Mahindra shows its potential and why it should be taken seriously in the highly competitive ute segment – Words and Images by Dave Whyte
The market for utes in Australia is flooded with options from manufacturers around globe trying to get a piece of the action. Our love of utes for both work and play makes them attractive to people across many demographics, from the tradie to the weekend warrior, and even those who just like a more versatile family car. With a myriad of cab, driveline and trim level options available, the Aussie market has a ute for everyone.
While the number of models on the market is large, so too are the prices for some of the most popular models with all the bells and whistles. For those who want a simple, ready to work vehicle at a budget-conscious price the choice may be limited, but there are now a number of cheaper options on the market aimed squarely at these buyers. One such option is the Mahindra Genio, offering an affordable price while still delivering good performance and a few luxuries.
With a recommended retail price of under $20k, there are some things you might think would be missing from the Mahindra. In the old days (mid 90’s is old days right?), you could buy a Hyundai Excel for under $19k, but only if you didn’t want air conditioning, power steering or electric mirrors. The Mahindra offers all of these as standard, along with electric windows, remote central locking and genuine working ability for about the same price. You even get steering-wheel-mounted controls for cruise control and radio thrown in, and height adjustable headlights to avoid blinding oncoming drivers when the Genio is loaded or towing a trailer.
The Mahindra Genio is powered by the 2.2-litre mHawk diesel with variable geometry turbo, which puts out 88 kW (120 bhp) and 180 Nm of torque, and driven through a five-speed manual transmission. With independent double wishbone suspension up front, and multi-leaf springs at the rear, the Genio offers good, basic mechanical strength and a payload of over 1200 kg on the two-wheel-drive single-cab variant. Stopping power comes from disc brakes at the front and drums on the rear (a little old fashioned but they work very well) with ABS braking as standard. A lot of the earlier release budget-priced utes suffered from a lack of safety equipment, but the Genio bucks this trend with dual front airbags, crumple zones and side intrusion bars to protect the occupants.
The exterior of the Genio has a look all its own. The single-cab, two-wheel-drive version as tested has just a hint of Euro light truck about it, but at the normal ute height. The shorter cab affords more room for a larger load area, and the standard tray is about 300 mm longer than most others. This doesn’t impede on driver comfort though, with enough room for even taller drivers to be comfortable behind the wheel. A high seating position means that your legs don’t need to go so far forward, and so the firewall can be closer to the seat than in most car-like utes. This is a clever illusion, saving space but actually feeling like more space is created for the driver. More length is saved under the bonnet, with the engine shoe-horned into a very small space. I imagine very nimble hands would be required for servicing tasks, with very little room or clear access around the engine itself.
While the spec sheet seems to offer great value for money, it doesn’t dispel the stigma that comes from having such a low price point. Driving the Genio, however, proves the spec sheet to be right, and the doubters should experience this for themselves before writing off the Mahindra brand. While it doesn’t have the big wheels, bling and sex appeal of the current market leaders, it does offer plenty of positives. The driving experience leaves nothing to be desired, manoeuvrability is excellent and the larger tray offers more space for loading. The mHawk diesel engine also returns great fuel economy, with my driving over almost a month returning around 7 l/100 km.
On the road, the Genio doesn’t feel like a budget buy. The driving position is very comfortable, vision is good, and power delivery is ample and smooth. The five-speed manual did seem a little clunky at first, but after a couple of days of driving it became very easy and smooth to operate. Anyone who gets in and out of different cars all the time will tell you that each one has its own individual quirks, even within the same model range, and I put that clunkiness down to my inexperience with the machinery.
The environment in the cabin, even at highway speed, was quiet and relaxed, with the Genio’s shape contributing to the very low levels of wind noise. At 110 km/h the engine runs at just under 3000 rpm, though the sound is barely audible over the road noise. In fact, the mHawk engine seems louder at 60 km/h than it is at 100 km/h.
Inside the cab there is plenty of storage space behind the seats, a holder for a 1.25-litre bottle of drink and four standard-sized cup holders (two in the centre console and one in each door). There are also map pockets in each door and a small glove box below the passenger airbag, though the latter was filled with manuals and a first aid kit. There is also a small compartment in the centre console, just big enough for a box of business cards or similar.
While there is a lot of grey plastic trim inside the Genio, it is broken up nicely with small areas of green, and different textures. The seats are covered in fabric upholstery, again light grey, and may lend themselves to showing the dirt. The driver’s seat offers two-stage lumbar support, and is easy to sit in for long periods. In fact, the biggest issue I had while driving the Genio was the inability to dim the dash lights at night. Not only did they shine brightly in my face, making it hard to see out the front, but they also reflected off the side and rear windows, limiting vision all around the vehicle at night. Given the kangaroo population around our home town, this made for a draining drive home in the dark, with a few near misses to emphasise the point.
The ride quality with an empty tray is fairly lumpy, though the seats soften even the worst of the bumps, but once there is a load on board the Genio settles down very nicely. This is definitely a vehicle that was built to carry stuff, and seems much more refined under load.
While I had the Mahindra as my runabout, I heard the same questions from many people in regard to its quality and ability. The only thing that most people know about the Genio is that it’s cheap. Ironically, that’s the very thing that turns most people off buying them. In reality, anyone who was buying a ute purely for working purposes would be silly not to at least consider the Mahindra. At one third of the price of some competitors, the financial benefits alone make for a strong argument. While it may not draw a crowd at the footy club car park, it will provide you with a very cost-effective business tool, and a capable workhorse that you will be less upset about scratching.