Mumbai, India - When an automaker faces a tough time in the cauldron that is the South African automotive sector for years, the urge to pack-up and leave is tempting.
In fact, Mahindra considered doing just that when its South African partner pulled his 50% share from the business.
The Indian automaker, who entered the local automotive market in October 2004, has found renewed energy in the form of new models and updates to lure customers with good value for money vehicles.
The firm flew a group of local motoring journalists to India to sample the models and for us to understand why South Africa is such an integral market for the brand.
Here are the four models:
1. KUV 100 - This small high-riding hatchback is an all-new model to the South African line-up. Available with two 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine choices (petrol and turbodiesel), the KUV 100 will compete head-on with budget rivals such as Ford’s Figo and Renault’s Sandero.
Measuring just over 3.6m in length and 1.7m wide, the KUV 100 has the unenviable task of taking on established players in the 'small' SUV market. It stands at 1.6m tall and ground clearance is a claimed 170mm. Boot space is quoted at 242 litres, and with the seats down that amount increases to 473 litres.
South African spec cars will feature three levels (K4+, K6+ and K8). Features such as driver and passenger airbags, ABS, and aircon are standard on all models.
An infotainment system with 3.5" display screen, built-in driver information system, Bluetooth connectivity, USB and AUX points.
Read: KUV100 local specification
On the drive to Pune, I only sampled the diesel engine and was impressed by the 57.4kW/190Nm the little oil-burner could muster. It displayed good on-road manners, with the steering-feel a tad better than I expected on the short trip.
The KUV100 will arrive locally in June 2016.
With regards to pricing , Mahindra SA said: "Pricing is expected to range between R150 000 to R200 000 for the 5-model range."
AMPLE SPACE: The interior of the KUV features well-placed controls. The gear lever is situated on the lower dash to free-up floor space. Image: Mahindra
South Africans should be familiar with Mahindra’s largest SUV, the Scorpio. It’s the automaker's best-selling vehicle locally. During my trip to India, I had a chance to drive the spruced-up version.
Here's what Mahindra's done to make it easier on the eye and better to drive: new styling, projector-style headlights, a new dash (featuring a 15cm touchscreen with USB, AUX, CD and DVD functionality) and redesigned instrument cluster.
On the driving aspect, there is a new five-speed manual, which made driving in peak-hour Mumbai traffic that much more bearable. According to Mahindra, the updated model features uses a 'cushion suspension technology and anti-roll technology', to iron out the previous versions dynamic issues.
The Scorpio measures in at 4.4m long, 1.9m tall and 1.8m wide.
The Scorpio feels a lot more agile and easier to manoeuvre along India's tight roads than I expected. I drove the SUV from Pune to Mumbai focusing all my attention on not causing a crash along one of the world's monster traffic jams.
While the previous generation may have lacked refinement, the updated version certainly banishes those sentiments with an updated package.
I quite happily managed to pilot the 2.2-litre turbodiesel model, which produces 88kW/280Nm, on the roads littered with 'tuks-tuks', bikes, scooters and cars.
I can understand why the five-speed manual is used in the Indian market (where one hardly gets to use it in city traffic), but in South Africa the addition of a sixth gear will reduce fuel consumption and aid driving comfort (something to think about Mahindra SA).
I had an opportunity to drive the TUV 300 - a chunky styled SUV set to take on the Renault Duster and Ford Ecosport.
The local market will receive a 1.5-litre turbodiesel engine model with 75kW/230Nm and will be available in three trim levels: T4,T6 and T8.
The TUV has a utilitarian presence amplified with 384 litres of luggage space that can be expanded to 720 litres by folding away the small inward-facing rear seats.
My drive in the SUV was restricted to Mahindra's test track or proving ground at their sprawling Pune plant. Its tall stance does mean it suffers from quite a bit of body-roll, the steering was a bit vague, but the engine definitely had enough oomph to round off a decent package.
4 XUV 500
Mahindra made it clear that it's aiming for a larger share of the local SUV market. With that goal in mind the Indian firm has introduced a XUV 500 model with a six-speed auto. I drove the XUV along the Indian Expressway from Mumbai to Pune.
It's a comfortable mid-size SUV that offers adequate space for a family of five and looks rugged enough to wonder off the beaten path.
The highway drive amplified the smoothness of the 'box. The 103kW/330Nm mustered from the 2.2-litre turbodiesel was more than enough to keep abreast of the myriad of vehicles on the road.
All in all? The auto 'box is a good addition to the XUV range and will, in my opinion, add to a spacious and well-specced package.
*Pricing for all models besides the KUV100 will be announced closer to the models local launch date.