The laser display was pretty spectacular as were the leggy women who strutted and danced on stage. Yet, the show wasn't riveting enough to stop some of the audience from checking their BlackBerrys, chatting with each other or even taking the odd phone call, despite the eardrum-busting music. It makes you wonder if all that expense of putting on such a show is worth it, especially when the only thing that everyone was interested in was to see, for the first time, the XUV500 in the metal.
After an Inbox full of disguised (and some barely disguised) pics and several computer-generated takes (including our own), the Real Thing finally emerged through the smoke and lights onto the stage. It was a proud moment not just for Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) but for India's auto industry as well, because the XUV500 is possibly the most sophisticated vehicle produced by a homegrown car maker. It's an outstanding effort no doubt, more so when you consider the new frontiers M&M has crossed with this SUV. For the first time in its 60-plus year history, M&M has developed a vehicle with a monocoque chassis, front-wheel-drive and a transaxle.
However, the talking point of the XUV is its styling, and strong design is something M&M has attempted to make a part of its DNA since the launch of the aggressive-looking Scorpio nine years ago. But the emphasis on styling hasn't always worked – the Xylo being a prime example. M&M is quick to distance itself from this gawky-looking MPV by saying it wasn't entirely an in-house effort and was, in fact, conceived with design inputs from Bertone! No such excuses for the XUV500, which has been penned entirely in M&M's design studios in Kandivali. This suburb of Mumbai may not be a glamorous setting but it's produced an SUV that's certain to turn heads.
The XUV500 comes across as a stunner – you could tell that by the oohs and aahs it drew from the audience at the launch. But once your eyes settle on this cheetah-inspired design, it's easy to see that a lot of the elements are overdone. The fussy detailing on the bumper, a proliferation of bulges and arches, create much visual drama, which I am sure most customers (especially in the North) will love. But for purists who prefer a more mature 'less is more' theme, the XUV500 is a bit OTT.
If the XUV500's styling doesn't make your jaw drop, then the price certainly will. M&M has certainly set the cat (or should we say cheetah?) among the pigeons with XUV500 by giving it a starting price of just Rs 10.8 lakh. In terms of bang for your buck, it doesn't get better. The XUV500 is packed with equipment you'd find in a Rs 20 lakh-plus SUV to strike straight at the heart of every value-conscious Indian. In fact, though Mahindra calls it a global SUV, it's the Indian customer that the XUV500 is gunning for.
The brilliance of the XUV500 lies in the fact that it scores highly in areas that Indian customers give importance to and less so in areas they don't really care about. That means making sure there are no half measures when it comes to space, comfort, styling and, lest we forget, best-in-class fuel economy. However, there are quite a few compromises, which means Mahindra's latest does fall short of global standards. The interior quality still doesn't match Innova standards and the dynamics too are still not as accomplished as something like a CR-V.
That the XUV500 will be a success we have little doubt, and this could be the biggest game changer for M&M after the Scorpio.