Mahindra doesn't sell any cars or trucks in the US. At all. So when they flew me out to India to show me what they do, I was naturally wondering if maybe they were planning on making another try for a spoonful of the vast US market. I asked everyone I could, and I either got very noncommittal replies or outright denials. Personally, I think this is a shame, because I'd buy a little truck like this in one of my labored heartbeats.
I told every Mahindra employee with the misfortune to be stuck next to me for more than 30 seconds the same thing: there is a hole in the American market where small trucks should be. Nobody sells a small pickup truck here anymore, and there's barely any midsize trucks, even. Hell, J Mays himself told me at the Detroit Auto Show there wasn't a chance in hell Ford would even consider making something as small as a mid-sized truck.
The automakers don't believe there's a market for small trucks, but I absolutely don't think that's true. I'm going to use myself as an example here because I'm generally pretty good about allowing me access to myself and I'm pretty forgiving when I misquote myself. So I'm a guy who occasionally does things that require the use of a truck. I keep an old Isuzu pickup around for my truck needs, but I'd love to be able to find something that I could use as my modern daily driver as well as a truck, be able to haul my kid, and not have a colossal gas-chugging monster.
And I know I'm not alone among the Jalopperatti when I say a simple diesel truck with a manual transmission would be a really satisfying vehicle to own. Straightforward, honest, tough, frugal, and ideally with some character. These kinds of trucks used to exist, at one time. What happened?
Well, I'm not sure what happened, and I'm also not sure how the devious scientists at Mahindra managed to get some sort of probe in my brain that allowed them to create pretty much the exact truck I wish I could get in the US: The Genio. Maybe they did it with that pill the guy in the bathroom of the Mumbai airport made me swallow.
Let me just quickly describe the Genio: it's a body-on-frame truck with a diesel engine and a manual transmission. It comes in single and double-cab variants, and there's a more utilitarian cargo box as well as the more integrated-looking one you see here. The truck is on the smaller end of mid-sized, roughly comparable in size to, say, an early '90s Ranger or so.
If it was available in the US, I'd buy the shit out of this truck. Oh, and I might actually be able to make good on that threat, since (converted from Rupees) this truck only costs about $11,000. Even if bringing it to the US added 50% to the price, that's still only, what, around $16,000. That's seriously cheap.
Okay, I know this is going to be the trickiest part for many people. I actually like the way this truck looks — I always liked a short, stubby hood on a pickup (because that means more of the overall length can be used for cargo or human cargo) and I think the tall greenhouse and overall proportions are, if not exactly conventional, reasonably appealing.
I know the small wheels will put off many, but I don't care. An argument could be made that modern pickup's wheels have already gotten bigger than they need to be. And from what I saw in the rough, rural areas of India, these pickups have no trouble getting around anywhere with the size wheels they have.
I showed it to Raph, and he said it's "the opposite of attractive." But since when do we listen to Raph?
I'm going to score this right in the middle; if it was just up to me, I'd go a bit higher, but I'm going to try and factor in that lots of other people don't agree with me.
This was a surprise — the interior design and quality is pretty damn good. On some of Mahindra's other, more rugged vehicles like the Thar and the Bolero, I found the interiors to be not quite up to US spec. The materials and finish just weren't quite up to the levels our pampered asses have come to expect. Not so with the Genio. Sure, the materials weren't expensive, but they weren't crap, either.
The plastics may not be soft-touch chemical marvels that emulate the feeling of baby ass skin, but they're solid and well-fitted. Nothing looked sloppy, the seats were covered in hard-wearing and comfortable material, there was actually some nice bits of contrasting accents and color in the door panels, and the overall design felt fairly modern and good.
It's simple and honest. One of the Mahindra people told me that they use the term "frugal engineering" to describe what they accomplish. Inexpensive, but not cheap.
The dash has all the basics you'd expect, but nothing fancy like LCD touch screens. Who cares, everyone has a powerful touch-screen computer in their pockets, anyway. There's even airbags in that dash, which makes me a bit more hopeful about a possible US destination.
The double cab has lots of room in the back, with a nice, open flat floor. I could easily put my kid's baby seat in there, I daydreamed. My only suggestion would be that the back seat be hinged so you could access a bit of internal luggage space behind the seat for laptop bags or duffels full of your secret booze stash or what have you.
The 2.2 L common-rail turbodiesel that powers the Genio only makes 75 HP, though the same basic engine in Mahindra's other vehicles gets up to 140 HP. The torque numbers are decent at 225 nm/165 lb-ft, like you'd expect from a diesel. The overall acceleration is quite decent, with well-chosen gear ratios giving it a sprightlier feel than the cold, cruel numbers would have you believe.
I drove this on Mahindra's factory test track, and I drove it pretty hard. Honestly, it felt quite good. You're not going to win a pink slip from the Mustang next to you at a stop light, but you're not going to be embarrassed by the Sentra in the other lane, either.
It's funny, but I'd sort of forgotten how decent, non-vintage, non-ABS brakes feel until I drove this. If it ever, hypothetically, came to the US, it'd have to get ABS, but as they stand I found the brakes to be quite good. Pedal pressure had just the right amount of resistance, and in my semi-panic stop tests everything came to a halt without much drama or skidding.
They feel like good brakes, period.
This was another surprise — I was expecting something much harsher and bouncier from this truck. Maybe it's my rear leaf-spring prejudices, but there it is. I was wrong. The Genio's ride is pretty smooth, comfortable, and composed. It's not a Citroën DS, but it's not what you'd picture a developing-world pickup truck to be, either. It's a fairly car-like ride, and I don't think anyone would have any issues using this car to, say, commute to work.
Again, I was surprised. I ran the truck with a heavy foot into the turns and up onto the banked part of the track, and it always felt planted and controllable. Downshifting from third to second and throttling will manage to get it to oversteer a bit, but that was really pretty fun.
It's less top-heavy than it looks, and there was less body roll than I'd have expected as well. Even on the figure-8 steering test section of the track the Genio felt responsive and controllable. These impressions are all with the understanding that this is a pickup truck and not an FR-S, but overall I was fairly impressed.
Maybe it's just the idea of being in a place where everything is manual went to my head, but I really liked the gearbox on the Genio. Shifter's a little tall by modern standards, but it felt pleasingly notchy and the gear ratios were well chosen to make the most of the diesel's torque and more limited horsepower.
If it ever came to the US I'm sure they'd have to develop or buy some sort of automatic, but let's be honest, most of us reading this are going to go for the manual. And it'll feel great.
There's not too much here to talk about. The engine sounds like a modern diesel — not a bad thing, but it's not going to give you many erections/lady erections. And the audio system it comes with seems adequate, but not much beyond that. Still, this thing is cheap enough you could blow a lot of cash on an absurdly elaborate stereo system if you wanted.
Toys: Utility: 9/10
I'm going to do that thing I tend to do when reviewing trucks and similar working vehicles, and replace "Toys" with "Utility." Because there aren't really any toys in the Genio (unless you count the hazard lights, which make any dark garage feel like a disco), but there sure as hell is a lot of utility.
There's a good-sized truck bed with a number of good tie-down points and a semi-padded roll bar thing that looks like it'd make a good anchor for all kinds of oversized loads. That, along with a spacious 5-person (triple that for India) cab that can be used to haul people or luggage you don't want rained on means this little truck is exactly what a little truck should be: a very handy tool.
The stumpy hood means it can get into places for loading with a minimum of hassle, too. Plus, I saw these trucks on the road hauling all kinds of improbably huge loads. Massive bundles of who-kn0ws-what wrapped up in tarps like a colossal samosa. Anyone who thinks you need a full-sized and powered F-150 to do real work has no idea how shit works in 75% of the world. These (and similar, or much smaller) trucks do some very, very real work.
If Mahindra could actually manage to bring this truck to the US — and, yes, I'm writing all of this with that idea in the back of my head — in the $13,000 - $16,000 range, this would be an incredible deal. Think about what else you have at that low end — Versas, Sparks, stripper Fiat 500s — not bad options, but nothing close to a vehicle like this.
Plus, the Genio's diesel gets between 35-55 MPG, according to Mahindra, and that puts it in hybrid-hunting territory.
This is a useful, honest, truck. A decently-comfortable vehicle you can take to work everyday and then haul lumber on the weekends. And nothing like that in this size and price range exists currently in America. And I absolutely think it should.
65 is a very respectable score here, and I hope Mahindra seriously considers bringing this line of small, frugal, useful trucks to America. Come on, Mahindra. Give us another try.
- Engine: 2.2L CRDe Turbodiesel
- Power: 75 HP @ 4,000 RPM, 225 nm/165 lb-ft torque at 1,400-2,200 RPM
- Transmission: Five-Speed Manual
- 0-60 Time: Not certain. Didn't feel as slow as it probably is
- Top Speed: around 85-90, I'd bet?
- Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive (or 4WD)
- Curb Weight: 2,800 LBS (est.)
- Seating: 5 or 6
- MPG: 35 MPG - 55 MPG (Mahindra estimate, varies by use)
- MSRP: $11,000 (converted from Rupees)