photoThe KUV100 is the small big thing from Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M). Small because with a 3.6m length, it is the most compact SUV in M&M’s range and big because it’s not quite an SUV but the first attempt by the Indian SUV maker to crack the mainstream hatchback segment. It’s got car-like mechanicals, like a front-wheel-drive set-up and monocoque construction, and is directly competing with stalwarts like the Suzuki Swift and Hyundai Grand i10.

The KUV100 relies on SUV-like cues to distinguish itself from the hatchback competition. There’s a mishmash of styling elements, and a general lack of cohesiveness to the design. Also, the small 14-inch wheels make the proportions awkward. But there’s no getting away from the fact that the styling does grab your attention and the KUV100 is sure to stand out in an ocean of hatchbacks.

Step inside, and you are greeted by a very likeable cabin. The finish quality is pretty good; the dashboard has a premium look. The high seats make getting in and out easy, and there’s plenty of space in the front and rear rows. The gear lever that comes positioned on the centre console has allowed Mahindra to fit the KUV100 with an optional extra front seat, making space for a sixth passenger. This clever arrangement will work well for children. But the lack of an airbag (in the centre) and just a lap belt restraint may make you think twice about using this middle seat for passengers.

Rear seat passengers have it really good. There’s ample knee and headroom and enough width for three. The flat floor even makes seating for the middle passenger comfortable. Storage space is a strong point. There are lots of places to store your things and the 243-litre boot is good by class standards.

Dual airbags are available as an option in the base variants too. The small monochrome screen looks a bit old-fashioned in today’s touch-screen age.

The KUV100 gets Mahindra’s new mFalcon line of petrol and diesel engines. The 1.2-litre petrol engine, christened mFalcon G80, is an all-aluminium three-cylinder motor that produces an impressive 81.8 bhp and 11.7 kgm, both of which are on the higher side for this class of vehicle. When you drive the petrol KUV100, the initial impression is that it’s quite responsive. However, when you dig deeper, it disappoints with a flat and leisurely power delivery that lacks a sense of urgency. The engine has the characteristic thrummy feel of a three-cylinder engine. However, it works quite well on a gentle throttle, and if you don’t ask too much of it, the engine ambles along quite nicely in urban conditions.

The 76.4-bhp diesel engine is the better of the two motors and is fairly responsive from the get-go, with a gentle wave of power kicking in past the 1,900 rpm mark. A small flex of the throttle gives you enough overtaking ability in town. Refinement levels are also good as small-capacity diesels go. The distinct three-cylinder clatter makes itself evident at idle, but noise levels are well-contained overall. The diesel motor also gets two drive modes—Power and Economy—to suit your driving style.

The KUV100 feels like a conventional hatchback from behind the wheel and the light steering, soft clutch and tight turning circle make it quite “car-like" to drive. The suspension is tuned to be on the softer side to cushion shocks but the downside is that there’s a fair bit of body movement, which can be disconcerting at high speeds.

On the whole, if you don’t mind the oddball styling, the KUV100 actually offers plenty. It’s got road presence, is spacious and has a well-equipped cabin. Commendably, safety has been given due importance too. The KUV’s engines, though unexciting, are also up to the job with decent everyday performance.

Prices start at 4.42 lakh (the K2 petrol; ex-showroom Pune) and go up to 6.76 lakh (the K8 diesel). These prices put the KUV in the heart of the hatchback segment, where competition is the most intense. But its unique positioning as a hatchback-turned-SUV or vice versa could make it the disruptive cat among the pigeons.

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