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Mahindra XUV500 roadtest - A-rise

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Objectivity can and does go out of the window with this one. Ask us, and the XUV500 is slightly overdone in places. The grille is too ‘in your face’ and mars the lines, the additional hump on the rear wheel arch is unnecessary. Someone forgot to give the boot lid some much needed character and left behind a rather small moustache of a rear number plate cover. It’s like having the best caviar in town and then lacing it with dressing that’s just past the sell-by-date.

Critical but not vital, is what some of these overdone design elements are. And I’m not alone on this one. A bunch of students from the IIT Bombay design school’s transportation cell happened to spend some time with our test car and their observations weren’t too different either. They even went as far as to say that the XUV’s design isn’t iconic enough and it would have a rather short shelf life. Isn’t that what most people said about the Mahindra Scorpio too, some nine years ago?

Design hasn’t been Mahindra’s strongest point, yet, despite all the criticism, the XUV500 is its best effort to date. From the strong headlamps to the Evoque-like floating roof and the coupé-ish beltline, the overall stance does have enough hints of a European design house’s hand; yet, under all the razzmatazz is the effort of a young man in his mid-20s, sitting in a corner at Mahindra’s design department.

But Mahindra’s World SUV is more than just its design. It’s a whole bunch of firsts for a company where a significant number of utility vehicles produced still find their genes in a World War II machine. From being the first monocoque to forcing the company to adopt several new safety and engineering technologies and even production techniques, the XUV500 is a game changer for Mahindra. And more than anything else, it’s the price tag that puts everything, from top-end versions of the Hyundai Verna/Honda City to the Toyota Fortuner in its crosshairs. As far as value goes, the XUV500 could redefine the very essence of what a premium car should stand for and offer.

It offers pretty much everything that a premium car should and then some more. Which brings us to a rather important question – does it feel and drive like a premium car? Has Mahindra made that leap into the big league or is it let down by lack of attention to detail? We’ve spent nearly 1,000 km with the XUV500 over varied terrain, driven it hard, thrown it into the deep end and can now tell you if it’s the premium car you may need. Or not.

 

STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE?

The XUV500’s signature design elements may not necessarily be the most well-thought out, especially in pictures, but somehow, in the flesh, the car does look much better. From the use of LED daytime running lamps to sharper pinch lines on the bonnet and tailor welded blanks and high-strength steel, the design and construction techniques of the XUV500 are in line with global standards and practices. Consider the tight packaging of the 2.2-litre motor for a moment and you will realise there is enough by way of crumple zones, provisions to meet European pedestrian safety norms and much more.

Weight too has been critical in ensuring that the car has a good power-to-weight ratio, thus improving overall efficiency and ensuring that the engine meets Euro V norms with minimal changes. For instance, the front fenders are made of plastic, à la BMW 5 Series which helps in improving front-rear weight bias. The vehicle’s lower centre of gravity and wide front track ensure that the dynamics of the vehicle are closer to a car than an SUV. Of course, there is the bit called the monocoque that has been developed in assistance with European specialists to ensure that not only is the vehicle good dynamically, but even meets global safety requirements. From spot welding to tight integration of panels, overall stiffness levels are of a pretty high order. And for the first time, Mahindra have tested and validated the vehicle using 250 prototypes that have been driven over 2.3 million kilometres across the globe. Whether it was Australia, China or even Western Europe, the XUV500 has been designed to meet glocal requirements.

 

IS IT INVITING ENOUGH?

The XUV500’s interiors are a big departure from anything Mahindra has been up to so far. There is a marked difference in the way the seats are woven, the dashboard has been put together and the general assimilation of features. For starters the silver ringed instrument binnacle looks rather nice (especially when lit) and reeks of quality. The steering wheel too feels well finished and has a slightly round bottom feel to it. The doors open and close with a nice clunk-thud sound and the door handles and padding too feel rather premium by Mahindra standards. The seats on our W8 2WD version have nice, high quality leather upholstery that feel impeccably stitched and didn’t feel flimsy. The central console has large buttons that have decent tactility and are logically laid out.

Downsides? The central console trim feels rather flimsy in places and the use of colours isn’t exactly the best. The alignment of the plastics on the dash, especially around the glove box and the storage box on top of the centre console isn’t perfect. Even the shroud for the handbrake feels cheap and tacky. Some may find the steering set a bit too low even at the highest setting, especially people with larger proportions. Space is pretty good and so are the seats in terms of design and support. The second row has ample knee and leg room and there is only an ever-so-slight lack of under thigh support. The third row is strictly for children, though I have to admit the space is better than some others in the same segment.

The XUV500’s biggest achievement is the integration of complex electronics and features. Most of the vehicle information is available via the infotainment system that, apart from playing your music also has pre-installed GPS and DVD video playing capability on the W8. It’s also linked to the ABS unit that houses the tyre-pressure sensors and lets you know about your next service schedule. Nothing new, except that you find most of these features on cars that are nearly three times the price. There’s more – the automatic climate control may not have dual zone controls but it chills rather quickly while the last row gets its own blower speed controls. Some of the buttons, however require a much harder input, especially the ones on the steering wheel and the functions don’t change as quickly as they should. Mahindra has given the 6-inch infotainment screen a full-touch function with additional buttons below it to run the system, however the fonts are small, the touch sensitivity isn’t too good and you really need to point your finger with pinpoint accuracy, lest you run another function instead. The W8 gets a full colour screen while the W6 runs a monochromatic one, but the problem lies in the fact that under intense light, it does cause reflections simply because Mahindra haven’t offered a large enough light deflector above the screen.

 

DOES IT ACCELERATE LIKE A WORLD SUV?

The 2.2-litre common rail diesel mHawk is known for its refinement and rev-happy nature in the Scorpio and some of those characteristics have passed on to the mHawk 140 on the XUV500. Using a fifth-generation S Vane variable geometry turbocharger from Borg Warner, the mHawk 140 has gained nearly 20 bhp and over 4 kgm of peak torque. Additionally, the use of a dual mass flywheel reduces vibes. But the changes are more than just that. Unlike its application in the Scorpio, the 2.2 mHawk in the XUV500 is transversely mounted to liberate space for the much needed crumple zones, à la Volvo. That also meant changing the location of the turbocharger, intake manifold, routing of the exhaust, belt drive and of course the engine mounts.

Another big change has been the use of a transaxle. The XUV500 is a front-engined front-wheel drive application with a real-time all-wheel drive option on the W8 AWD that transfers torque to the rear wheels when it detects slippage. The advantages of the transaxle are that it helps in the drivetrain running cooler and improves overall drivetrain packaging.

Performance from the 1750-odd kg XUV500 is reasonably impressive. The dash to 60 kph came up in 6.26 seconds, a lot of time being lost to a notchy gearbox and a trifle low amount of torque at the very bottom of the curve. The century mark did come up in 13.65 seconds, a slender 0.3 seconds slower than say the Chevrolet Captiva. A top speed of 175 kph is what we saw, but given the right stretch 180 kph is pretty much in its ballpark. Since our test car was just a few hundred kilometres young, we expect the acceleration numbers to be a bit better for a well run-in car.

While I did mention that the gearbox is notchy and a bit rubbery especially in the first three gears, the gear ratios are pretty well selected. You can easily shift into sixth at 45 kph and the XUV500 will pull cleanly into the distance. There is, however, a good amount of engine noise that filters through into the cabin, although road and tyre noise are pretty well contained. In our tests we saw a whole bunch of fuel efficiency figures – from 8.93 kpl on our hard tests to 12.8 kpl in our relaxed driving cycles. We expect consumers to get anywhere between 11.5 and 12 kpl under the combined driving cycle, which gives it a range of roughly 800 km on a full tank.

 

DOES IT DRIVE LIKE A WORLD SUV?

Despite the use of a front-engine, front-wheel drive, the XUV’s weight distribution, combined with its well-thought out track to wheelbase ratios, makes it a rather fun-to-drive SUV. Using independent MacPherson struts at the front and multi-link at the rear with anti-roll bars both front and rear, the XUV500 is quite sorted on the handling front.

Having borrowed expertise from Paul Harvey, ex-Lotus Engineering chassis development chief to fine tune the package, the XUV500 corners rather flat. The most impressive bit is the way it transfers weight front to rear, and even when manhandled, exhibits pretty good poise. The steering turns in neatly, though some of the weight build up is a bit odd at quarter lock. Grip levels from its 235-section 17-inch tyres are pretty good and even with ESP off there is no drastic change in the dynamic behaviour, which is something Mahindra should feel proud of. It’s only when you cross the 85 per cent grip threshold that the vehicle exhibits some understeer, but it is predictable and well-controlled. Body roll is another aspect that is pretty much curtailed, unless of course you are driving at full tilt and even then it’s impressive.

Importantly there is some steering feel which is another feat for a Mahindra. Our test car’s steering did suffer from judder at speeds over 120 kph (and so did some of the other test cars as we found out), while some others didn’t experience the same. Such inconsistencies in build doesn’t bode well for a ‘World SUV’ and Mahindra will need to pull up their socks. The brakes (front-ventilated discs, rear-solid discs) do show some fade after many rounds of going through the 0-100 kph-0 procedure, but it brakes in a straight line and it feels very stable under braking.

It’s the ride quality that has suffered in the process. The ride is reasonably pliant over small bumps and on flat surfaces but drive fast over larger bumps and potholes and the ride becomes rather crashy. The rear especially tends to land with a loud thud, which honestly could have been tweaked considering most of its rivals, like the Tata Aria, ride rather well.

 

DOES IT HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO BE A WORLD SUV?

The XUV500 is a brilliant effort from the men and women at Mahindra’s R&D facility in Chennai. It’s a remarkable jump for a company known for its body-on-ladder vehicles to date. As an engineering feat, the XUV500 takes Mahindra’s capabilities to a new level in terms of dynamics, vehicle construction and integration and tuning. Its innovations in solving issues of emissions, efficiency and performance point Mahindra on the right track and the fact that it is willing to adopt global standards to reach them says a lot about this homegrown company.

However, the XUV500 has some limitations too. There is still some more for Mahindra to learn in terms of fit and finish and some work is needed to make it feel truly premium. A bit more focus on NVH and suspension tuning for ride quality would be the next challenge and we hope that these small things get sorted by the time the first facelift is around.

But it’s the price tag that could make most buyers overlook these faux pas and seriously take a look at it. It’s the sheer value of the XUV500 that makes it a terrific proposition for many, even those who didn’t consider an SUV in the first place. As a premium Indian SUV, the XUV500 pretty much sets the standard in terms of packaging and pricing, but as a global SUV, Mahindra could work a little harder and fine-tune it some more. Viewing it objectively will be Mahindra’s greatest achievement.

 

POWERTRAIN

Displacement: 2179cc, I-4, diesel
Max power: 140 bhp@3750 rpm
Max torque: 33.7 kgm@1600 - 2800 rpm
Specific output: 64.24 bhp/litre
Power to weight: 80 bhp/tonne (est)
Torque to weight: 19.25 kgm/tonne (est)
Transmission: 6-speed manual

STEERING

Type: Rack and pinion with power assist
Turning radius: 5.6 m

SUSPENSION

Front: Independent double wishbone with coil springs
Rear: Five-link suspension with coil springs

BRAKES

Front: Ventilated discs
Rear: Solid discs
ABS: Standard with EBD & ESP

TYRES

(F/R): 235/65 R17

DIMENSIONS

L/W/H(mm): 4585/1890/1785
Wheelbase: 2700 mm
Kerb weight: 1750 kg (est)
Tank capacity: 70 litres

ACCELERATION

0-60 kph: 6.26 secs
0-100 kph: 13.65 secs
80-120 kph: 9.8 secs
100-140 kph: 14.2 secs
0-100 kph-0: 18.1 secs
Top speed: 174.8 kph

MILEAGE

Overall: 11.8 kpl
Price: Rs 12.41 LAKH Ex-showroom, Mumbai