If looks count for anything when buying a work ute, Mahindra could be on a winner with its Pik-Up. That was the overriding impression that came out of a recent drive test of the recently updated Mahindra ute.

Initially most people were mystified about what it was, but once that was explained the comment that almost invariably followed was that it looked 'tough'. The mower man was interested in swapping his Falcon ute for one, the auto elec reckoned it could be just the thing to replace his old Escort van, and so it went for the whole week.

The India-made one-tonne Pik-Up clearly made an impact on those who saw it, enough at least to ask which company made it, which in turn begs the question of why don't they know what it is already.

The answer is that Mahindra has made a quiet entry to the Australian market, preferring to focus on the bush where their tractors are well known and respected.

Rightly or wrongly, it was figured that farmers familiar with its tractors might also line up to buy a ute. At the very least they wouldn't shy away from the brand as potential buyers unfamiliar with the name in other parts of the land might.

Driving around Melbourne during the test showed that those in the south were largely ignorant of the Mahindra's presence in Australia, but were willing to find out more about it.

Upgrade changes

The Pik-Up was launched two years ago and updated a month or so ago.

The update was to make it a little more civilised to meet the demands of a broader market, particularly to buyers in towns and cities who have different demands to their country cousins.

A new grille, new headlights, fog lights and a bonnet scoop have brightened the Pik-Up's looks, while powered mirrors, column adjustment, steering wheel mounted controls for the sound system, sportier park brake lever and gear knob, and more comfortable seats have all made the interior more appealing.

But the key changes are the addition of ABS anti-lock braking and dual front airbags for greater safety.

The single-cab Pik-Up we tested is the starter model in the range, the one many tradies or small businesses might turn to for their working vehicle.

Drivetrain

Like the rest of the range it is powered by a 2.5-litre common rail turbo diesel, which puts out a modest 79 kW at 3800 revs and 247 Nm at 1800-2200 revs when working at its peak.

It launches with quite some enthusiasm, but falls into a hole around 1800 rev mark before picking up again just above 2000 revs.

Apart from the slump in performance when accelerating the overall driveability is quite acceptable, for the most part the engine is smooth and relatively quiet.

Mahindra claims the Pik-Up will return a combined average fuel economy of 9.9 L/100 km, but the test ute did a little better than that at 9.5 L/100 km. If the engine is the same across the range so too is the gearbox, a five-speed manual unit with a long throw and slightly vague shift. Final drive on the test ute was part-time four-wheel drive with an electric shift to select four-wheel drive when needed.

Driving

The suspension is conventional torsion bars at the front and leaf springs at the rear, and the ride is firm but quite comfortable.

There is a pleasant ambience inside the cabin with patterned cloth trim for the seats and door panels, and a carbon-fibre finish dash centre panel that combine to give it a funky feel.

There's plenty of features sprinkled around the cabin, including air, CD sound with new controls mounted on the wheel, and power windows, but there's little useful storage for those little things that might be needed on the job.

There is no centre console, the glove box is tiny, and the door pockets are too small to be really useful. Added to that there isn't a lot of space behind the seats for storage.

The accommodation is also a little squeezy. While there is plenty of headroom in the rather upright cabin, it could do with more leg and elbowroom. On the job the single-cab four-wheel drive Pik-Up will carry a payload of 1060 kg, but that includes the weight of any tray body that might be fitted.

It will also tow up to 2.5 tonnes on a braked trailer with a tow ball weight of 250 kg. The warranty is for three years or 100,000 km. and there's 24-hour roadside assistance for three years.

The price of the single-cab four-wheel drive Pik-Up is $24,199.

Mahindra has been upfront in their approach to the Australian market; managers openly saying they won't make any bold claims for their product, that they will move slowly but steadily in building a presence here.

You get the feeling they're waiting for the all-new Pik-Up that should be heading our way in 2011.