Unlike most carmakers that are building compact saloons from existing hatchbacks, Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) has followed the reverse route by creating a hatchback-like two-box derivative of its Verito saloon.
Mahindra has taken an audacious step and gone ahead with an entirely fresh design for the rear end, which looks quite radical. The sharply raked rear windscreen and large pillar-mounted tail-lights, which seem to be influenced by the Ford Focus, look quite sporty. But, when you step back and look at the Vibe as a whole, it’s quite obvious that the redesigned rear is out of sync with the rest of the car, which remains the boxy Verito (originally Logan). Apart from the rear end, M&M left the rest of the Vibe unchanged to keep costs in check.
Also, the Vibe isn’t a true hatchback. The rear glass is fixed (again to keep costs low) and the stubby boot which is hinged just below the rear screens opens to reveal an impressive (by hatcbhack standards) 330 litres of luggage space. But, what seriously limits the Vibe’s functionality is the very narrow boot aperture. The small boot access makes loading big bags a hassle and the high load lip doesn’t make the job easier. The rear seats don’t flip forward either, which again dents practicality.
This quasi-hatchback, however, has other strengths which are passed down from the full-sized Verito saloon. Most obvious is the Vibe’s cavernous cabin that is identical to the Verito’s and this means sufficient room for five, full-sized adults. The rear bench is particularly wide and generous enough to make sitting three abreast pretty comfortable. A full-sized centre head restraint for the middle passenger endorses this. The front seats are pretty wide and generous too but seem to lack sufficient bolstering, especially near the lower back area. In terms of ergonomics, the Verito’s flaws are carried over, which includes a centre console that sits a bit low - so to operate the 2-DIN audio system and the air-con controls, you have to take your eyes of the road. Also, taller drivers will miss the adjustable steering wheel as it sits a little too low in this car. Other flaws include patchy cabin quality like hard plastics and sloppy stitching on the seats, which all feel a bit low rent. The switchgear though feels quite good to operate and the chunky door handles M&M has redeveloped feel quite solid.
The Vibe is powered by the same proven 1.5-litre DCi Renault diesel engine that’s been powering the Logan and later Verito since 2007. Since the Verito’s 1.4-litre petrol engine does not qualify for the excise benefits offered to small cars and there is no engine option below 1.2 litres (to get the advantage) M&M has sensibly not bothered to offer the Vibe with a petrol option.
Despite the lack of outright horsepower, the Vibe’s engine is very tractable and pulls comfortably, in a linear fashion from as low as 1200rpm till about 3000rpm, which gives it excellent real-world driveability. The torquey nature of the engine encourages you to upshift early rather than pushing it near its redline where the power rapidly trails of. On Mahindra’s test track, we simulated some city traffic conditions and the Vibe did not require too many downshifts, making it effortless to drive. But on an open track, the lack of top-end grunt is evident with the car starting to run out of breath after about 120kph. What is truly impressive is the Vibe’s refinement levels. The engine is pretty quiet and road noise too is quite well contained.
Chopping the Verito’s tail hasn’t had much of an impact on the handling. The Vibe feels just the same as the Verito and that means a benign, dynamic character. The Vibe doesn’t enjoy darting into corners or carving up a twisty road but handling is predictable and inspires confidence at high speeds.
As for the ride, there weren’t any potholes or bumps on M&M’s Chakan test track to give us a real-world perspective but, the slight undulations on the track were quite easily taken care of, with the Vibe maintaining a flat ride. Mention must be made of the relatively tall profile 185/70 R14 tyres, which promise to do a good job in rounding off sharp edges and potholes.
M&M’s efforts to keep costs in check seem to have paid off. The Vibe has been launched at a starting price of Rs 5.63 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai) for the base D2 trim. The Vibe’s mish-mash styling does look a bit quirky but that’s something that can grow on you. The bigger question is can the Vibe shed the Verito’s taxi stigma, inherited from the Logan, to position itself as a sensible choice for anyone in the market for a spacious and comfortable compact car. That’s the biggest challenge for M&M too.