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Mahindra XUV500 test drive and review

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Scorpio and Xylo owners stared, then let out a smile and a thumbs-up sign followed. People rolled down their windows, stopped their motorcycles, turned their heads in disbelief at the sight of the XUV500. Sure, they even asked what's with the name (and so do we), but they all universally agreed, it's a smart looking vehicle.

If this is the kind of response the XUV500 is getting in just its first day in Mumbai, I just wonder how well prepared Mahindra is to deliver the vehicle to potential customers. A few hundred of these Five-Oh-Oh vehicles are currently in Chakan and at stockyards across the country, but it seems, it may just not be enough. Nor will the 2000 units a month capacity that Mahindra has currently installed for its premium vehicle.

All things point at yet another success story from Mahindra - their top honchos are rather delighted at the prospect. But the moot point is this, after the hype has died down, after enough backs have been patted on, it's crunch time. Mahindra believes it's their best effort and have made an honest attempt at it. Is it their best? Is the attempt honest? Is it Mahindra's ticket into the premium segment or is there some way more to go.? We tested the XUV, drove it flat out, crawled through the urban mess and generally fiddled around, played with all its gizmos and even got around to ask a few for their opinion. This is, our honest attempt at giving a true picture of the XUV500. Here it goes.

>>>>> TURN OVER TO READ ABOUT THE XUV500's DESIGN>>>>>

1. It's a genuine attempt at design by Mahindra, and while some of the elements are fussy and overdone, there is no doubt that it's the reason why so many are doing a double take. The prominent grille, the swoopy headlamps and the integrated LED daytime running lights, combined with the mesh-like plastic grille point to a vehicle that has a lot of design elements. In profile, the uncanny resemblance to the Land Rover LRX nee Range Rover Evoque is quite evident, especially with the floating roof element. Incidentally, the projector headlamps are of the bending variety!

2. There are a lot of unique elements to the XUV, like the LED DRLs, the use of plastic for the front fenders instead of metal (they help save weight and reduce weight bias towards the front), the use of creases on the roof and boot for stiffening and the door handles that are rather quirky looking. The boot area does remind you of some Ssangyongs, though the link is purely coincidental since the design was frozen as far back as 2008, even before M&M had acquired the South Korean company.

3. Weighing in at around 1750 kg, the XUV500 is a good 100-200 kgs lighter than other contemporaries like the Chevrolet Captiva and Hyundai Santa Fe. As Mahindra's first monocoque construction for a Utility Vehicle, the XUV500 uses a transverse (East-West) layout for the engine rather than North-South. This frees up space for crumple zones. Incidentally, the car meets most European crash test requirements, including pedestrian safety norms.

>>>>> TURN OVER TO READ ABOUT THE XUV500's INTERIORS>>>>>

4. A big departure from their current setup, the XUV500 boasts of interiors that are unique to it. The first thing that catches you eye is the instrument binnacle with its large readouts and smart use of colours and fonts. It's easily the best bit on the dash, with a gear indicator too! Strangely, the trip meter is on the side of the instrument pods and clearly out of view, which meant referring the manual to figure out its location.

5. The centre-console is abuzz with features. You get a high-po audio system with integrated aux-in/USB playback, Bluetooth, video playing capability (yes it plays DVDs too!) and GPS (MapmyIndia - probably the best in the country). Then there's a whole gamut of other features like automatic climate control, Start-Stop, ESP, hill hold and descent control, cooled box below the front arm rest, automatic wipers and headlamps - you get the drift. The B-pillars and the area aft of the C-pillars have air-vents; the third-row has its own blower controls. All three-rows have 12V sockets too as standard. Apart from that you get ABS and six-airbags on the top-end W8 variant (two airbags on the W6).

6. These features and more let you know that Mahindra's intent has been to offer features of a premium vehicle at a rather tantalising price. What else explains the Rs 10.8 lakh, ex-showroom Delhi tag for the W6 2WD variant or Rs 11.95 lakh for the W8 2WD version and Rs 12.88 lakh for the W8 AWD version. So is there a catch, you ask? Yes and no. Enter the car and the overall build quality will leave you partially gobsmacked if you've just exited a Scorpio or a Xylo. Visibly, there's not much to complain, but some may find the fit at odds at some places, the wavy plastic trim not to their liking or even the use of purple and its various tones slightly overdone. Some of the plastics, especially below the centre arm rest are not exactly premium material. The audio unit is a full-touch variety, but its fonts are small, the screen has too many reflections and the touch interface is more like a first-gen LG touch phone rather than a modern iPhone 4. We wish the stalks fell into place better and there was a bit more attention to detail in places like the storage bin on top of the centre console. Overall, the build quality is a big improvement but leaves some space for further attention. If it weren't for the competitive price tag, these would be hard to overlook, but more on that later.

7. Considering its seven seater aspirations, the XUV is pretty comfy. The front seats are large and wide with individual lumbar support, the centre row has ample leg and knee room with decent under thigh support and while the third-row is a bit tight for adults, kids may not necessarily complain.

>>>>>TURN OVER TO READ ABOUT THE XUV500's POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE>>>>>

8. The 2.2-litre mHawk motor may be familiar, but there have been tweaks to it. From using a fifth generation variable geometry turbocharger to a new 6-speed manual, the XUV500 has benefitted from the changes to see a horsepower increase from 120 bhp to 140 bhp which arrives at 3750 rpm while the torque has marginally increased to 33.4 kgm which ranges from 1600-2800 rpm. The mHawk motor, now badged mHawk 140 is capable of handling a six-speed automatic as well, which would be a slightly tweaked version of the one found in the Scorpio and is expected .

9. Performance from the XUV500 is pretty impressive, given the stats. Our tests were on a 2WD sample that had just over 500 kilometres on the clock and the best it could muster was a time of 6.3 seconds from standstill to 60 kph and 13.7 seconds to 100 kph. We managed to see a top whack of 175 kph on our GPS enabled testing equipment, but given the right stretch of road, 180 kph isn't exactly out of bounds.

10. The gearing for the car is pretty good and while there is some lag at the very bottom end, mid-range and top whack are pretty impressive. The motor, however does feel noisy and if you switch off the audio system and listen in, it does get intrusive. We managed a 9.5 kpl overall, but like the performance figures, we expect that number to improve after the first service is done.

>>>>>TURN OVER TO READ ABOUT THE XUV500'S RIDE AND HANDLING>>>>> COMING SOON!

12. The McPherson strut suspension and multi-link at the rear have anti-roll bars at either end. The front discs are ventilated while the ones at the rear are solid discs, pretty much what most renowned crossovers/SUVs in the Rs 20-35 lakh bracket use.

13. It's by far the best handling Mahindra to date and the monocoque construction surely plays its role here. There is decent steering feedback from the hydraulic setup and the steering itself is well-designed, with a flat-tish bottom. Turn ins are pretty quick and it corners pretty flat with ample grip. A lot of that is aided by the ESP, though even when it's switched off, there isn't a great deal of degradation. There is also little by way of body roll and braking is sure-footed and sharp with some feel through the pedal.

14. Ride quality is a bit of a mix. On well-paved roads and slightly bumpy tarmac, the XUV500 has a decent degree of pliancy. But the odd pothole or bump does result in the rear end crashing with a thud. Maybe, the vehicle would behave better under load conditions, though we haven't managed to check that out just yet.

>>>>> PLEASE TURN OVER TO KNOW OUR VERDICT ON THE XUV500>>>>>

However, the XUV500 isn't perfect. There are two ways of looking at it - you could either look at the price tag, the technologies and features offered, the level of performance and consider it to be fantastic value and not bother about the rest. Or bother that Mahindra, having had the opportunity to develop such a vehicle could have asked for a little more by way of the price tag, rounded off the edges and justified its World SUV tag with a little more conviction.

Nevertheless, the XUV500 is the veritable powder keg in a room that has more than just SUVs on its mind. Whether it's a Toyota Innova or a Chevrolet Cruze or even more premium SUVs like the Toyota Fortuner, there is nothing in the Rs 10-22 lakh price bracket that won't feel the heat from this Mahindra. How this end of the market will shake up will be very interesting to watch in the coming months.