It is hard to look at the Nissan Terrano and not turn back for a second glance. It is quite an attractive looking SUV. During our test drive, we came across a number of inquisitive folk who seemed impressed with the way this SUV presents itself. Yes,the Terrano may wear a Nissan badge on its nose but it is a Renault Duster underneath. But is that such a bad thing? The Duster is a great all-round package and has been a hit with us Indians, and the Terrano just takes this same package and dresses it up in a sharper suit. But the changes to spruce up the car both inside and out have come at a premium, and put the Terrano square into the Mahindra XUV500’s territory.
Mahindra has been busy silently improving the XUV500 by fine-tuning the brakes, suspension, clutch and improving the build quality too. All these subtle improvements promise to rid the XUV of many niggling issues that plagued the original car. Just like before, it is crammed with more features than you would probably ever need.
The Mahindra is easily a size larger than the Nissan too, but size isn’t everything - if it was, we’d all be driving basic XXL-sized MPVs. So, does this sharp looking Nissan have what it takes to go head to head with our local here?
What are they like to drive?
While the XUV500 is powered by a large 2.2-litre 140bhp diesel engine, the Terrano is propelled by a rather modest 1.5-litre 110bhp motor. But, the fact that the Terrano is almost half a tonne lighter than the much bigger XUV means its performance is actually better than the more powerful Mahindra. Another aspect that dents the XUV’s driving experience is the rubbery gearbox and the jerky power delivery. The XUV’s gearbox lacks a certain level of precision and makes the driver work hard to send the gear home in the right slot. You do get used to this after a while but working the gearbox is laborious. On the plus side, the vocal engine packs a fair punch from really low down the rev range (1500rpm) and pulls strongly after 2000rpm – enough to make overtaking at highway speeds an easy affair.
The Terrano, on the other hand, feels much crisper to drive. The steering feels direct, the gearbox doesn’t feel notchy and the engine is a lot more refined than the XUV’s, sending fewer vibrations through the cabin. In terms of power, the Terrano’s 110bhp engine has good pulling power that starts at around the 2000rpm mark and the engine pulls cleanly till 4000rpm. Since the power starts to pour in a bit later than it does on the XUV, the Terrano takes a bit longer to get going in the city at first, especially if you’re carrying five on board. Also, the heavier clutch is a bit of an irritant in stop-start traffic. But on the highway, the Nissan, despite its 30bhp disadvantage, is quicker than the Mahindra and doesn’t lose steam even in the upper reaches of its rev range.
Ride and handling
If there’s one area where the Terrano is head and shoulders above the XUV500, it's in this department. While the Terrano stays flat over moderate-sized bumps, the XUV tends to pitch and bob over the same. Hit a pothole hard, and the XUV’s steering wheel also kicks back hard. In the Terrano, bump absorption is so good, you'll hardly notice.
While the XUV does a decent job of gripping the road around corners, it doesn’t inspire much confidence while tackling twisty roads. This is because the XUV uses a softer suspension to make it more comfortable in slow, city traffic conditions. However, the trade-off for this comfort is considerable body roll in bends. The steering is also vague around the straight-ahead position and is quite slow to respond to inputs.
Also, accelerating hard causes this front-wheel drive car to steer left and then right as the wheels fight for grip. The Terrano, on the other hand, feels like a big hatchback from behind the wheel. Its handling capabilities and well controlled body roll make it a joy to drive quick thorough the twisty sections. In terms of braking, the XUV’s feel a bit woody and lack sufficient feel, while the Terrano’s have a nicely progressive bite and deliver more feel as well.
What are they like inside?
Just as these two SUVs are very different on the outside, they're similarly different on the inside. The Terrano goes for a more mature, restrained layout, while the XUV500 goes for a modern, funky look with lots of details and features.
The dashboard of the Nissan has a number of changes from its Renault-badged cousin, most noticeably on the centre console. There are new, rectangular centre air-con vents, and the storage bin above them gets a lid. Below them, the integrated audio system sits on a smart, glossy-black finish console with matte silver surrounds. It does go a long way in giving the Terrano a more premium feel than the Duster. The controls for the air-con remain unchanged, however, as do some of the poor ergonomics - like the powered mirror controls located underneath the handbrake. There’s a new, chunky steering wheel, but there are no wheel or stalk-mounted audio and phone controls, even on this top XV trim.
The Mahindra, meanwhile, has a dashboard awash with buttons, but then it also has a lot of equipment. The hooded instrument cluster behind the chunky, multi-function steering wheel looks sporty, but can be difficult to read on the move sometimes. And, the buttons and touchscreen are tricky to use on the go as well. The real let-down, however is the quality, which is inconsistent at best. Some of the plastics are shiny, sharp edged and flimsy, and the fit and finish isn’t great either. The Terrano fares much better in this regard and the build of the plastics feels more solid.
Both cars have chunky, comfortable front seats, although the Mahindra’s bolstered chairs don't suit all shapes and sizes. You also sit higher up in the XUV, which gives a more commanding view of the road. Move to the back, and the XUV is clearly a step up on legroom, headroom and shoulder room. However, the Terrano doesn’t fare too badly here either. If you're an average sized adult (apart from the chunky rear AC vent that kills legroom for a middle passenger), it has a far comfier and more supportive seat. In fact, all-important, thigh support is better here.
The XUV500, of course, does offer a third row of seats, which is something the Nissan just can’t match.
Equipment & safety
We’re comparing top-end models here, with the Terrano’s XV variant going up against the XUV’s W8 2WD trim (you can also get this same trim with 4WD). Considering the Terrano is priced higher than the Duster, there’s no additional equipment. In fact, it misses out on the Duster’s audio/phone control stalk and touchscreen infotainment system that also gets satellite navigation. Still, you do get leather seats, and there is Bluetooth, USB, Aux and a CD player for the audio system. There’s also rear parking sensors, ABS with brake assist and two airbags.
But when it comes to equipment, it’s hard for any car to beat the Mahindra. The list is almost endless - over and above what the Terrano has, it gets satellite navigation, a touchscreen, automatic climate control, automatic adaptive headlamps, a tyre pressure monitor, DVD player and more. There’s also six airbags, ABS, ESP and hill descent control. Mahindra really pulled out all the stops.
There’s no denying that the XUV is a fantastic value-for-money proposition. The equipment list looks like it belongs on a car that costs twice as much, it is easily a whole size larger than the Terrano and can seat three comfortably across the rear. It even has a third row, which the Terrano lacks. If you are chauffeur driven, the XUV really is difficult to ignore.
It's, however, in the details that the XUV loses out. Fit and finish in many parts still aren’t up to the mark, there are plenty of tacky plastic bits, the XUV bounces over bad roads with nowhere near the composure of the Terrano, power delivery isn't smooth or seamless and the gearbox, though improved, is still is difficult to slot accurately.
Smaller on the inside and not as well equipped, the Terrano is much more impressive on the move. The ride is supple, the car's poise around corners is exceptional for an off-roader and the Terrano steers and drives with the precision of a saloon or a hatchback. Power deliver is linear, its performance is stronger, the seats are more comfortable and it feels several times more robustly put together. In the old tussle between quantity and quality, it's the Terrano that comes out on top; though the Mahindra came oh so close.