Mahindra isn’t quite a household brand in Australia yet, but while the name might be mysterious to urban Aussies, rural residents are likely to be more familiar with the name due to the Indian manufacturer’s presence in the ag-equipment market.
Regional areas are where the Pik-Up is also likely to find the most buyers. This isn’t an inner-city lifestyle ute, but rather a dedicated work tool designed for hard graft over style.
As part of an overhaul for 2018, the Pik-Up features a new front end design, though despite wearing a tougher face, there’s no hiding the tall and narrow proportions and throwback styling that make the Pik-Up stand out in a sea of modern and more refined-looking dual-cab utes.
The update is more than just external, with a mostly new interior, a more powerful engine, and driveline revisions to help bring the anachronistic Pik-Up closer to the standard set by more expensive competitors.
In its most basic S6 trim, the dual-cab 4x4 Pik-Up kicks off from $29,490 drive-away, add a styleside tub for another $500, or step up to this version – the up-spec S10 – for a still reasonable $31,990 drive-away.
Although it’s largely basic, the Pik-Up S10 adds equipment including 16-inch alloy wheels, single-zone climate control, auto lights and wipers, front seat armrests, static cornering lights, a rear step bumper and a polished alloy sports bar.
Another key feature the Pik-Up has that's missing from most other utes on the market is a set of rear face-level air vents. Indian origins mean Mahindra is well aware of the value of good air-con, and the Pik-Up has one of the coldest and most efficient systems we’ve used.
Under the bonnet is a 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel engine – Mahindra’s own rather than a borrowed design – with 103kW and 330Nm outputs as part of a range of changes to bring it up to Euro 5 emissions compliance, up from 88kW and 280Nm previously.
Along with the extra grunt, the updated Pik-Up runs a new six-speed manual transmission (versus the old five-speed manual) and retains an electrically engaged low-range transfer case and auto-locking Eaton rear differential. There’s no auto available for the time being, though it’s on Mahindra’s wish list.
Don’t expect the engine to be quick, but the extra torque added with this update improves rolling response slightly and provides added in-gear flexibility. Officially, fuel is sipped at a rate of 8.8L/100km, while on test (including a day off-road) that translated to 10.1L/100km.
Not everything about the Mahindra (in S10 guise) is basic and bare. A 6.0-inch touchscreen seems almost surprising nestled low in the dash of something so simple. Within it you’ll find integrated satellite navigation and a reversing camera too.
Unfortunately, while those features might look good on paper, the screen itself can be finicky about touch inputs, the navigation system feels dated and isn’t simple to use, and the reverse camera image is dark, low-res, and doesn’t offer a very useful perspective of what’s behind the car.
The cabin itself is the kind you’re either just right or all wrong for. Tall drivers in the CarAdvice office slotted into the driver’s seat easily and liked the relationship between seat, pedals and steering wheel, but short drivers (okay, me) found the gear lever set too far back, and a need to sit over the pedals – a touch too close to the steering wheel.
The driver’s seat does feature height adjustment, however the steering column only tilts with no reach adjustment. The view from the helm is great, with a high position, massive glasshouse and slim pillars making forward and side visibility some of the best in class.
Rear occupants don’t get a heap of space. Head room is huge, and the upright rear bench and straight up-and-down seating position make the most of the limited leg room available, but the Pik-Up can be squeezy in the rear.
Part of the 2018 makeover includes a new dash design, which looks more mature and cohesive than its predecessor. Materials are sturdy and sure to last the test of time, but are neither glamorous nor luxurious. Perfect for the Pik-Up’s intended purpose.
There’s storage aplenty in the centre console, but none of it is covered and some is just plain odd, like the narrow slot that looks like it was designed to hold a smartphone – loosely and where it can't be seen – or is just the right size to get a pen jammed in, never to be retrieved.
There’s no traditional centre armrest – each seat gets its own fold-down wing instead. You might miss the included USB input too, as it’s hidden up and under the climate-control panel away from view.
If you’re using the Pik-Up as a family bus, it’s also worth keeping in mind that the driver and passenger get front airbags only, with no side or curtain bags, though the basics like stability control and ABS brakes are present.
While it may not be big on luxury, it’s off the beaten track that the Mahindra dual-cab really comes into its own.
Away from groomed road surfaces, the Pik-Up can slowly and steadily pick its way over genuinely rough terrain. I’ll admit to some initial hesitation about the Mahindra’s ability, but the more technical the terrain got, the more at-home the Pik-Up felt.
Sluggish and imprecise controls on the freeway, like slow steering and long-travel pedals, make for huge amounts of adjustability when crawling over rough, bumpy terrain.
Ride comfort over lumpy and craggy gravel roads is impressive, with a softly sprung ride comfort designed to cope with terrain in Mahindra’s home market that’s every bit as challenging as you’ll find in Australia.
A properly low ratio reduction-gear set in low-range gives the Pik-Up huge ability for scrambling up steep inclines. It’s also handy for picking slowly downhill. More useful, in fact, than the standard hill descent control, which is set too fast and can be slow to react.
Shifting from 2H to 4H is as simple as turning a dial, though there’s no full shift-on-the-fly functionality. Selecting 4L can take some time to engage, but at least the process is automatic with no manually locking front hubs, despite wheel caps that allude to them.
Mahindra’s locking rear diff chimes in automatically, without manual override, meaning it’s possible to spin one wheel momentarily before the diff does its thing. Not every user will be sold on that idea.
As a specialised hard-working off-roader, the Mahindra shines. It’s back on the road and covering longer distances where the shine starts to fade a little.
Ride quality is impressive, and the clutch and gear shift both require minimal effort, but the steering is vague and the engine needs to be worked hard to keep up with traffic or maintain pace on the open road.
Frustratingly, the standard cruise control is near useless, deviating from its set speed by up to (an indicated) 10km/h over or under at times, making it completely unsuitable for use in Victoria with its near zero-tolerance speeding margins.
The seats also attract criticism after long stints. Although the padding is soft, the very flat backrest of the front seats offers little in the way of lower back support and the short bases don’t provide support for long-legged folks.
Couple that with plenty of road and wind noise, and the Pik-Up isn’t necessarily an ideal travelling companion. It’s also worth noting Mahinda uses single-sealed doors instead of the double sealing favoured by most utes in the class, which may have a part to play in the wind noise, along with its fairly blocky shape and inset windows.
As for after-sales care, Mahindra – a fully factory-backed operation rather than via a third-party importer – covers the Pik-Up for three years or 100,000km, with three years roadside assist and three years capped-price servicing. Owners with less than 100,000km on the clock at the end of three years get an extra two years of warranty for a total of five years/100,000km coverage.
Officially, Mahindra says pricing details for its service plan are yet to be finalised, despite the updated car having been on sale for six months at the time of writing this review. Service intervals are set at six months or 10,000km, whichever comes first.
Amongst cut-price competitors, the Pik-Up S10 with its $31,990 drive-away price has a tough time against the Great Wall Steed 4x4 diesel dual-cab, usually a $31,990 proposition but available for a sharp $24,990 drive-away as a special offer.
Drive-away deals on the LDV T60 Pro mean you can park one in your driveway for $30,156 (or $28,990 if you hold an ABN), and even the better-recognised Mitsubishi Triton GLX in dual-cab 4x4 spec’, usually a $36,500 plus on-roads proposition, is currently up for grabs at $32,990 drive-away.
That puts the Pik-Up against some very stiff competition. Interestingly, Mahindra’s hard-won reputation with tractors and farm equipment gives it an advantage.
A reputation formed in the fields speaks volumes about the brand’s potential, and gives the Indian firm a unique opportunity other recent comers to Australia like LDV and Great Wall don’t have an answer to when it comes to recognition.
I’d even consider it promising that the Mahindra is as basic and old-fashioned as it is. As utes become fashion statements, this one comes across as a scaled down and much, much cheaper 70 Series LandCruiser. Something that will go anywhere, and built to a standard not a price – the clincher being that you could have two Pik-Ups for the price of a ’Cruiser and still get more standard equipment.
There are certainly shortcomings in terms of design and ergonomics. It’s also down slightly on outright capability compared to traditional utes (2.5 tonnes of towing against 3.5 tonnes for most others), yet without needless complexity, the Pik-Up fits the niche of buyers looking for no-frills reliable transport.
A lack of safety equipment makes the Pik-Up almost impossible to recommend for family buyers. Either use the rear seats as secure storage or opt for the single-cab instead.
As a mountain goat for everyday farm duty, one that’s safer than side-by-side ATVs and able to make the dash into town or tow full-sized equipment, the Pik-Up makes great sense. Rugged enough to live with a life of neglect, and something owners need not be too precious about.
Although its value might be hard to see on the surface, there’s no doubt the Mahindra has earned its place in the Australian market on the back of its rugged workhorse reputation. It may have a narrow focus, but it certainly excels where other 4x4 utes might be starting to lose their grassroots focus.