Mahindra's game-changing SUV, the Scorpio, has been one of its most popular products for two decades. The new-gen Scorpio-N is all set to launch on June 27. We go back in time when Mahindra's homegrown utility vehicle began its journey at the turn of the millennium.
Mahindra Scorpio: The Rs 600-crore SUV
Autocar India was the first to break the news about the all-new SUV in our November 1999 issue. Back in the day, the Scorpio was Mahindra's first indigenous attempt at building an all-new utility vehicle, and on a "21st century platform", with almost no carry-over parts from the automaker's then existing line-up.
Mahindra had invested Rs 600 crore for the development of the Scorpio, which included setting up an all-new facility at Nashik with a production target of 50,000 units a year. Touted as a rival to the Toyota Qualis, among others, Mahindra was confident about taking on them with the Scorpio's rugged nature and butch styling. Speaking of which, some of the styling and engineering of the first-gen Scorpio was also carried out by UK design and engineering consultant Hawtal Whiting.
The Scorpio was tested for a number of years before its market debut in 2002.
The test mules seen ahead of the Scorpio's global debut confirmed its wide stance, bigger body shell than the Kijang (Qualis), and fresh looks when compared to the Tata Sumo. Also, the vehicle was substantially wider, which would translate into better cabin space when compared to the Kijang and the Sumo, or Mahindra's own Armada Grand. The interior of the first-gen Scorpio was packaged by Lear, a global supplier of interior systems and seating.
Ford was interested too!
When Scorpio's development was underway, the first innings of the Mahindra-Ford JV had already ended. However, Ford was still interested in the Scorpio project, as it was also considering its own low-cost utility vehicle (U216) at that time to rival the Toyota Kijang in Asian markets, among others. This project was later abandoned due to cost reasons. Additionally, talks were on for using Ford's York family of engines in higher variants of the Scorpio.
June 2002: Scorpio goes on sale at Rs 5.99 lakh
After almost three years of testing, Mahindra finally introduced the Scorpio to Indian customers. It was undoubtedly the most significant vehicle to be launched that year, especially due to the fact that it was a completely indigenous product by an Indian manufacturer. For Mahindra, the Scorpio was its weapon to take on rivals.
Interestingly, in its press communications at launch, Mahindra never referred to the Scorpio as an 'SUV', but a 'car', as it was a major transitional product for the brand into becoming a premium passenger car manufacturer.
At a starting price of Rs 5.99 lakh (ex-showroom), the Scorpio was introduced with two engine options – a 109hp, 2.6-litre direct-injection turbo-diesel, and a Renault-sourced 116hp, 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol.
Our first impressions of the Scorpio
We exclusively tested the all-new Scorpio in our July 2002 issue.
Autocar India was the first publication to do a comprehensive first drive of the Scorpio back in June 2002 and were impressed at what was being offered, especially at a time when the market was clamouring for an inexpensive SUV. The Scorpio fulfilled this need better than its arch rivals – the Sumo and the Qualis. And in terms of performance, it had the measure of its utilitarian rivals too. In our tests, we found the 2.6-litre direct-injection turbo-diesel reasonably refined and with enough grunt to make the Scorpio the quickest diesel SUV this side of Pajero. Even at a starting price of Rs 5.99 lakh (ex-showroom), the Scorpio looked more like a direct rival to the more expensive Tata Safari, which was the only other Indian SUV on sale at that time. The Scorpio was also crowned the Autocar India Car of the Year in 2003.
The Mahindra Scorpio won the prestigious Autocar India Car of the Year award in 2003.
While the Scorpio at launch was a great value-for-money offering, we had also pointed out that the vehicle was not fully sorted and had scope for improvement in some areas, especially its handling. The model has, however, undergone many upgrades since its inception. Stay tuned for our next feature on the Mahindra Scorpio through the years.
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