Review: Mahindra v Toyota utes
The Mahindra Pik Up 4x4 is a virtual unknown on the mainstream 4x4 market. Matt Wood pits the price point Indian off-roader against the formidable Toyota 70-Series and comes away very surprised.
First impressions are very important. This was running through my mind when I had to drop my strides in front of a bloke who I’d only just met recently. You see, I was standing in the middle of a paddock talking to a fella called Rob when a searing pain shot up my thigh, and then another, and so on.
It turns out that while Rob was speaking to me from the safety of his tractor, I was standing on a nest of angry little shiny bastard ants. And they got me good. Thankfully Rob saw the funny side of it all as I flapped around behind the ute with my pants around my ankles. I still have the welts to prove it.
But take a look at the two trucks pictured on these pages. The 70 series Toyota Landcruiser doesn’t need any introduction – it’s been the mule of the Aussie bush for over three decades. First impressions are that it’s tough, rugged and capable. Driving one on a country road will always earn you a country salute and a knowing nod as you pass.
Then there’s the Mahindra 4x4 ute. First impressions are that most people don’t really know what to make of it, and many do a double take as they pass by.
A Big Price To Pay
It may seem like a long bow to draw, but these two 4x4s actually have quite a lot in common. However, there’s a huge difference in price – over $40,000 difference in fact. The Mahindra you see here has a drive away price of just $32,990 and comes with a three-year 100,000km warranty – as does the Toyota. The best dealer-sourced pricing for this LC78 Landcruiser as it sits, however, was a whopping $74,290.00.
You could buy two Mahindras for that price and still have enough left over for a holiday in the tropics. Or enough for a very smick camper trailer.
It may seem like I’ve brought a knife to a gunfight, but I was curious to see how the little emerging market Mahindra stacked up against the tough guy Toyota. So I bullied, cajoled and otherwise pestered veteran 4x4 journo Allan Whiting into coming along for the drive.
Neither trucks are perfect, but the Toyota has the runs on the board in terms of reputation, dealer network and durability. I’m not for a minute suggesting that the Mahindra is better than the venerable Landcruiser, but is the Toyota really 40k better? And the 70 beloved by many isn’t perfect by a long shot.
Short on Gears
The move to the 4.5-litre 1VD-FTV bent eight gave the beast a bucket load of torque, 430Nm from 1200-3200rpm and more potential power at 151kW. But this is hamstrung by a very low-geared five-speed manual, which sees the Cruiser screaming its head off at highway speeds. That said, the upcoming Euro 5 update of the Toyota workhorse later this year will see a taller fifth gear, plus the addition of more airbags and electronic stability control and traction control. But it will also see even more added to the already considerable sticker price.
The wider front axle to accommodate the big diesel eight-iron also left an unchanged rear axle track that doesn’t do much for the bruiser’s handling when lugging a load. Perhaps the biggest boon for the Landcruiser is its effortless 3500kg towing capability. It remains the best OE vehicle on the Aussie market for towing big weights over a big distance.
The Mahindra sports a modest little AVL 2.2-litre four-pot common rail turbo-diesel that provides 88kW, as opposed to the Toyota’s 151kW. It also manages 280Nm of torque. But it will tow up to 2.5 tonne and can haul a one-tonne payload on its back. Maybe just don’t do both at the same time.
The Pik Up shares the Landcruiser’s body on ladder chassis frame and in single cab form handles the same size tray as the Toyota. The frames are near identical. However, where the Cruiser uses a coil-sprung live axle front end, the Mahindra uses torsion bars.
Dial Shift-Stick Shift
Both use a five-speed manual shifter and a two-speed transfer case; in the case of the Mahindra, this is a Borg-Warner electric shift. The Toyota still uses a stick and free-wheeling hubs. Mahindra is keen to point out that while the 4WD selector is a dial, it’s not shift-on-the-fly, however – try it and you’ll eventually break stuff.
As our test LC78 was a top of the range GXL it arrived with diff-locks front and rear. The Mahindra features an Eaton Autolocker on the rear diff as standard kit. The Pik Up gets cruise control, the Cruiser doesn’t.
To date, Mahindra has carved out quite a presence on the tractor scene, but its automotive ambitions have made modest progress. Its SUV offering just copped an auto option for the first time, and the unashamedly vocational 4x2 Genio ute has also lobbed locally. The Pik Up is squarely aimed at the Ag market as a cheap farm ute, however, my experience with the sub-continental four-by has shown it to be quite a surprising and honest little package. The term ‘as honest as yoga pants’ springs to mind.
Just to add a little real world to this comparo, we also added a 400kg payload to each vehicle to make them work a little harder.
First stop on our two-day jaunt were some bog holes in the Beerburrum State Forest, which tested out the traction and fording capabilities for both trucks. The result was one-all, with both trucks getting stuck. In the case of the Mahindra, ground clearance is its biggest issue – the torsion bar front end is protected by bash plates, but it still runs aground quite easily.
I got the ‘Cruiser stuck after losing momentum and having to resort to using the diff-locks, by then it was all over traction wise. The only issue with the diff-locks in the Toyota is that you have to be in low-range to select them and they only engage when the wheels spin.
This may not be a big deal if you are slowly crawling through terrain that you know, but if you’re rumbling along in 4H and hit a soft patch as I did, you lose all momentum before you can grab the lockers. That is, of course, bearing in mind that you shouldn’t try and engage any diff-lock with the wheels spinning. The auto-locker in the Pik-Up works in all ranges, including 2H, and will help you keep moving before things get too dire.
On the open road up to Maleny on the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, the Landcruiser made good use of its prodigious torque on the hills, but that didn’t stop Allan dropping a couple of cogs in the Mahindra and overtaking me on the drag up the hill from Landsborough. I’m sure there was a raised middle finger dancing in the window as he passed. Smarty pants.
The stiffly sprung ‘Cruiser handled the load quite well, with not too much body roll. But the Pik-Up understandably rocked and rolled quite a bit more. Dampening is an issue for the Indian-built ute; some aftermarket shocks would no doubt take some bounce out of the Mahindra over the rough stuff.
We arrived at Rob’s cattle (and ant) farm to give these two trucks a play in the bush. It’s easy to see why the Cruiser is so popular in the long paddocks – it just feels planted off the track, feedback through the wheel is excellent, and it doesn’t keel over much with a load on in undulating terrain, though it would be better with a wider rear track.
The notchy truck-like gearshift of the Toyota is easy to live with in this environment, and the big bent eight will just lug along quietly at any speed. This is where the close ratios of the ‘box do come in handy. That said, there are plenty of bushies that still miss the old 1HZ diesel six for its economy, simplicity and flexibility.
The Pik Up had more of a tendency to heel over on its suspension, but nothing startling. The gear shift in the Mahindra is pretty vague and has a huge throw, but the key to getting the little red beast over rough country is to keep the revs up, make sure you’re in the right gear, and stay in it. The Toyota is understandably more forgiving in this department.
Ground clearance also played to the Toyota amongst the rocks and tussocks. The Cruiser would still cock a leg when clambering over embankments, but the Mahindra was still more prone to showing daylight under its nether regions.
Sand ‘n’ Surf
A romp on the beach at Bribie Island, however, played to the Mahindra’s strengths. This thing loves a squirt in the sand. With tyre pressures down and a bootful of revs, the Pik Up happily clambered along the tracks and comfortably trundled along the beach. In this environment, the ‘Cruiser feels a lot less nimble. It roars through the soft stuff where the Pik Up seems a more relaxed drive.
Sure, the Toyota remains the pick of the two, but at a huge premium. That premium does give you a massive dealer and parts network. Plus there’s the resale factor based largely on a formidable reputation earned over more than five decades in this country. Call it Toyota tax if you will.
Show me a used LC78 anywhere near the new price of the Mahindra and I’ll show you a truck that has spent its working life parked in muck up to the door handles on a mine site somewhere. Even well-loved five-year-old examples are fetching over 50k. The Mahindra’s resale however, disappears into the basement as soon as you drive out of the dealership. You buy it, you own it.
The Mahindra Pik Up is a tough little customer, and I suspect time will prove it quite a durable jigger. It’s a basic, simple design that holds little in the way of surprises. The growth in the Ag side of the Mahindra business means that the brand is quite well represented in country areas. A set of aftermarket shocks, an air-bagged rear end and some torsion bar adjustment would easily crank up the ground clearance of the Pik Up, as well as addressing the bounce. There’s even a power chip available for it.
Let’s face it, how many people leave their 4x4s completely stock anyway. That still leaves a lot of spare change from Toyota money. And that’s the rub. As the Toyota sits, most will then at least put a power chip and exhaust on it to make the most of the great eight. And many will also address the rear axle track, adding quite a bit of dosh on top of an already big outlay.
It may not be cool, and it may even be odd looking. But the Mahindra Pik Up certainly provides some bang for your buck. If you’ve got ants in your pants about buying a new 4x4 ute and can’t come up with Toyota money, it’s worth a look.
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