What is it?
On one hand, it’s a facelift of the discontinued Quanto – Mahindra’s first attempt at a compact SUV, which came about by chopping the rear off the Xylo MPV. You can see it in the body panels which are similar, if not identical, from the A-pillar backwards. On the other hand, it has ditched the Xylo’s ladder-frame chassis and uses the newer, stiffer, lighter, hydroformed one from the Scorpio and TUV300 instead. So technically it’s a new car that deserves its new name – NuvoSport – a hardly subtle nod to one of its potential competitors, the Ford EcoSport. But since Mahindra so recently added a sub-four-metre, ladder-frame SUV – the TUV300 – to its line-up, was there need to launch another, and what does the NuvoSport do differently?
Well, it certainly does look different from the TUV300, but whether it’s better for it is up to you. I personally think it has more character than the TUV’s crude-looking blocky shape, but it’s not what you’d call pretty. The frumpy bulldog face is created by a huge air dam at the base and also a large and high-set grille. On either side of this are headlamps capped by strips of LED running lamps, while fog lamps and a faux bash plate feature lower down, and if the nose of this SUV wasn’t crowded enough, there’s also a wide intake high up to feed the new top-mounted intercooler. There’s an abundance of black cladding all around the car now and, as mentioned before, the sides are identical to the Quanto, which is to say flat and upright. The only changes are new ‘mHawk100’ badges and a chrome accent under the mirrors, and smart new 16-inch alloys. At the back, it’s exactly the same, except that the colour scheme has changed a little, with a lot more black colour to help cut the bulk.
What’s it like on the inside?
Disappointingly, the inside is pretty much the same as the Quanto, which in turn was the same as the Xylo, and that means, in modern company, it looks positively ancient. There are the awkwardly shaped AC vents that sit atop a tall and upright centre console, and the really wide transmission tunnel with two cupholders embedded next to the gearlever. There are, of course, some changes. A makeshift ‘pod’ has been shoehorned into the dash to house the new touchscreen, the AC controls have been borrowed from the TUV300 and so have a few other bits of switchgear. The touchscreen in question is not a fancy custom unit like in the Scorpio and XUV500, but instead an aftermarket unit from Kenwood, and it doesn’t feature navigation.
Quality levels appear to have improved since the Quanto, but they’re still nowhere near class standards, and even feel a notch down on the freshly designed TUV300. There are also some odd design decisions in the cabin – there’s an electronic release button for the fuel tank, for instance, but no button to unlock the doors from the inside; you have to lift the knob on the door. And while there is a screen between the dials, it only shows the odometer. All the other pertinent information like outside temperature, selected and optimal gear (handy in the manual, essential in the AMT), fuel computer and trip meters are in the tiny monochrome display above the AC vents in the centre.
Where you certainly won’t feel the pinch is on space. Mahindra says there’s even more of it in here than in the TUV300, which was already impressive for its size. Thanks to the longer 2,760mm wheelbase, you get more legroom, but Mahindra also says it’s wider, and that there’s more space in the pair of jump seats that reside in the boot. Yes, this too is a seven-seater, and we still don’t recommend using the side-facing rearmost seats, especially as they don’t have seatbelts. Space in the second row is truly impressive though, and the seat too is large and supportive, if a little flat. You do have to make quite a hike up into this high-set cabin, thanks to the rugged body-on-frame construction, but once you do, it’s easy to get comfy. M&M is happy to point out that the seatback of the second row can now be reclined for added comfort, but then you realise you have to first fold down the jump seats to make this possible. Incidentally, those seats are standard on all variants, and you can’t have this as a five-seater, even if you wanted to. What is good, though, is that the NuvoSport will be available with optional ABS and dual airbags on even the base model.
What’s it like to drive?
As I mentioned before, there are a few mechanical changes, but they are significant. The Scorpio and TUV’s new-generation ladder-frame chassis has been squeezed into the Quanto’s body-in-white, and so the shape and stance has had to be kept identical. The engine is the next evolution of Mahindra’s 1.5-litre, three-cylinder diesel, now dubbed the ‘mHawk100’. This implies that its power output is 102hp (or 100bhp) and torque is 240Nm, and while those numbers are similar to the old Quanto’s, Mahindra says this is from an all-new engine family, and as such is closer related to the TUV300’s mHawk80 engine.
Start it up and it certainly feels that way. Refinement is improved, in that what you hear is no longer a truck-like rattle, but instead a softer rumble, but you still feel many vibrations through the tall gear lever. Idle is quiet enough and it only really raises its voice once you’re past 1,500rpm. It shares the strengths and weaknesses of the TUV’s mHawk80. It’s incredibly responsive off the line, which should make the NuvoSport easy to scoot in and out of gaps in traffic with, and torque low down is abundant in general. It’s also surprisingly smooth at lower engine speeds. However, it runs out of breath very quickly, and doesn’t have much of a top end at all. You can rev it all the way to 5,000rpm, but at that point it’s mostly just noise and nothing else. You really have to move up a gear at about 3,800rpm to make smooth continuous progress. In isolation, the NuvoSport doesn’t immediately feel like it has 20 more horsepower than the TUV300, but we’ll have to drive them back to back to be sure.
The other addition is the option of an AMT gearbox on the top two trims. Mahindra has co-developed this gearbox with Ricardo, and the first one, which we saw on the TUV300, was a big disappointment. The company has since reworked the software to “better suit Indian driving styles” and it’s this updated version that features on the NuvoSport. We only got to try it on Mahindra’s test track, but it does seem a little bit smoother than before. However, the creep function is still a little reluctant, and thanks to the weight of the car, it’s still a little nerve-wracking to do a hill start with the AMT.
The new chassis has helped dynamics a little bit, but you can’t cheat physics – this is still a tall, heavy, boxy ladder-frame SUV, and it comes with the associated shortcomings. The tall driving position does give you a commanding view out, but the high dashboard and tapering nose mean, surprisingly, it’s not easy to see where the bonnet ends. There is, as you’d expect, a lot of body roll and the steering feels rubbery and inconsistent. I know this isn’t a hot hatchback, but the simple fact is, monocoque SUV rivals are just so much better to drive. Ride quality is much better than the Quanto thanks to the new chassis, but the setup is on the soft side. So while it can iron out smaller bumps and potholes really well, larger bumps create a bigger upset. And as you pick up the pace, you’ll feel a lot of movement inside the cabin; in fact, hit a rough patch at highway speeds and your passengers will be tossed around quite a lot.
Should I buy one?
As an attempt to breathe life back into a less-than-stellar product – the Quanto – the NuvoSport has done a great job. But then, with a new chassis, new engine and new automatic gearbox, it’s practically an all-new car. Sadly it’s had to retain some of the Quanto’s biggest sore points – most notably the aged, lacklustre cabin and the boxy shape. The bigger question is, where does it fit into the compact SUV class, especially since the TUV300 already exists? The TUV’s marketing focuses on the SUV’s toughness, while the NuvoSport’s is focused on lifestyle, so clearly the latter is positioned slightly higher – something that’s confirmed by its price of Rs 7.35-9.76 lakh (ex-showroom, Thane). This means the NuvoSport is meant to be a stronger rival to the Maruti Vitara Brezza and Ford EcoSport. Sure, it looks unique, it’s got loads of space, and it’s comfy at low speeds, but apart from that, it’s not got enough strengths to really give fight to its modern competition. The TUV300 stood out for being something different – a tough, ladder-frame SUV in a class of car-like monocoques. It was a small niche that the NuvoSport is now also trying to squeeze into. But for the premium, it really doesn’t bring enough extra to the table.