Mahindra Axe review, road test
Rating 9 9

Mahindra Axe review, road test

4th Apr 2021 7:00 am

The Mahindra Axe is a Light Military Utility Tactical Vehicle that was developed for use by the Indian Army.

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  • Make : Mahindra
  • Model :
We Like
Go-anywhere capabilitylHigh-speed handlinglRugged feel
We Don't Like
Needs more powerlNo differential locks

This road test was originally published in the September 2007 issue of Autcar India.

Why don’t you try this one,” he says, egging us on gently. We glance over our shoulders to a steep climb that leads to a sort of ledge 10 feet above the dust path below. Obviously, we’ve misunderstood.

We look back at him, but he smiles, nods and gesticulates in the same direction, pointing to the top. Surely this ex-army man and tank commander has taken leave of his senses; probably the effect of all those high-velocity tank shells being fired only inches away from his head. All that pounding must have left a deep scar, because the only way we can get up that slope ourselves is on all fours! Still, he looks confident. Some head-scratching, soul-searching and dry gulps later, we gingerly point the Axe in the direction of the ridge.

There’s no fear of grounding the nose, as the angle of attack at the front is an almost wall-climbing 70 degrees and ground clearance is a lofty 350mm.

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So we select four-wheel-drive low and power up the pile of rocks and shale, as the nose of the Axe points skywards, the motor rumbling and booming away. The Axe’s massive off-road tyres claw the earth and it edges forward. .  . but then stops. By now the angle of our ascent here is so steep, our weight is equally distributed between the backrest and the seat, and there’s nothing to see ahead, only sky!

“Use more power and more speed the next time,” yells our acting drill sergeant and this time the Axe does make it, like a big lizard clambering, scrambling up a rock face. This is an off-roader, sure, but no one said anything about rock climbing. Impressed? We were stunned! And this was only the beginning. Only one facet of this vehicle’s massive performance envelope.

In the past, Autocar India has tested our Indian-made Main Battle Tank, the Arjun and Hindustan Aeronautics’ Advanced Light Helicopter. This time we have something more terrestrial and familiar, but equally Indian. And don’t think this vehicle is any less exotic or beguiling in comparison. It may look like a cross between a taxi driver’s worst nightmare and the familiar American Humvee, and that’s what it is, but underneath its rough exterior is enough high-tech to make a Bentley blush.

It’s not every day that we at Autocar India get to test a prototype, and then write about it. But that’s exactly what our test of the Axe is — an opportunity to test-drive the first couple of prototypes of a barely finished vehicle.

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Getting military vehicle-makers to localise ( the Indian the Army’s Request For Proposal (RFP) sets a 50 percent indigenisation clause) and transfer a majority of the technology is not the easiest thing in the world, far from it. There are masses of red tape to get through. Either the players convince their partners to transfer tech, or they go out and get it piecemeal. That’s what Mahindra Defence Systems has done. The Axe may be a military vehicle through and through with its butch exteriors and built-to-Army spec features, but underneath it is pure racing car — a combination of Paris-Dakar prototype race car and Baja dune buggy. This may strike you as strange, but remember some of the greatest military vehicles had racing in their DNA; the famous WWII Spitfire, for example, evolved from the Supermarine S.6B racing seaplane.

M&M’s consultant engineer for the project has vast experience in building off-roaders as well as Paris-Dakar racing prototypes. A designer of foreign origin who does not want to be named or known, he also has some experience in making military vehicles. And the racing car legacy is difficult to hide.

Strip the Axe down and what you have before you is pure competition machine. The chassis’s structure is not a ladder frame but a racing-car-like nest of thick steel tubes. Known as a spaceframe, this type of very stiff but light chassis has been the bedrock that racing cars have been built on for decades. For increased practicality, the Axe also has some box sections added on. The massive 305/70 R16 off-road tyres are each sprung independently by massive double wishbones, each of which look strong enough to knock out a bull elephant. Coil over shock Blistein racing struts are used at each wheel and the nitrogen-filled dampers and variable rate of the springs helps the Axe assault almost any sort of terrain.

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Mahindra Axe: design

At 4.4 metres, the Axe is not very long, actually shorter than something like a Toyota Innova Crysta, but it’s the massive 1.9-metre width is almost commercial vehicle or truck-like. While M&M received some basic help on the design, a lot of the hardcore engineering was done here in India by Mahindra Defence Systems. The engineer in charge of R&D for MDS, Commander Narendra Katdare, is the one who actually integrated the various systems and even led the team which quickly designed the functional exteriors. 

You climb up to and not into the Axe, foot swinging on the cable stirrups. And the driving environment feels alien from the word go.

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It’s incredibly wide on the inside. Your passenger sits almost three feet away from you, out of reach, the windscreen is exceedingly wide and short, which feels weird, and everything around is sparse and very bare. A quick glance at the rear seats proves just how wide the Axe is again — you could fit four passengers there quite easily, and we did. And a six-footer could also use it as a bunk. Then there are padded gun racks all over the place, this vehicle has been designed to carry troops after all, and a storage box below the rear bench seat.

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In battle spec the Axe comes with a weapons platform that has a provision for fitment of two weapon stations - HMG, MMG, LMG, ATGM, RL. It can seat 6-9 soldiers, and has stowage for weapons scale ammo, additional fuel, rations, water and personal kit. Its armour can provide protection for up to 7.62mm armour piercing rounds.

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Optional equipment includes an air-conditioning system, run-flat tyres, a winch, a hardtop and electrical power take-off from auxiliary batteries.

The 175hp, five-cylinder diesel motor that powers the Axe is a Mercedes unit, sourced via SsangYong Motors of Korea. This common-rail diesel sends power to either the rear or all four wheels by a five-speed automatic box, also a Mercedes-Benz unit. The Axe also has a low range, as can be expected, but lockable differentials are not required by the Army. Probably a maintenance-related deletion. 

We set off from a dhaba, where the vehicles have met us, and the sensation of driving something massive and high is overwhelming. You are sat so high, it’s almost like you are taxiing an aircraft. Then the truck-like width of the Axe means you have to keep checking the left corner to see if you can clear obstacles.

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Taking a U-turn on the highway however soon proves one thing beyond doubt. Nothing commands as much respect. Truckers who usually stop for nothing screech to a halt on seeing the pair of Axes attempting a U-turn. The intimidation factor is massive, and this is proved repeatedly as drivers regularly pull out to give you way. Even Delhi’s otherwise very aggressive private taxi drivers scamper away in morbid fear. Oh, what a taxi-terminator this would make!

Of course, it doesn’t drive like a car or feel anything as fleet-footed. Remember, there’s two-and-a-half tonnes to push around, and the motor, torque converter and automatic gearbox have to work really hard to get it moving. Noise insulation is also very poor, and there is lot of fan and engine noise present when accelerating.

Keeping up with and overtaking traffic calls for a lot of effort from the engine and you have to be flat on the throttle when you want to pass someone. Acceleration isn’t very impressive, except when you drive it flat-out. We actually strapped our V-box onto the Axe and it did the 0-100 kilometres-an-hour sprint; it actually managed it in under 20 seconds. Not bad considering the weight and the fact that it took only 1.9 seconds more to reach 100kph when compared to the Ford Fusion diesel.

Stepping off-road, onto an off-road path filled with deep ruts, dried-up pools and completely broken sections, is when we get a measure of the brilliance of the Axe. For a start, we roll off a sharp edge of the tarmac and onto the much lower shoulder, a foot-and-a-half below the road, without the car even acknowledging the change in gradient. It rides like a limo! 

Gearbox placed in manually selectable mode and right foot to the floor, we take off down this wide path. Soon we’re doing seemingly insane speeds, the Axe taking to the path like the thoroughbred it is. On this road you could do no more than 50kph without breaking something on your SUV, but the Axe is charging ahead and steamrolling the path below it at speeds of over 100kph. And still it’s no sweat.

It glides over massive potholes, seldom loses its composure and skips through deeply-rutted sections of the road without the suspension registering a blip. It’s all down to the stiff chassis, the massive suspension travel, the variable dampers and the high-profile tyres that together help it glide over, or even sponge up the road like a leaping hovercraft.

And it corners too. Remember we’re talking almost 2.5 tonnes of flying metal here. The trick racing dampers help firm up the suspension around corners and the Axe holds its composure and can be steered on the throttle in the dirt like an agile racer. The key to this massive speed off-road, of course, is the composure the Axe possesses. Both pitch and roll are present in small quantities, but they are so well kept in check that we soon begin to drive the Axe harder and harder. The massive 300mm disc brakes work superbly too.

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A trip to the Himalayas in this thing, or a romp along a desert path, would be sheer bliss. We did, however, feel the ABS needed some fine-tuning for it was cutting in too early and the steering does feel very light at high speeds.

 The Axe also has the ability to go off the road almost anywhere, and clamber over or through some impossible terrain. Be it climbing up a mound of rocks, stepping over a field full of others that are knee-high or powering through slush you could almost drown in, this is just another level. You truly have to double the boundaries of what is conventionally possible in a very good off-roader. And then that is just about enough.  

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Like any supercar, the Mahindra Axe is a revelation. A super off-roader that takes conventionally understood boundaries of what an off-roader should be capable of and totally demolishes them, a vehicle like the Axe is sure to provide the Indian Army a vital edge. Fantastic at high speeds, incredible across country and possessing great traction, the Axe has the right stuff. It could do with some more power, the steering may need a little more feel, and we think lockable differentials are essential when traction is a real problem. It will make a great scout car, assault vehicle or even mini-missile carrier.

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ENGINE Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT Electric
Fuel Type / Propulsion Diesel
Engine Installation Front, longitudinal
Type 5 cyls, turbo-diesel
Cubic Capacity (cc) 2696cc
Bore/Stroke (mm) 86/92mm
Compression Ratio 18:1
Valve Train 4 valves per cyl, DOHC
Max Power (hp @ rpm) 175hp at 4000rpm
Max Torque (Nm @ rpm) 340Nm at 1800rpm
Power to Weight Ratio (hp/tonne) 70.2hp per tonne
Torque to Weight Ratio (Nm/tonne) 136Nm per tonne
Specific Output (hp/litre) 65hp per litre
TRANSMISSION Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT Electric
Drive Layout Four-wheel drive
Gearbox Type Automatic
No of Gears 5
1st Ratio/kph per 1000 rpm 3.595
2nd Ratio/kph per 1000 rpm 2.186
3rd Ratio/kph per 1000 rpm 1.405
4th Ratio/kph per 1000 rpm 1.00
5th Ratio/kph per 1000 rpm 0.831
Final Drive Ratio 4.1:1
BRAKING Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT Electric
80 - 0 kph (mts, sec) 39.91m/3.42s
ACCELERATION Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT Electric
0 - 10 kph (sec) 0.69s
0 - 20 kph (sec) 1.38s
0 - 30 kph (sec) 2.12s
0 - 40 kph (sec) 3.39s
0 - 50 kph (sec) 5.00s
0 - 60 kph (sec) 6.53s
0 - 70 kph (sec) 9.30s
0 - 80 kph (sec) 12.07s
0 - 90 kph (sec) 15.36s
0 - 100 kph (sec) 19.63s
20-80kph (sec) 10.21s (in kickdown)
BODY Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT Electric
Weight (kg) 2500kg
Front Tyre 305/70 R16
Rear Tyre 305/70 R16
Spare Tyre Full size steel wheel
SUSPENSION Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT Electric
Front Independent, double wishbones, coil over shocks
Rear Independent, double wishbones, stabiliser bar
STEERING Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT Electric
Type Rack and pinion
Type of power assist Electric
Turning Circle Diameter (mts) 14.0m
BRAKES Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT Electric
Front 290mm ventilated discs
Rear 300mm ventilated discs
Dimensions Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT Electric
Length 4400mm
Width (mm) 1960mm
Height 1980mm
Wheel base 2940mm
Front Track (mm) 1700mm
Rear Track (mm) 1700mm
Ground Clearance (mm) 350mm
Boot Capacity (Lts) 600 litres
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