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Car reviews - Mahindra - Genio - 4x2 Single Cab Chassis

Our Opinion

We like
Smooth and willing acceleration, pleasant manual transmission, ride comfort, easy to drive, handles OK, good visibility, interior space and storage, big tray, plucky charm
Room for improvement
Noisy drivetrain, clutch judder, idle-stop shudder, finger-nipping interior door handles, no Bluetooth, questions over crashworthiness versus established competitors, no auto option

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Mahindra logo6 Sep 2017

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

Overview

HAVING stumbled back into obscurity with stock shortages brought about by Australia’s transition to tighter Euro 5 emissions standards, Indian brand Mahindra is back with a simplified and sharply priced Genio ute range.

In 4x2 single cab-chassis guise tested here, the Mahindra offers segment-leading tray length (an Australian-made Triple M alloy tray is standard), an exceptionally spacious cockpit, competitive 1260kg payload and a diesel drivetrain.

Creature comforts such as cruise control, front-seat armrests and a multi-function steering wheel complete the offering at $21,990 driveaway.

Is this enough to tempt people away from sharp deals on a Toyota HiLux Workmate or Mitsubishi Triton GLX?We are not so sure, but the Genio does pack a few worthy points of difference.

Drive impressions

To Aussies who are used to seeing the ubiquitous Toyota HiLux and other Japanese-branded utes getting about, the Mahindra Genio has odd proportions.

Its upright stance is similar to some of the van-derived cab-chassis vehicles out there and from some angles it resembles a shrunken Iveco Daily.

Then there is the long, low standard tray, which on the single-cab tested here that accounts for 82 per cent of Genio sales, is a benchmark-setting 2.7 metres of Australian-made aluminium from reputable Queensland truck body specialist Triple M.

It is a bit of a climb up into cab, but Mahindra helpfully supplies a set of tough looking black tubular side steps reminiscent of the rock sliders fitted as an aftermarket accessory to hardcore off-roaders.

Once settled into the high-set captain’s chairs, the rear-drive Genio provides occupants with an elevated position that is higher than many 4x4 utes, yet enough headroom remained for tall occupants to sport an afro hairstyle or flamboyant hat without brushing the ceiling.

In fact the seating position was so high that we found ourselves on eye level with occupants of a Mitsubishi Triton that had been fitted with a lift kit and boofier tyres.

The Genio’s super-deep side windows combined with the ride height to provide great visibility, with the car-like door mirrors also delivering a surprisingly effective view for lane changing and reversing.

Just as well, for the Mahindra lacks a reversing camera or parking sensors.

With no interior touchscreen, a camera setup would require some work from an aftermarket auto electrician.

Initially, the seat padding was confronting in its firmness but after a full day behind the wheel we realised we had suffered no discomfort because the driving position is pretty good and we soon became accustomed to the hardness of the seats.

We also appreciated the individual adjustable fold-down armrests fitted to both front seats. These really do make a huge difference and, while taking our notes for this review, we found they provided a useful surface on which to prop a laptop computer – handy for invoicing and parts ordering on the run.

The upholstery looks and feels cheap, though, and in our test vehicle was clearly not applied in the most skilful or careful manner.

Cabin plastics, on the other hand, are pretty inoffensive and we experienced no trim creaks or rattles during our day of hard driving on some challenging roads.

Then again, even Australia’s least enthusiastic road maintenance authorities have nothing on the post-apocalyptic state of public highways we have experienced in Mahindra’s domestic market.

What did bother us was how easily the interior door handles would painfully pinch the skin of our fingers. We don’t think this was just down to the sensitive hands of a desk-jockey journalist – it’s a design flaw that should never have been signed off.

Apart from the dodgy upholstery and digit-mincing door handles, a couple of other interior quality issues included the awful gritty action of the steering height adjustment (there is no reach adjustment) and some seriously flimsy feeling switchgear.

Mahindra has made the most of the Genio’s unorthodox cab dimensions by putting the huge space beneath each seat to good use. The driver’s seat has a sizeable slide-out drawer with a cut-out that suggests a security lock of some kind could also be fitted.

Although there is no drawer beneath the passenger seat, there is a large space under there that would probably accommodate a briefcase.

There is also plenty of room behind the seats, even when they are slid as far back as they will go. We reckon a pair of small toolboxes could fit in there along with a couple of laptop bags. Access to this space is a case of simply flipping the backrests forward.

Slit-like door bins are a bit annoyingly small, but supplemented by proper bottle holders, with another one that looks as though it could hold a 2L vessel between the seats and a pair of cupholders beside the gear lever that are well positioned, ideally sized and contain rubber tabs that securely gripped the various takeaway cups and water bottles we placed there.

A pair of long, thin recesses suitable for holding pens are located either side of the handbrake, behind which is a small lidded cubby.

There is also an oddly shaped tray a beneath the air-conditioning controls on the centre stack. The glovebox is about big enough to hold the vehicle handbook plus the spare globes, sachet of screen wash concentrate and rudimentary first-aid kit Mahindra supplies with the Genio.

People with a long memory will appreciate the inclusion of coin slots in the centre console, and there is another little storage area by the driver’s right knee, while the driver’s sun-visor has a strap for holding paperwork.

Naturally the big Triple M tray out back is well constructed and finished, with plenty of rope holes, tie-down points and a grippy ridged surface. No worries there.

Ventilation through the oversized vents is good, and the powerful air-conditioning cools the cabin down quickly after the Genio has been parked in the sun. We had no troubles maintaining a comfortable temperature on an unseasonably hot Queensland winter’s day when the mercury was headed north of 30 degrees.

The dashboard layout is pretty basic and mostly easy-to-use. Only the cruise control took us a little while to figure out how it worked. This was simply because like the AM/FM CD radio system, we were just not expecting such basic and straightforward operation.

The dealer-fit Bluetooth system added to our vehicle was also basic in operation, with rudimentary controls comprising answer/hang up and volume up/down. It was simple to pair our device to, but callers complained of poor audio quality.

However, and we’re not sure this was part of the system’s design intent, setting music played on smartphone streamed with surprising clarity through the cabin’s speakers, with audio quality superior to that of the in-built stereo head unit.

The fact the Bluetooth kit comes with a pair of USB sockets is a bonus, too, and combined with the SD card slot on the audio system for loading MP3 music, it delivers a surprisingly full-featured way of keeping occupants entertained.

We would quickly invest in some sort of dash-mounted smartphone holster to make the most of it, though.

Apart from the Bluetooth setup, lack of reversing camera and absence of trip computer, we didn’t really want for much specification wise in the Genio – particularly for the money asked.

One last comment on the interior: We were amused by the fact Mahindra has used the same rev counter in this diesel-powered Genio as it would in a petrol version not sold here, as the redline is marked at 6500rpm whereas the diesel’s rev-limiter kicks in at around 5000rpm.

Having examined the cabin, turning the ignition key was at first disconcerting due to a three-second delay before the engine fires up. Then we remembered the last time we drove a tractor, which did the same thing.

Even so, we never really got used to this quirk, but nothing could prepare us for the comedic idle-stop system that goes through several seconds of death rattle and heavy vibration that had us thinking the engine had conked out due to some kind of catastrophic failure the first time it happened.

Rather than disabling the system using the centre console switch, we kept it on for sheer amusement value. It is similarly slow to start the engine, too, and if the driver is too quick to select first gear the whole process is cancelled and you have to start again. By which time horns from traffic behind are blaring.

The clutch judders when moving off from standstill and the whole driveline makes a lot of mechanical sounds of the type new vehicles have not exhibited for at least a couple of decades. At first we thought it sounded broken, but this is just the way the Genio rolls.

Put it this way: At the beginning of our first journey, we thought a window was open due to the amount and type of sound entering the cabin, but it was simply a lack of insulation and refinement.

So, first impressions of the Genio is of an agricultural thing to drive, which is unsurprising given Mahindra is the world’s largest producer of farm machinery by volume.

But as we familiarised ourselves with this vehicle, there was nothing agricultural about the engine’s power delivery, the five-speed transmission’s ease of use, or the way it rides and handles – at least within the city limits.

It might only produce 88kW of power at 4000rpm, but the Genio’s 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine churns out a reasonable 280Nm of torque between 1800 and 2800rpm and despite the Genio’s rather hefty 1720kg kerb weight, we never really found ourselves wishing it had more grunt.

Perhaps if the full 1.2 ton payload was in use it would struggle a bit up hills or at higher speeds but this engine is impressively lag-free, has respectable throttle response and provides more than adequate levels of get up and go provided the driver does not try to rev it out and keeps in the rev-range’s torque delivery sweet spot.

Mahindra offers no automatic transmission option on the Genio, but solace for those with a lazy left leg and arm comes from the fact it is possible to drive this vehicle from 60km/h all the way up to 110km/h using fifth gear alone, and we only needed to drop back to fourth when driving at 60km/h on a long ascent.

We thought it would leave us wanting for a sixth ratio on the motorway, but 2500rpm at 100km/h was not intolerable. If anything, wind noise was the major factor at this speed.

It was also happy to whip along in fourth gear during our fast dynamic road test that requires regular down-changes to third in most vehicles.

Shifts through the five-speed ’box were easy, the stick had a pleasantly slick action and the light, progressive clutch pedal was not too springy.

Ride-wise, this ute is ideally suited to being driven around the city and suburbia.

Unlike the HiLux Workmate or Triton GLX people might also consider as price rivals, even without the load in the tray the Genio is a pretty comfortable thing.

At high speeds some bounce and float does set in, but even with a modest load in the tray it settles down admirably.

Sure, there is no mistaking this for a commercial vehicle and it is in no way car-like to drive but it exceeded our expectations. Uneven surface is revealed a bit of wobble and shudder but it was by no means a deal breaker for us.

The steering and stability are both impressive, making the Genio a breeze to punt around busy urban streets. It does suffer as speeds rise, particularly when the going gets twisty.

But there is more than enough grip and interventions from the well-calibrated electronic stability and traction control were mostly noticed via the flickering dashboard light. In no way did the safety systems feel intrusive or curtail our attempts to make brisk progress.

We would describe the steering as faithful rather than sharp or direct. But there was very little vagueness and the Genio’s nose accurately tracked our intended path.

It is a shame, then, that the brake pedal’s high initial resistance provided an unpleasant and wooden feel. Once accustomed, the stoppers were reasonably confidence inspiring, but are clearly calibrated to work best with a weight in the tray.

A question remains over whether the Mahindra Genio is good enough and is cheap enough to tempt people away from some sharp drive-away deals on a base model Toyota HiLux Workmate or Mitsubishi Triton GLX, both of which were available for $2000 more than the Genio at the time of our test.

Like the Mahindra, both the Japanese ute prices were drive-away, with an aluminium tray thrown in. But to come anywhere near the Indian ute’s price, these established Japanese contenders must be ordered with a four cylinder petrol engine.

We are not comparing with Chinese utes here, such as the Foton Tunland, Great Wall Steed, and JMC Vigus as these are all dual-cab only, but these models do take it up to the four-door Genio pretty aggressively. Meanwhile, Mahindra’s Indian compatriot Tata informs us it has some 2016-plated Xenon 4x2 single cabs for $19,990 drive-away with aluminium tray.

Although we were unable to verify Mahindra’s official fuel consumption figure of 7.5 litres per 100 kilometres for the single-cab Genio, we do not doubt that running costs for high milers would be substantially lower than with the thirsty Toyota or Mitsubishi petrol engines that return a respective 11.1L/100km and 10.9L/100km on the combined cycle.

The trouble is, Mahindra remains a fairly unproven brand in the Australian market and while its vehicles are used and abused among some incredibly tough conditions by customers in the native Indian market and keep coming back for more, we can fully understand customer concerns over the relative lack of aftersales support compared with a well-known Japanese-branded competitor.

Resale value also takes a hit, compared with the bulletproof residuals of a HiLux that also comes with standard Bluetooth, a touchscreen infotainment system, dusk-sensing headlights and a five-star ANCAP safety rating (the Genio is unrated and given the track record of Indian and Chinese vehicles we don’t hold much hope for a five-star result).

Even though it matches the HiLux’s five-star ANCAP rating, the Triton struggles to compete with the Toyota on equipment at base level, but it trumps both the HiLux and Genio with a five-year, 100,000km warranty that lasts a whole 24 months longer than theirs.

The Toyota’s longer tray (2550mm versus 2400mm on the Triton) also counts in its favour, but cannot come close to the Genio’s 2700mm. Mahindra boasts it can carry two standard pallets in the tray, which is also achievable – but a snugger fit – with the Toyota.

A HiLux can also tow 2.5 tonnes braked, while the Genio and Triton are limited to 1.8 tonnes. Mahindra hits back with a 1260kg payload against the Toyota’s 1225kg, but the Mitsubishi trounces both with 1300kg.

So it looks like the smart money overall would go on a Toyota, but what would make us think twice and reconsider the Mahindra?Well, at this end of the market $2000 goes a long way. The Genio’s interior space and ride comfort are also in a different league to the HiLux.

Then there is that raised seating position and excellent visibility, plus a frugal diesel engine that promises to enlarge that $2000 saving at every visit to the servo.

We enjoyed a certain plucky charm about the Genio, but this is not necessarily something taken into account in this hard-nosed end of the workhorse ute market.

So, if you can put up with a few rough edges and the Mahindra’s unique features and advantages would make a real daily difference for you in its role as a workhorse, the Genio is certainly worth a closer look.

We were pleasantly surprised, and you may well be too.

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