One of the recurring themes often heard in motoring circles is that cars have advanced too far for some. There’s a group of traditionalists stuck on the good old days.
How advanced is too advanced? Is the idea of being able to twirl the spanners on your own car, if need be, valid – or a touch of misty-eyed nostalgia?
Agricultural equipment maker, Mahindra, offers Australian buyers a chance to stick with something a little less complex with its Pik-Up ute range, with rugged 4x4 styling, an abbreviated equipment list, and the promise of a long-running, hard-wearing ownership experience.
There are very basic workhorse ‘S6+’ single cabs, in two- and four-wheel drive, or a dual-cab 4x4 in a flasher S10+ trim.
Reflecting its pared-back equipment, and to help it secure a foothold in the Aussie market, Mahindra has priced the Pik-Up S10+ 4x4 dual-cab from $32,990 drive-away (with a styleside tub), but pricing dips as low as $23,990 for the S6+ 4x2, $27,990 for the S6+ 4x4, or up to $39,990 for an optioned-up black-pack 4x4 dual-cab.
Accessories shown on this car include a $3800 powder-coated steel dropside tray with galvanised floor, and flat-plate side steps (in place of the standard tubular steps) for $710. A full range of genuine accessories, such as steel and alloy trays, bullbar, tow bar, snorkel, wheel arch flares, seat covers, floor mats, suspension lift kit and more, are also available.
As part of a minor change for 2020, the Pik-Up range gets a tweaked grille design that trades the old toothed look for a Jeep-esque seven-slot design, LED daytime running lights integrated into the headlights (with an unlock animation sequence at night), and a splash of chrome around the foglights.
In the process, the trim levels have added a '+' to their name, but the base-model S6+ gets the biggest equipment boost with cruise control, Bluetooth phone connectivity and driver’s seat height adjustability as standard.
In the S10+ those features are included, along with a 7.0-inch display for the infotainment system, which includes sat-nav and Android Auto but not Apple CarPlay,16-inch alloy wheels, single-zone climate control, reversing camera, auto lights and wipers, front seat armrests, and static cornering lights.
The spec list is otherwise slim. Seats are trimmed in cloth and claimed to be fire-retardant, there’s carpet flooring, remote locking via the key fob, cruise control, and rear seat air vents, which are handy to have. There are a couple of modern touches like steering wheel audio and cruise buttons, and one-touch three-flash indicators with the side repeaters mounted in the mirrors, too.
Because the S10+ dual-cab comes standard with a tub, the conversion to trayback means the fuel filler doesn’t lock (it would normally be somewhat protected via a remote release), making the Pik-Up susceptible to syphoning in unsecured areas.
The cabin was given an overhaul in 2018, but the design falls a little short of contemporary. The air-con controls are tilted down and hard to see, the single USB port is hard to reach, and the nav screen is set low and out of the driver’s line of sight.
Ergonomics are off the pace. The relationship between seat, steering wheel and pedals just doesn't line up, which makes it feel like you’re behind the wheel of a cabover truck rather than a ute, and somehow the window switches ended up under the driver’s elbow.
Because the Pik-Up doesn’t pretend to encroach on the passenger car space, the interior plastics are rock-hard all the way through – which is ideal in dirty, dusty, gritty environments. Fit and finish aren’t too bad, and on rough surfaces nothing rattled. That's a big plus.
The only build-related misstep that stood out was the gear lever boot, which rubs against itself in second, fourth and sixth gears. Hopefully, with a bit of time it’ll loosen up and pipe down. As far as trim quality issues are concerned, it’s about as minor as they come.
While the position of the controls isn’t great, the driver’s seat makes a good fist of feeling supportive, but long-distance drives might test its lower-back compatibility. It’s wide, and the swing-away armrests and low console make the front of the cabin feel roomy.
Rear leg room gets pretty tight behind six-footers, and the rear bench never feels quite as supportive as the seats up front. Plenty of head height, rear air vents and a fold-down armrest help to supplement rear-row comfort.
There are a few features with a mind of their own: set the climate to auto mode and during a crisp Melbourne winter it could be either hot or cold. Outside it was 8–10 degrees Celsius, but with the temp set to 24 degrees cold air flowed freely, then hot, then cold every couple of minutes.
The cruise control doesn’t just set with a tap of the steering wheel button – you need to press and hold for a couple of seconds. Likewise, tapping the '+' button seemed to reduce speed – it needs a tap and hold, too.
Once set, the cruise has a +/- 5km/h tolerance (maybe a touch more) even on flat roads, which is frustrating. The speedo’s pretty vague, too, with only 10km/h increments and no digital speedo. Not ideal for residents in speed-obsessed states.
The navigation system is quite rudimentary, and despite a slider for voice guidance, it has only two settings: off or booming loud. Trip computer consumption info doesn’t actually seem to be tied to anything the car does either, and seemed to make things up as it went along during our time with the car.
Screen size has been upped by an inch, to a 7.0-inch display, but in the move the CD player of older models has been removed.
Under the bonnet is a Mahindra designed and built mHawk 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel engine. Outputs are on the low side of the urge spectrum with 103kW at 3750rpm and 320Nm from 1500–2800rpm.
Surprisingly, the engine is not as coarse or vocal as you might expect, but seems to do its best work to about 2200rpm, and from there torque feels like it drops off and there’s more noise without much more action.
Trainspotters may note, too, the Pik-Up has dropped its torque output by 10Nm with the 2020 update.
Surely no-one expects the Pik-Up to be any kind of speed machine, but it’s best to keep it in the 1500–2200rpm sweet spot and not explore its upper reaches. That means overtaking needs to be carefully considered, too, as there's not much in the way of rolling acceleration.
Gear shifts are smooth and low-effort, though. Heavy traffic crawling probably isn’t the focus of the Mahindra and its rural pitch, but everything’s light and easy enough to use in town if you have to.
One annoyance is the reverse detent – there’s no lockout for it. You simply push the gear lever further to the left and up. It’s pretty easy to snag the reverse gate unintentionally, which can make three-point turns tricky.
Obviously, you can feel as you do so, and don’t select reverse in place of first, but starting from neutral requires a bit more precision until the first-gear path settles in your muscle memory.
Speaking of three-point turns, the turning circle is quite broad and steering requires a lot of turns lock to lock. On some tighter off-road trails, the cumbersome Pik-Up couldn’t quite get its nose around in one swing, which isn’t ideal. The turning circle is a pronounced 13.4m from kerb to kerb.
On those same tight turns where you might depend on the reverse camera for a little added guidance, the image it provides is grainy and indistinct. Surprisingly, it’s decent at night, but poor in bright light or mixed light conditions.
On the slick clay tracks you see in these images, the Mahindra had a hard time finding purchase – as would most factory-fresh 4x4s on standard tyres. It would be harsh to judge it based on that single set of circumstances.
In its favour, the Pik-Up offers decent clearance, at 210mm, and plenty of articulation to help it crawl through some more gnarly track sections.
Right off idle there’s a bit of a torque dip that can bog the driveline down on inclines if you’re not wary. Without an idle-up switch to hold a few extra revs on board, the best defence is to feed in the throttle quickly and use momentum where possible, which doesn’t always work in sodden conditions.
A twist dial for the 4x4 system makes selecting 4x4 high quick and easy, though the electronic actuator can get a bit grumbly about having to select low-range. Patience is key.
A rear locking differential sounds promising, but as an auto-locker the driver has no control over when it engages. I’ve experienced delays in the past, but didn’t seem to run into any trouble this time around.
On the highway, the Pik-Up offers a mix of low engine noise and vibration, but plenty of wind rustle from the mirrors and window frames. On gusty days at 100km/h, it can get quite a wind roar up.
The ride is leaps ahead of some more established dual-cabs. It can still buck when unladen over choppy tarmac, but on rutted gravel the Mahindra’s soft ride excels at keeping the cabin calm and level.
As per the class standard, the Pik-Up uses a coil-sprung wishbone independent front suspension, with a rigid rear axle and leaf springs at the rear. Disc brakes up front, drums at the back – right out of the dual-cab playbook.
No tow bar fitted this time around, but as with engine outputs, towing capacity sits back a step from the segment leaders. Max towing is rated at 2500kg, but payload (again, for style-side models) is rated to 995kg, which is right up there with the best in class.
Official fuel consumption is rated at 8.8 litres per 100km. In a week of mostly freeway running, a few light-traffic town runs, and a spot of 4x4 crawling, we managed to come in just under the official claim with 8.6L/100km used.
From an ownership perspective, Mahindra offers a five-year/100,000km warranty, five years of roadside assist, and a capped-price service program covering four years or 55,000km.
Servicing intervals are set, a little oddly, at 12 months or 10,000km for the first visit, then every 12 months or 15,000km after that. There’s a free three-month inspection, then services at $499, $499, $799 and $499 respectively or $2296 over four years.
As for the Pik-Up’s competitors, well, in a way there aren’t any.
By adhering to a format that’s more like what 4x4 utes in Australia used to be like decades ago, the Mahindra gives itself some clear space. Simplicity and built-to-work toughness are a bit of a big deal, when others in the segment have taken to boasting about stitched dash tops and driver assist roll-calls.
With a sub-$35K on-road starting price, the Pik-Up gives itself budget breathing room before the next-in-class Mitsubishi Triton GLX ($36,490 plus on-road costs) and Nissan Navara RX ($39,900 + ORCs).
Only the SsangYong Musso EX from $30,490 drive-away (or $35,490 in ELX long-tub XLV guise, limited offers) poses any real value threat, while the Great Wall Steed diesel at $25,990 drive-away lacks the Mahindra’s robustness.
Then there’s the LDV T60 range, which slays them all in terms of standard features for your outlay – from as little as $28,990 drive-away or $33,490 in Luxe grade.
Almost the opposite of the Mahindra’s hardcore work ethic, with plenty of upscale features wrapped in a diesel 4x4 dual-cab package, the T60 also offers an auto option whereas Mahindra and Great Wall do not.
On the other hand, a bigger, brawnier LandCruiser dual-cab kicks off from $67,740 before on-roads. It has the same rugged work-focussed layout, but a bit more grunt and a bigger dealer network to fall back on.
Needless to say, despite being more than twice the price, the ’Cruiser isn’t twice the car in most measurable aspects. In fact, at the time of writing, the closest classifieds match we could find was a $45K five-year-old 70 Series over $10K more than the Mahindra, and just about to click over 300,000km.
The retained value on a Toyota 4x4 is legendary, but a brand-new tough truck against one with that many kilometres on the clock creates an interesting comparison.
Crucially, safety is the biggest weak spot. ANCAP gave the Pik-Up a three-star rating in 2012, and safety equipment extends to ABS brakes, stability control, dual front airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners, but not much more.
Modern-day must-haves like side or curtain airbags and autonomous emergency braking are lacking. There are ISOFIX child seat mounts in the rear, but the Pik-Up isn’t really a family vehicle by any means.
Now for the tough part – while the Pik-Up does stand alone with its positioning, it exists in a pretty packed market. In narrow focus it has a range of particular positives, but in the wider sense its anachronisms put it on the back foot against other utes in the 4x4 segment.
In some ways, like the tractors and side-by-side ATVs that also wear the Mahindra brand, the Pik-Up is ideal agricultural equipment. As an on-farm field support vehicle, it’ll carry the crew in comfort and plenty of gear in the back. Set one up as a full-time fencing, spraying or refuelling rig, and know that there are few places it’ll fear to tread.
It may not lead the pack in technology or innovation, but while critical headline features might look slim alongside competitors, if you consider the Pik-Up the next step up in capacity and comfort from Mahindra’s XTV quad range, it makes much more sense.