Glow plugs - not something most of you will be familiar with unless you’ve driven an old diesel truck. The Mahindra Genio has them though, perhaps we could kindly say a cheeky nod to the old world by the Indian firm. The days gone by if you like, when real men drove real work trucks. None of this Bluetooth telephony and connectivity nonsense.
There’s plenty that the Mahindra Genio doesn’t have too, in a modern context. But as a tough truck built to work it ticks any number of boxes. It starts at $19,990 driveaway for starters, so there’s no doubt it’s affordable. The tradie (or farmer) on a budget might be tempted on that basis alone to take a look at the Genio, and with 4x2 single-cab and dual-cab ($24,990) versions, along with 4x4 models ($23,490 for single-cab; $26,990 dual-cab), there's plenty to choose from.
Back to the glow plugs. Turn the key around to the accessory position and there’s a little orange light that comes to life within the gauge set. Wait for it to extinguish before you twist the key to start and crank the diesel engine to life. Twist the key before the light goes out and nothing happens. There’s not much finesse when it comes to the Mahindra Genio single-cab and the starting routine is all part of the theatre - it needs to prepare itself for work.
I visited the Mahindra factory a few hours outside Mumbai in 2013 and I can tell you that their production facility and the factory itself is genuinely state of the art. The products it is building might not be state of the art just yet – the Genio being a perfect example – but the company is certainly headed in the right direction.
You have to remember too, that vehicles built in India are designed to take a serious battering. Picture appalling roads, stifling heat, dodgy fuel, way too long between service intervals and general mistreatment by drivers and you get the idea. An Aussie tradie as an owner will be a walk in the park!
The elephant in the room for this Mahindra is styling. The Genio isn’t pretty no matter how much you squint or which angle you look at it from. It’s as simple as that. It looks too tall and out of proportion. However, there is the argument of function over form especially when it comes to a vehicle that has to work for a living, but some tradies might not be able to get past the ungainly styling.
The hard statistics that will most interest the budding tradie are impressive. On test (and in fact part of our long term fleet), we have the Genio single cab with alloy tray and 4x2 drivetrain. The sturdy alloy tray is a whopper and measures 2700mm long and 1777mm wide.
It’s edged with proper tie down rails, the drop sides feel solid and lock into place tightly, and in single cab guise like we have here, there’s a proper 1.2-tonne payload. At 490mm high, the tray is positioned nicely to make loading and unloading as easy as possible – easy on your back too if you’re unloading heavier items by hand.
Countering that is how tall the Genio is. It will struggle with some multi level or underground car parks and you need to remember that, especially if you’re negotiating the city. There are always loading zones though.
The 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine generates 88kW at 4000rpm and 290Nm between 1800-2800rpm and is backed by a five-speed manual gearbox. Mahindra calls it the mHAWK engine and it’s a joint development between the Indian company and Austrian diesel powertrain specialists AVL. With common rail fuel injection, overhead camshafts and 16 valves, it’s modern enough to be efficient, but theoretically tough enough to take a battering. The 74-litre fuel tank ensures you won’t be constantly stopping for fuel as well, which is handy if you need to do a lot of running around week to week.
Two airbags are standard and there’s ABS. Mahindra claims the upholstery is fire retardant as well. There’s been plenty of emphasis on comfort throughout the cabin. The seats are far more comfortable than the typical base utility fare you normally see in a stripped out work ute and while the plastics are hard atop the dash and door trims, the interior is a genuinely pleasant place to be while you’re running round town. One crucial element is that the interior looks, on the surface at least, to be as tough as nails, which means it should wear well over the longer haul.
Some question the use of velour for the seat trim, but I’d rather be sitting on the Mahindra’s pews on a 40-degree work day, than being stuck to the tacky vinyl usually on offer in work utes. Visibility is also worth a mention, the Genio's ride height ensuring an expansive view fore and aft.
Standard for the model we have on test are features including power steering, power windows (with auto up and down), tilt adjustable steering wheel, plenty of storage, cupholders and comfortable, multi adjust bucket seats with wide arm rests. There’s no doubt the Genio cabin is more comfortable than most other stripped out utes I’ve driven over the years.
I missed Bluetooth phone connectivity and think that’s something Mahindra should include across the range as standard equipment. The audio system has something of an aftermarket feel to it too, and a more integrated design would be ideal for anyone who spends long hours behind the wheel. That said the standard system does have a USB input as well as auxiliary input and direct SD card slot. You also get steering wheel mounted controls for the audio system.
All Mahindra vehicles are backed by a three-year/100,000km warranty and buyers also get three years free roadside assistance in Australia.
The Genio’s biggest challenge comes when you compare it to the more established names in the segment. The strongest comparison point would be the Mitsubishi Triton GL single-cab 4x2 diesel. Priced from $22,990, the Triton gets a 2.5-litre turbo diesel, five-speed manual, two airbags and ABS and EBD. I feel the Genio needs to be cheaper to go head to head with the Triton in the minds of buyers.
That $3000 saving is worth noting, but I think the Genio would be infinitely more attractive if it started from say, $17,990. However, that pricing issue is balanced out somewhat by the fleet buyer. If you need to buy 10-15 vehicles, saving $3000 per vehicle really starts to add up. The other point to make is that Mahindra is currently selling the Genio we have tested for $19,990 drive away.
What’s it like to drive? Pretty impressive when you take into account what the Genio is capable of for the price. The Genio has definitely been built to a price and you’re aware of that in terms of the plastics used and the materials used throughout. Beyond that though, the Mahindra is an entirely bearable work truck – if you can get past the styling that is.
Once the diesel is cranked into life, it sounds like any other diesel work ute. Forget modern Euro diesels with their almost complete lack of diesel engine note. The Genio never pretends to be anything like that. It’s a little loud, and a little unrefined, but the power and torque are delivered smoothly, the gearbox works without any jerkiness or hesitation and the main inputs including the brakes and steering have a firm feel to them.
The Genio has a surprising turn of speed – well it surprised me anyway – and it gets up to freeway speed just as easily as it gets up to 50 or 60km/h in the city. The torque peak is generated just off idle, so getting up to traffic speeds never works the engine too hard. I loaded approximately 500kg worth of building equipment into the tray during my week of testing and I hardly knew it was there.
The suspension bounces a little over bumpy roads when the tray is empty, but that malaise is typical of any cab-chassis work ute without any weight in the tray. The Genio never felt uncomfortable though. Another plus was the ground clearance, which would make getting onto half-finished work sites easy. With the weight in the back, as you’d expect, the ride settled down a little and the Genio got a little more comfortable into the bargain.
I’ve copped stick in the CarAdvice office the few times I’ve said it about our long termer, but I could definitely live with the Mahindra as a work vehicle. Having a father in the building trade means I’ve had plenty to do with loading (and overloading), unloading and bashing around work sites in a whole manner of work trucks and utes over the years. The Genio is as good as any of them from a pure workhorse perspective.
There’s no doubt that a proper alloy tray is the way to go when you need to get some serious work done and the Mahindra has an interior that is more comfortable than most. Don’t read this and try to compare the Genio to a high end, dual cab ute. Rather, take a look at the serious workhorse offerings from the main players and compare them to the Genio.
It’s not going to win any awards for styling or technological advancement, but it does look like the Genio is built tough enough to get the job done. If you’re on a budget, take a look at one.