At first glance, the muscular XUV500 SUV and the MPV-esque Tata Aria look as different as apples and oranges. But it is under the bonnet that differences start to become more pronounced. While the XUV500 is built on a monocoque chassis with a transversely mounted engine, the Aria has a conventional body-on-frame construction with a longitudinally placed motor.
The target customer though is the same. Both these ‘lifestyle’ soft-roaders are built to ferry seven passengers in comfort, taking pothole-ridden roads in their stride and making light work of long drives. You can buy either of them for between Rs 11 and 14 lakh. The question then is, which of these homegrown biggies is the best?
The XUV500 catches your eye instantly when parked alongside the Tata. The Aria, you see, is part-SUV, part-MPV, and that unfortunately means it lacks the commanding look of a true-blue SUV. It’s not that the Aria lacks presence – The sleek headlights and high-set grille give it an imposing front end, and the design has an air of robustness that’s hard to miss.
With the XUV, Mahindra has stuck to the SUV design rulebook. Its high bonnet, clearly distinguished greenhouse and muscular wheel arches give it much more ‘swagger’. It’s well proportioned too, with a wide track and hunkered-down look. Design elements like the rising window line and character lines on the doors look quite contemporary. Unfortunately, M&M designers seem to have gone overboard with the XUV’s detailing. The faux air vents under the headlamps are just one example.
2011: A Space Odyssey
Step inside the Aria and you’ll find that this is easily Tata’s best interior yet. The spacious front seats are hugely comfortable and visibility is fantastic too. The XUV doesn’t do too badly for front-seat comfort either. In fact, the seat is very spacious and visibility from the slightly higher perch is better still.
Shift your focus to the middle row and the XUV is definitely the more spacious of the two. Also, you sit higher in the XUV, so there’s ample space to stretch out even with the front seats pushed right back.
Although both classify as ‘seven-seaters’, they are best suited for carrying five adults and a pair of kids. The Aria does have an edge here though, as you can move the middle-row seats forward to free vital inches of legroom for the third row.
Both motors displace 2.2 litres, both have an identical bore and stroke, 85 x 96mm, and power outputs are similar
too, with 138bhp in the Aria and 140bhp in the XUV.
The DiCOR motor in the Aria is the more refined one and you realise this as soon as you drive both back to back.
On the move, it is quite easy to get used to the relaxed character of the Aria motor. Bottom-end torque is not all that great, so you need to work the gearbox to keep momentum. But once past 2000rpm, the Aria settles into a comfortable rhythm. It is an easy cruiser with enough pulling power to make highway overtaking stress-free. But its long-throw, five-speed gearbox is slightly rubbery in its operation and the clutch is on the heavier side, making hard work of stop-go traffic.
With a 200kg weight advantage, the XUV feels livelier at any speed and there’s a spring in its step which is missing in the Tata. The XUV reaches 100kph in 12.34 seconds, which is more than a second and a half earlier than the Aria.
In-gear acceleration is a closer-run affair and the XUV’s 12.36sec 20-80kph time is just marginally quicker, but the Aria closes the gap largely because of its shorter gearing.
The XUV’s six-speed gearbox is just not up to the mark. Yes, the extra ratio gives the XUV a long pair of legs on the highway, but gearshifts require effort, the clutch action is jerky and it’s easy to stall the car too, which takes away from the driving experience.
Weight and efficiency are interlinked, so no prizes for guessing the more fuel efficient of this pair. In the city, the
XUV returned a figure of 10.2kpl while out on the highway the figure rose to 14.3kpl. The Aria’s city and highway fuel economy figures were a lower 10kpl and 13.9kpl, respectively, which are not too bad, either.
Ride and prejudice
On the move, there’s a lumpiness to the ride of the Aria at low speeds which is typical of body-on-frame vehicles. However, ride quality improves with speed and the Aria, with its double wishbones up front and five links at the rear, smoothens out everything but the sharpest of bumps with ease. Ride quality is pretty settled too, except for some low-frequency pitching over undulations.
Mahindra has equipped its soft-roader with MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear. Low-speed ride is marginally better than the Aria’s, but things change the faster you go. The XUV doesn’t take well to sharp bumps and you can always hear the suspension crash through potholes. Though the XUV is more agile, quicker to dart into corners and easier to park than the ponderous Aria, the overall handling of the XUV is only just acceptable.
Ironically, it has taken the XUV500 to remind us that the Aria, a car that somehow slipped under the radar, is a pretty competent machine. The XUV500 is quite well equipped, with every feature you can think of (except a sunroof), but what tilts the balance in this car’s favour is the price. For just Rs 10.8 lakh, you get the base W6 front-wheel-drive model and the better equipped W8 variant costs Rs 11.9 lakh which is cheaper than the base price of Rs 12.6 lakh for the two-wheel-drive Aria.
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