The new Mahindra XUV 500 has been launched to rapturous applause. We get behind the wheel of M&M’s winner. The variant we’ve driven is the front-wheel drive W8, which is fully-loaded with all the features you could wish for.
Design & Engineering
Fussy detailing of front end evident from this picture.
The XUV has been under development for some time now. It was back in 2008 that clues began to emerge from M&M’s secretive product development team about the ‘new Scorpio’. Of course, that was a red herring, for the Scorpio still continues to be a strong seller, and there aren’t any plans to axe it.
What’s significant about the Mahindra XUV 500 is that it breaks the mould from what we’ve been used to from M&M. This is an SUV, yes, but not in the traditional body-on-frame sense that Mahindra is famous for. Instead, it’s a monocoque, which is to say that the body shell forms the chassis in itself. Monocoques are lighter than body-on-frame construction, but they’re more time consuming to design and expensive to produce. Monocoques also cannot withstand the same degree of punishment that a conventional ladder-frame chassis can. The main advantage to monocoque construction is that it saves weight, and also gives the vehicle better driving dynamics and handling.
The XUV 500 departs from conventional thinking in another major parameter: it is front wheel drive. (A four-wheel drive variant is also available, which we haven’t tested yet).
With so many technical upgrades, Mahindra has made one big jump into the future. More significantly, the lessons learned from this project will hold M&M in good stead as it further evolves its product range, to include perhaps compact cars in the future.
The styling of the Mahindra XUV 5OO has been inspired by the Cheetah, if you’re going to believe the marketing spiel. Cheetah or no cheetah, the design too is a big improvement over what we’ve seen emerge from Mahindra before. The front bumper and grille have a lot going on, with a surfeit of strakes, honeycomb mesh and gills, but as the design flows aft it all comes together a lot more cohesively. The broadly-chamfered wheel arches give the XUV real road presence, while the arch below C-pillar, concentric with the rear wheel arch is a neat touch.
Mahindra XUV 5OO has real road presence! Spare wheel tucked below rear bumper.
The tail gate is hinged at the top and opens upwards, not sideways, unlike all other Mahindra UVs. The rear bumper has some additional ribbing, which isn’t entirely necessary, but the restraint in penning-in too many complex surfaces has yet to be learned by Mahindra’s designers.
All said, there’s no getting away from the fact that the Mahindra XUV 500 is a very distinctive looking vehicle, and one which is immediately recognisable from almost any angle.
Interiors & Comfort
Clockwise, from right: Middle row has good seating position and adequate leg room. Third row is cramped, with low hip point. Dashboard and centre console of XUV truly one of the best, save for shiny plastic on top of dashboard.
Mahindra’s design team spent as much time on the inside as they did on the outside, and if anything, the cabin comes together much more beautifully. In fact, the XUV’s interiors are a quantum leap ahead in terms of design, and best any other indigenously developed vehicle to date. The centre console is very up to date, with a 6-inch touchscreen taking pride of place. This touchscreen controls the navigation and stereo functions, and can also play DVDs. In the lower-spec W6 variant, the touchscreen is replaced by a similar-sized multi-info display. Climate control is standard on all variants, however, and the chrome-ringed dials look especially nice. The control stalks are well-made and operate with positive clicks. Both the W6 and W8 versions get audio controls on the steering wheel.
The Mahindra XUV 500 also gets a refrigerated box between the front two seats, which is large enough to hold a couple of cans of your favourite cola.
The quality of the plastics and general fit and finish is also substantially improved, and much better than most other UVs at this price. We have our doubts about the glossy faux wood trim, but Indian buyers seem to lap it up. The stowage box atop the dashboard creates an irritating reflection in the windshield, and Mahindra would do well to consider giving it a matte finish instead.
Clockwise, from top right: Cooled box is useful. Rear window is small, and rearward visibility could be better. Luggage space is commodious with seats folded; with third row in place you're restricted to a tiffin box! Twin glove compartments are quite shallow.
The sumptuous front seats in the XUV are exceedingly comfortable, and have adjustable lumbar support too. The steering wheel adjusts for rake and reach (rake only in the W6 variant), while the driver’s seat is height adjustable too, making it very easy to find a comfortable driving position. The second row also boasts of good padding and an upright seating posture with sufficient leg room. Rear seat space isn’t as much as in the Tata Safari for example, but it is much better than compared to Mahindra’s very own Scorpio.
The third row is best used only for short hauls, and that too for kids. With the third row in place, luggage space is at a premium. For large families who expect to travel in their XUV 500, it would be well worth the expense to invest in a roof-top box.
Performance & Handling
The Mahindra XUV 500 boasts of a surprisingly car-like driving position, and that’s a positive. Of course, you do sit much higher than you would in a conventional sedan, but what I really liked about the XUV was how you feel like you’re sitting “in” it and not “on” it. Making full use of the fully-adjustable seat and steering column, it was very easy to get comfy behind the wheel.
Mahindra has also spent a lot of time on the refinement and NVH of the XUV 500, and it shows in many areas. Torque rock at start up is greatly reduced compared to the Scorpio, and the irritating buzzy feeling from the gear lever has been taken care of as well. Of course, the transversely-mounted engine and front-wheel drive layout is partly responsible for reducing the torque-rock at start-up. The ergonomics of the cabin have also seen a huge improvement, with all the key controls and switches falling easily and intuitively to hand.
Slot the car into gear, and the light clutch makes it easy to get a move on. Visibility out of the XUV 500 is good, but we’d advise caution in crowded areas. You can’t place the corners of the car as easily as you can in other UVs of yore.
The 2179 cc engine is exactly the same as the once found in the Scorpio. This engine puts out 140 PS and 330 Nm of torque, sufficient, but not a lot. Mahindra won’t quote any kerb weight figures for the XUV 5OO, but by our calculations, we estimate it to be about a 150 kgs lighter than the Scorpio, with a kerb weight in the region of 1,950 – 2,000 kgs.
Performance is adequate, but don’t expect a rush of power, if that’s your thing. The 6-speed gearbox copes well with the available spread of torque, and the XUV 500 gathers momentum and motors competently. The gearing is on the taller side, and you’ll rarely if ever use sixth, except if you get to an expressway with a uni-directional flow of traffic. It detests being rushed through the gears however, and the ’box will baulk if you try any snappy shifts. The ESP system also seems to play a part here, with a degree of juddering if you try to rush the gearshifts. We need to try the W6 without the ESP to confirm this though. The W8 version we drove had Hill Descent control as well, but again, we didn’t get an opportunity to use it.
Mahindra has bestowed the XUV 500 with all-wheel disc brakes, which ensure good stopping power. Braking from speed is much more composed than most other SUVs we’ve driven, yet the brakes themselves don’t offer much in the way of feel. ABS is standard on both the W6 and W8 variants.
The XUV 500’s ride is composed, and the McPherson strut front suspension and car-like multi-link rear arrangement ensure the XUV does not ‘boat’ as speed, which is disconcerting in many SUVs. The ride is on the stiffer ride though, and you do feel some jarring over sharp-edged bumps and potholes. Body roll is well controlled too and the best about the XUV 500 is that it does not feel top heavy. The ESP system has roll-over protection built in too.
Fuel efficiency is a concern for all car buyers in India today, especially with the budget looming large. M&M’s Pawan Goenka has already expressed his concern about how the proposed ‘diesel tax’ would impact the company’s business. But the XUV does not give him any undue cause for worry, managing a competent if not exceptional 9.5 kpl in the city. We haven’t driven it on the highway, but with the tall gearing we expect it to manage 13-14 kpl comfortably.
M&M has done well to offer the XUV 500 with ABS and two airbags, even on the base W6 variant. The W8 gets an additional four air bags in the form of side and curtain bags. The ESP system with roll-over protection is a safety net too. Factor in the all-wheel disc brakes, and you have to admit that Mahindra has done a commendable job of keeping the XUV 500 up to date in this department. Full marks to the XUV here.
A verdict now almost seems inconsequential. Indian car buyers have voted for the Mahindra XUV 500 with their chequebooks, the greatest testament there is or can be. Waiting periods stretch into months, and the company has been forced to resort to a lottery system to make allotments.
To judge the XUV is not easy. Yes, it has its minor flaws, but there’s nothing in its overall make-up to cause alarm. Yes, I find some elements of the design superfluous, and I really do wish it had a little more power. Some shiny plastics on the insides should be changed as well. There have been the odd comments about some customers facing niggling quality issues, but when the company has been forced to practically double capacity overnight, this may happen.
Best of all, the XUV 500 shows just how far Indian car design and manufacture has evolved in one generation. At Rs 13.7 lakh on-the-road, the Mahindra XUV 500 W8 is a truly compelling proposition. You really couldn’t ask for more.