DOLLARS & SENSE

MAHINDRA HAS HEAVILY REVISED ITS BUDGET FARM UTE. WE DROVE THE 4X4 SINGLE-CAB, THE FIRST OF THE NEW MODELS OFF THE BOAT.

WORDS AND PHOTOS FRASER STRONACH

THE Mahindra Pik-Up has been in Australia since 2007 and, while there have been a few updates along the way, what we have here is a second generation model with a new power rain, a new cabin, moreTequipment, revised styling and ramped-up safety.

As ever, sharp pricing is what the Pik-Up is all about, with this single-cab/chassis model (the least expensive of the 4x4s) a $26,990 driveaway proposition. The top-spec 4x4 dual-cab ute is $31,990. Ideally, we would have liked to test the dual-cab, but the single-cab was the first of the new Pik-Ups available and we were keen see how the new powertrain performed, as well as sample the other changes. A test of the dual-cab shouldnít be too far off.

Climb into the Pik-Up and the first impression is of an airy, spacious and upright cabin thatís more light truck than ute. The new dash and interior make the Pik-Up feel more contemporary than before; the seats are comfortable, thereís great vision for the driver and thereís a handy amount of storage behind the seats. Tilt but no reach adjustment for the steering wheel, and thereís a lack of storage space for small items like phones.

The new engine is quiet and, while its 103kW (up from 90kW) means itís no rocket, itís still very flexible and generally effortless. Holding highway speeds uphill poses no problems, and the Pik-Up feels more relaxed at freeway speeds than it has any right to be. The Pik-Upís engine is a modern Euro 5-compliant design, so while its 103kW and 330Nm isnít anything special, at least itís very understressed. The new six-speed manual has a light but positive shift action and is nicely geared for both slow-speed and highway work.

For a Ďfarm truckí the Pik-Upís on-road steering and handling is surprisingly reassuring and confident, even if the unladen ride is very firm Ė much firmer, for example, than something like a Toyota Hilux or Ford Ranger. And the general on-road refinement and noise abatement, save for some wind noise around the snorkel (a factory accessory), is also surprisingly good.

Off-road, the Pik-Up has clearance, vision and deep low-range gearing on its side, but wheel travel at both ends isnít anything special. Thankfully the Pik-Up now has electronic traction control (new for this model) and retains the Eaton rear locker thatís been fitted since 2011. The Eaton locker is fully automatic and, being a mechanical locker, works independently from the traction control. So while it overrides the traction control on the rear wheels, it keeps the traction active on the front wheels. The end result is that the Pik-Up performs well in difficult off-road conditions, despite its lack of wheel travel.

As a work vehicle the Pik-Up has plenty of payload capacity (see Payload Test breakout above), but the 2500kg towing limit is short of what other utes offer these days. At this stage this new Pik-Up hasnít undergone ANCAP safety testing, but the previous model achieved a three-star rating when tested in 2012, s this new model with new safety features such as electronic stability control and rollover mitigation should do better if and when tested.

WORK READY MAHINDRA offers a range of factory accessories for the Pik-Up, including a galvanised steel tray ($2959), winch-compatible steel bullbar ($2574), a tow bar ($872) and an airintake snorkel ($765), all of which were fitted to our test vehicle. The snorkel unfortunately came loose where it mounts to the A-pillar, something Mahindra will hopefully address. Mahindra also offers aluminium trays and colour-coded steel trays. A suspension upgrade and lift kit, a stainless-steel nudgebar and a bashplate are all in the pipeline.

The Pik-Up is sold and serviced through 40 dealers nationally and comes with a three-year/100,000km warranty, with an additional two years warranty on the powertrain if the vehicle hasnít covered 100,000km. Service intervals are 15,000km or 12 months and Mahindra will soon offer fixed-priced servicing,

Practical touches include gas bonnet struts, a manual fuel-pump prime and an easy-access fuel filter. Not so good is the lack of a lock on the fuel filler. All up the Pik-Up is a very impressive vehicle, especially at its price. It doesnít feel like a budget vehicle and does all the basics well Ė very well, in fact Ė and is difficult to fault except in some details. For a farm or work ute it makes an awful lot of sense and deserves to sell in far greater numbers than it has previously.

PAYLOAD TEST AS WE try to do with all the utes we test, we loaded 800kg into the tray of the Pik-Up to see how it would cope with a heavy payload. Legally, the Pik-Up can carry more than that Ė around 920kg, once you take into account the weight of the bullbar, towbar and have both a driver and passenger aboard Ė but 800kg is the standard load we use. With the load placed directly above the rear axle rather than up against the headboard, the Pik-Upís rear suspension settled a mere 45mm, which is less than the best of the popular dual-cabs weíve previously tested; although, the load in a dual-cab would sit farther back. The Pik-Up felt stable and secure on the road, the rear suspension didnít bottom on bigger bumps nor did the front top out. The most noticeable effect of the 800kg was positive due to the improved ride quality. The engine performed better than expected; it felt the extra weight, but didnít struggle and remained generally effortless. Top marks all around.

WITH THANKS Thanks to Taralga Rural for their invaluable assistance with the 800kg payload test.