Mahindra KUV100: Gone But Not Forgotten

India’s first micro-SUV pre-empted the Punch and Exter by years
The Mahindra KUV100 was once the smallest SUV you could buy
The Mahindra KUV100 was once the smallest SUV you could buyevo India

Vocal for local is a rather recent trend. In fact, pre-Covid, quite the opposite held true and therein lay the justification for the, ahem, unconventional styling of the KUV100. Mahindra’s executive director at that time stressed they needed love-it-or-hate-it designs to stand out from the crowd because we Indians didn’t support Indian manufacturers. I’d point to quality and product inconsistencies behind us not wearing our heart on our sleeve but, hey, you can’t fault Mahindra for trying (they even riffed off the Evoque for the nose job!).

Pronounced one-double-oh this micro- SUV slotted under the then-best-selling Ford EcoSport and was the smallest so- called SUV you could buy. And in all fairness, this felt more SUV-like than many of the other so-called SUVs. The body and suspension felt robust enough to take a solid thrashing over bad roads and despite the spindly wheels you were treated to a very good ride quality. You sat high-ish for an SUV-like driving position. The engines, particularly if you opted for the diesel, had decent poke. And the shift quality was (for that time) rather un-Mahindra like with short throws and a slick action.

The Mahindra KUV100 had an unconventional gear lever placement
The Mahindra KUV100 had an unconventional gear lever placementevo India

That gear lever was mounted, unconventionally, on the dash and if you thought that was done for ergonomic reasons, well, Mahindra had other ideas. You could spec the KUV100 in a 3+3 seater variant where the armrest between the front seats would flip up to create a bench- like front seat where you could plonk a sixth occupant. That, of course, meant you were shifting gears between your passenger’s legs and said passenger would be using your dead pedal to rest their right foot. Plus that passenger made do with just a lap belt – those were the days before safety was taken seriously. The demographic Mahindra’s product planners were speaking to also had some strange requirements resulting in a bunch of storage spaces – the six-seater had a hidden box under the front passenger seat along with an underfloor box for ‘shoes’ in the rear. Rather handy during election time.

To be fair, and especially for the price, the KUV100 was rather well sorted and that’s probably why, long after it was discontinued in India, the KUV continued to find favour in export markets such as South Africa, Chile and parts of Northern Africa. And had the e-KUV showcased at the 2018 Auto Expo been launched, as planned, a year later Mahindra might not have squandered their early mover advantage in the EV space. Ultimately though the KUV’s undoing was the wilfully polarising styling that asked too many questions of personal taste. It needed a return to core values with the 2020 Thar along with the post-Covid surge of patriotism to finally bring out our vocal for local instincts.

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