The XUV500, designed and developed completely in-house, is a quantum leap forward by Mahindra & Mahindra. It is M&M’s first serious attempt at developing a global product that would be as much at home in Melbourne as in Mumbai. The price Mahindra is asking for it is definitely Mumbai though. At Rs 11.95 lakh for this top-end 2WD W8 variant, it is shattering value.
With the XUV500, M&M has put design at the forefront to make an emphatic styling statement. There’s no doubt the Mahindra XUV500 does turn heads; it’s got a muscular stance, strong road presence and looks every bit a proper SUV.
Dominating the front-end styling is a traditional Mahindra seven-slat grille flanked by a pair of projector headlamps that widen their spread at parking speeds and work as cornering lights on tighter corners. Daytime-running LEDs are part of the standard kit too. We especially like the rising window line and the blacked-out B-, C- and D-pillars which give the XUV500 a very modern look.
However, we feel the Mahindra designers went overboard with the detailing. The faux air vents just below the headlights are too fussy and the oversized wheel arches are out of sync with the rest of the design and also make the wheels look small. This is further accentuated by the bulge in the beltline above the rear wheel arch. The rear tail-light also feels a bit overdone with fussy detailing on the lens.
Underpinning the XUV500 is a monocoque chassis, a first for M&M, that nicely balances stiffness and weight within a long wheelbase. The 4x4 XUV, which weighs 1865kg and is on par with the smaller Scorpio, could have been lighter. But M&M didn’t want to compromise on chassis stiffness, especially since the very generous 2700mm wheelbase subjects it to greater torsional loads. Weight has also been kept in check with the inclusion of elements like a plastic fuel tank and plastic fenders, and the use of high-tensile steel for over 30 percent of the body structure.
The XUV is equipped with MacPherson struts up front and a luxury car-like multi-link rear suspension. It does not come with hardcore 4x4 kit like a low-range transfer case, but you do get hill-descent control and hill hold on top-end variants, and a differential lock on the AWD model for limited off-road use.
What is truly impressive is the manner in which M&M has packaged all the mechanicals to achieve a flat floor, making good use of passenger room. In terms of safety, the XUV gets dual airbags as standard across the range with the top models additionally featuring ESP, rollover mitigation and curtain airbags.
Occupants will have no trouble entering the XUV. The doors open wide and the not-so-high floor means you don’t have to trek your way up to the seats. But once inside, you’ll notice the plastics come in three different textures and the dash seems to be cramped with too many individual elements.
The instrument cluster, with chrome-ringed dials and circular centres, looks great, but is not that easy to read. Other nice bits include smart, high-quality air-con vents that work well to direct air flow, the chunky steering that’s quite nice to hold, and the air-con and audio system dials on the centre console that have a high-quality feel. However, the same can’t be said about the other buttons on the centre console, which feel like Scrabble tiles, and the fake wood finish looks tacky too. Fit and finish could be better – there were a lot of inconsistent panel gaps and you get the feeling that everything isn’t as well screwed together as it should be.
The front seats come with generous bolstering and adjustable lumbar support and are incredibly supportive. However, the cushioning is on the firm side. The steering column, which adjusts for rake and reach (in W8 trim), is still a tad too high, even at the lowest setting.
Middle-row seats have enough legroom for six-footers to stretch out, even with the front seat pushed back. The seats themselves are very generously cushioned and the flat floor makes this SUV one of the best for travelling three abreast. Third-row passengers don’t have it as good though; the leg- and kneeroom are severely limited and headroom is quite tight too. With all seats in place, there’s practically no luggage space. However, the last and middle rows do split and fold flat to convert the XUV into a serious load-lugger and the relatively low floor makes loading easy. In the cabin, there’s an abundance of storage space for knick-knacks.
The biggest plus point of the XUV is its phenomenal list of features. The W8 variants get a colour touch-screen that displays GPS data, radio and AUX/USB settings and also doubles up as a DVD player. There is voice activation too and the top variants also get a handy tyre-pressure sensor. All models feature steering-mounted controls for the audio system, rain-sensing wipers, light-sensing headlights, parking sensors and even cruise control.
Performance & Economy
The XUV shares its 2.2-litre mHawk engine with the Scorpio, the key differences being the motor’s transverse placement to drive the front wheels via a transaxle. The six-speed manual gearbox is mated to a dual-mass flywheel that minimises transmission rattle at low speeds. Power jumps
from 120bhp to 140bhp, thanks to a new ‘S-vane’ BorgWarner variable geometry turbocharger and a higher-pressure fuelling system. These changes have also bumped up max torque to 32.63kgm available between 1600-2800rpm.
There is a hint of lag under 1500rpm at which point the turbo kicks in. Thereafter, there’s a strong and pretty linear surge all the way to the 5000rpm redline. Driveability is very impressive too, and overtaking slower cars is pretty effortless. It sprints to 100kph in a brisk 12.34 seconds, 20-80kph in third gear is dispatched in 12.36sec and 40-100kph in fourth in 13.26sec.
The mHawk engine is one of the strengths of the XUV and the punch it delivers both in the city and on the highway is a good reason to buy it. The short first and second gears make it quick off the line, while sixth gear allows you to cruise lazily all day long. The transmission ’box feels notchy, especially when selecting second gear, and gears are difficult to engage without an extra push. The clutch is quite heavy too and the release action pretty jerky, which makes driving smoothly in the city hard work.
The XUV500 scores well with fuel consumption figures returning 10.2kpl in the city and 14.3kpl on the highway. The relatively low kerb weight, tall gearing and some clever engine tuning have made the XUV the most fuel-efficient vehicle in its class. This only adds to its affordable and down-to-earth appeal.
Ride, handling & braking
M&M vehicles may not be the Gold Standard when talking ride quality, but the XUV is a serious step forward for the company. Low-speed ride is pretty good, but sharper bumps can rattle the XUV, which crashes through potholes. However, for the better part, the XUV’s ride is largely pliant.
Surface imperfections can catch the XUV out and it does get ruffled by the odd stretch of broken tarmac taken at speed. There’s a fair amount of suspension movement on uneven surfaces and the ride is never flat or consistent. Also, sharp edges and potholes can be felt and the suspension doesn’t isolate passengers as well as it should.
Handling is a marked improvement over the Scorpio but it is still a work in progress for M&M. No doubt, the XUV is quite nimble and light on its feet, especially in town, and on the highway it tackles sweeping bends quite comfortably with the steering offering decent feedback.
The big problem is the way the front-wheel-drive XUV500 behaves under hard acceleration. There’s a fair amount of torque steer when you floor the right pedal and on a loose surface, the steering kickback can be pretty vicious. Powering out of tight corners, the weight transfer to the rear wheels make the XUV’s steering go a bit woozy. Also, the 235/65-R17 tyres squeal without too much provocation and could do with more grip.
The XUV features disc brakes all around while ABS and EBD are standard across the range. What is slightly disconcerting, though, is the slightly wooden feel of the brake pedal in the first few millimetres of travel. But depress the brake pedal further down and you will realise the strong brakes are more than up to the task.
Benchmark the XUV500 against the Scorpio and you will realise just how big a leap M&M has taken. The design and styling are central to this SUV’s appeal, and though it may not suit all tastes, it’s undoubtedly distinctive and is sure to turn heads. With the XUV, M&M has gone all out to pamper the customer like never before. The XUV500 has a fantastically spacious middle row and more equipment than you know what to do with.
Performance is class-leading too and that just adds to the feeling of power SUV owners crave for. The XUV500 is not perfect though and nor is it quite world-class. M&M still hasn’t fully sorted out the dynamics of its first front-wheel-drive car and interior quality is quite patchy too. Hopefully, these issues will be sorted out with the 4x4 version which will come in a few months. However, these concerns don’t seem to bother customers who have lapped up the XUV500 like no other SUV before it. M&M’s order book is bursting and it’s not hard to see why. With prices not significantly higher than comparable Scorpio models, the XUV500 is incredible value for money, which makes it a package that’s hard to resist.
Also watch: Mahindra XUV500 video review
This Review appeared in the Autocar India - November 2011 issue of Autocar Magazine
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