Dual-cab utes can cost more than some luxury cars, but there are budget-friendly options if you can’t afford one of the well known makes. Enter the Mahindra Pik-Up, an Indian-made ute with a wallet-friendly starting price.
If you’ve never heard of Mahindra, the Indian company specialises in agricultural machinery first and foremost, though it has been building utes and SUVs for years, too. Indeed, the Pik-Up has been around since 2007.
The Mahindra Pik-Up starts from just $18,990 driveaway (2WD), making it one of the most affordable utes on the market, and the cheapest diesel workhorse you can choose when buying new.
That price pits it alongside the more modern Mahindra Genio (from $19,990 driveaway) which is also a diesel proposition, as well as the Chinese alternative, the Great Wall Motors V-Series (from $18,990 driveaway for the V240 petrol version; the dual-cab diesel V200 costs $24,990 driveaway).
As with the Great Wall ute, the Pik-Up is available in single- and dual-cab variants, with the choice of cab-chassis or with a tub. We’ve tested the top-of-the-pops dual-cab with tub here, which is priced at $25,990 driveaway.
That price puts it $1000 dearer than the V200, and $3000 more affordable than its fellow Indian-made model, the Tata Xenon dual-cab. However, it’s worth noting the Tata gets satellite navigation and a reverse-view camera standard, whereas the Mahindra has neither of those items available.
It’s not the biggest ute on the market, measuring 5.11 metres long, and 1.77m wide. But its tall body (1.94m) and slab-sided appearance means it looks somewhat ungainly.
The Pik-Up has one of the more generous trays of the dual-cab crowd, with the cargo box measuring 1530 millimetres wide, 1520mm long and 550mm deep – a touch smaller than the Volkswagen Amarok, but better than the country’s best-selling ute, the Toyota HiLux (1515mm wide, 1520mm long, 450mm deep).
The Pik-Up's payload is decent for a dual-cab, too, at 1030 kilograms. Towing is rated at 2500kg braked.
The mHawk 2.2-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder engine isn’t the gruntiest thing going, producing just 88kW of power, while torque is rated at a somewhat paltry 280Nm (at 1800rpm).
For some perspective, the 2.0-litre turbocharged Volkswagen Golf diesel has 110kW/320Nm and weighs about 700kg less. Against ute rivals, it’s well off the pace – the 2.0-litre Great Wall has 105kW/310Nm; the 2.8-litre Foton Tunland pumps out 120kW/360Nm; and better known models such as the 2.5-litre Mitsubishi Triton trump the Indian-made ute with 131kW/400Nm. Fuel use is rated at 9.1 litres per 100km.
It comes only with a five-speed manual gearbox, but off-roaders will appreciate its BorgWarner transfer case with high and low range four-wheel drive, which can be operated on the move. It also has a diff-lock to help keep you moving “over sand, snow, muck, ice, rocks or whatever”, according to the brand.
So we tested that claim out – and the Mahindra proved truly surprising.
The differential isn’t like many other locking diffs, in that it only locks down to feed power to a planted wheel when it is needed.
It’s always on, too, meaning that unlike many other off-road capable vehicles with a locking diff (controlled by pressing a button to lock the diff) you don’t need to think to yourself “I’ll have a go”, fail your first climb attempt, then lock the diff and try again.
A normal locking diff will keep both wheels spinning at the same speed to ensure planted traction, but the Mahindra’s system allows some wheelspin on one wheel before it starts to send power to the other.
It does this in a relatively balanced manner, though it can allow more slip than you might expect at first, particularly if you’ve experienced a more traditional locking differential, but it works very well.
The amazingly short front overhang of the Mahindra means you can push it up some extremely steep terrain without hassle, and while it doesn’t have huge ground clearance (210mm) it will scramble for, and successfully find, traction over some of the worst surfaces imaginable. Rocks, muck … whatever.
The engine offers enough torque to grunt up hills in low range, and it will creep down hill in first gear, 4L, with more conviction than many SUVs triple the price.
We also spent plenty of time on the road in the Pik-Up with nothing in the tray, and its fair to say it shines more off-road than it does on.
The engine felt more at home trundling along at low speeds, proving to be at its best between 1800-2500rpm. Indeed, at highway speed it required a shift back to fourth on a climb that many other utes can manage in their highest gear by relying on low-end torque.
We spent the majority of our time on the road in the Pik-Up with nothing in the tray and still found it could struggle up hills, requiring a shift back to fourth on a climb that every other ute can manage in its highest gear by relying on low-end torque.
Indeed, it feels more at home trundling along at low speeds, as the engine is at its best between 1800-2500rpm. That said, the gearshift action is sloppy, and there is unavoidable turbo lag when you try and get things moving.
While the steering is woolly and lazy, with one of the worst turning circles of any vehicle on the market, the Pik-Up felt quite well tied down through a mix of easy and more rigorous corners.
The double wishbone front suspension helps it deal big lumps and bumps well, despite the rear leaf setup trying its darnedest to kick things off track by bucking and fumbling.
However, with a few hundred kilograms of garden waste in the tray the rear settled substantially, even over a muddy, slippery section with plenty of bumps and niggles. That said, its tie-down points are clearly designed for an elasticised tonneau rather than hitch straps, meaning securing loose items can be more difficult than it should be.
Given the company’s rough-and-ready, farm-friendly roots, there’s no doubting this ute would be well-suited to farmers who probably worry less about tying down their load.
For those who like some flash for their cash, though, the interior of the Pik-Up is where it starts to lose a lot more ground.
Firstly, the driving position. The front seats are set too close to the doors, and the steering wheel is placed well to the right, too. It makes you feel as though you’re being pinned against the wall of the cabin.
Add to that the fact the pedal placement doesn’t marry well with the steering wheel position which is adjustable only for tilt, and you’ll quickly find yourself sitting too close to the dash for comfort just so your legs can push the pedals in as far as required.
The interior trim seems mismatched: red and black fabric trim on the doors and seats; black plastic and carbonfibre-look covered centre console; and brown vinyl over the lower dash and steering wheel cover all combine for a hodgepodge feel.
Poor quality plastics abound, with loose ends, rough edges and a generally untidy fit and finish. The finish problems aren’t confined to the cabin, either – the windscreen rubber of our test car came undone on the freeway, and the tray-liner is hardly form-fitting, with big gaps present on the version fitted to our car.
There are decent storage options through the cockpit, however, including pockets on all four doors, decent sized cupholders and a flip-down sunglass box.
Space is decent, too, particularly for rear seat passengers. There is excellent head-room, decent knee space and a good seating position – not too ‘knees-up’ as some other utes in its company are. There are rear air-vents, too.
However, the Pik-Up’s rear seat safety is lax. There are no rear passenger-protecting airbags (indeed, there are only dual front airbags – no side protection whatsoever), and the centre seatbelt is a lap-only proposition.
It also lacks Bluetooth connectivity, and the stereo system is archaic (it even has a remote control, to complement its steering wheel-mounted stereo buttons – which are flimsy and in our test vehicle had already seen some fading to the text).
On the topic of safety, the Pik-Up has a three-star ANCAP crash rating, but misses out on key items such as electronic stability control. We’d expect a new-generation version of the Pik-Up – which should arrive in 2016 – will get the potentially life-saving safety system, along with more passive safety equipment.
In summary, the Pik-Up isn’t the perfect ute, but it is an affordable proposition that could prove a very handy alternative to an early 2000s Toyota or Mitsubishi four-wheel drive. Indeed, its off-road performance deserves 9 out of 10 – but as a ute to drive day to day, it can’t manage any more than 5/10.