjust, armrests for both front seats, static cornering lamps, Bluetooth integrated music system, voice messaging, micro-hybrid tech, eco mode, parking sensors, auto door lock, two airbags and even comes fitted with ABS and EBD, but we couldn’t help but feel that the brakes setup, of discs up front and drums at the rear, could have been configured better. Mahindra has stated that they have also made safety tech available on the lower variants as paid add-ons.

Considering the bracket of Rs. 6.9 lakh, for the base variant, to Rs. 9.12 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai) for the feature-rich AMT trim, the Mahindra can be seen as a stern opponent to its competition in the form of the Renault Duster and Ford Ecosport, which it undercuts with its pricing and space.

1493cc, 3-cyl, 5M/5AT, 82.5bhp, 230Nm, 0-100kph in 18.61s, 30-50kph in 3rd: 3.42s, 30-50kph in 4th: 4.91s, 50-70kph in 5th: 5.63s, 80-0kph: 25.23m/2.30s, city kpl: 9.8, highway kpl: 13.3, Boot: 384-720litres; Fuel tank: 60litres; Ground clearance: 184mm, Price: Rs 8.4 lakh (T8) ex-showroom, Mumbai.

Not the best compact SUV to look at, but definitely a step up over other Mahindras on the inside. Good interior room. Includes a decent amount of safety and comfort tech. New engine isn’t the most efficient.

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