Automotive designers use the term “tumblehome” to describe the angle of the slope of the side windows towards the centre of the vehicle.
In recent years, the designers of light commercial utes have been adding increasing amounts of tumblehome in their quest to create more sporty, car-like personalities for vehicles that are now just as likely to be used for family play as well as work.
Bucking this trend towards sportier-looking glasshouse design are just two utes. One is the high-country farmer’s favourite, the 70-series Toyota Land Cruiser. The other is this newly upgraded Mahindra S10 Pik Up double-cab wellside.
Like the 70-series, the Indian-made Pik Up has zero tumblehome, and is therefore qualified to earn the title of “the Taj Mahal of utes”.
Off-road icons such as the Land Rover Defender, Mercedes Gelande-wagen and Jeep Wrangler also have zero tumblehome, and there are some compelling reasons behind that boxier choice of design. Having zero slope on the side windows means that the vehicle can be fitted with more generously sized windows, and the driver can be sited closer to them.
As I found out while negotiating some steep, narrow tracks on a ruggedly coastal farm in Northland, the Mahindra possesses such great visibility that it’s easier to keep to the track when the alternative is a potentially fatal plunge over a bluff.
There’s a further plus to this old-school, negative-tumblehome design — cabin space, especially of the vertical kind. The Pik Up has the most generous floor-to-roof cab dimensions of any ute on the market.
The visibility and space advantages of the Mahindra’s cab design have been inherited from the previous model, but the latest Pik Up adds increased sophistication via a new engine, new gearbox, new front fascia featuring LED headlights, new dashboard, and new electronic architecture. The latter enables features such as connectivity, satellite navigation, hill hold control, traction control, stability control, voice recognition, reversing camera, remote locking, and cruise control to enter the Mahindra play-book.
Traditional utilitarianism and durability meets modernity that is almost state-of-the-art in the new S10 version of the Pik Up. There’s even a couple of things that most other utes decline to offer, such as the gas struts that assist the raising of the bonnet, and the automatic illumination of the hazard lights to warn other traffic when you do. Another selling point is the automatic locking rear differential fitted to all Pik Up models.
All of the above costs just $33,990 in the 4wd S10 wellside. (A less well-equipped double cab-chassis S6 version of the Pik Up sells for $29,990, and a singlecab-chassis S6 model costs $25,990.)
A now-retired top Mahindra exec once paraphrased the company’s philosophy as “making more things available to more people” and the new Pik Up range appears to fulfill that wish. However, there are a few caveats. One is that the new gearbox is the only gearbox available and it’s an easy-to-use, six-speed manual.
Automatic versions are still a year or two away, and are likely to come on stream after the engine meets Euro 6 emission standards in 2020 rather than the current Euro 5 compliance.
Another potential fish-hook is the three-star ANCAP crash test rating of the previous Pik Up is likely to remain the same for the S6 models, although the extra active safety features of the S10 are likely to win a further star for the flagship Pik Up (if tested).
Although other ute engines offer more punch, the new 2.2 litre Mahindra turbodiesel pumps out 330Nm of driving force and delivers adequate overtaking performance when propelling the 2115kg Pik Up up an uphill passing lane. It also has its rivals licked when it comes to noise, vibration, and harshness, to the point where there is zero mechanical noise entering the cabin when traversing highways at open road speeds.
Further powertrain refinement can be found in the smooth, un-taxing action of the clutch pedal, the snick-able gear shifts, and traction/stability systems that make little fanfare of their intervention.
A 500km drive in the Mahindra lowered the indicated fuel level of the 80-litre diesel tank only by half, suggesting that the company’s average fuel use claim of 8.8litres per 100km is on the money. Helping this economy is the wider spread of ratios in the gearbox. First delivers unflappable crawl-ability off-road, while sixth has the Pik Up trucking noiselessly along the open highway, the engine turning an unruffled 2000rpm (400rpm above the 330Nm torque peak) at 100km/h.
A large rotary dial on the centre console offers on-the-move changes from rear-wheel drive to four-wheel drive and back again.
To select low ratio, the vehicle must be stopped, but it accesses a transfer case change worthy of the name, and the Pik Up rivals its far more expensive 70-series Land Cruiser competitor in its ability to clamber, climb, and descend. It then betters the Toyota with its automatic operation of the diff-lock, an advantage the Cruiser claws back via its extra ground clearance and axle articulation (although the Mahindra’s traction control is highly skilled at keeping things trucking when one or two of its wheels are in the air).
Suspension consists of independent torsion bars up front and a leaf-sprung live axle at the rear. Spring rates are well chosen for the available wheel travel to work over a wide range of vehicle speeds, and although the damping could be increased to better control those wheel movements, it isn’t far from being on the case.
Equally old-school is the choice of hydraulic steering assistance for a rack with slow gearing.
This might make urban parking efforts blue-collar work, but equally there’s plenty of road feel on winding roads, and little kick-back through the wheel when deep in the rough stuff off-road.
Call me perverse, but I found the strangely upright design of the Mahindra grew on me over the week test. You soon realise there is plenty of function behind the form, and that tumblehome places limitations on practicality.
Then you do the sums, and see that the Mahindra S10 makes every day a Fieldays special. No other 4wd double-cab offers so much for so little.
Mahindra Pik Up S10
Pros: Seriously useful, plusher than expected
Cons: No auto, 2500kg of tow, not 3500kg