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Mahindra & Mahindra’s XUV 500

The unveiling of the XUV500 (pronounced 5-oh-oh or 5-double-oh) in India and South Africa simultaneously (the full global launch is still some time away) dispelled all notions of design not being a forte of desi car companies

Murali Iyer / 10:59, 24-Nov-11

Oh-Oh-Wow!

When Mahindra announced it would launch an all-new SUV to take on global rivals, quite a few snickered. Codenamed W201, it has been a bottoms-up approach to car designing for Mahindra, and one was not too sure how it was going to pan out.


The unveiling of the XUV500 (pronounced 5-oh-oh or 5-double-oh) in India and South Africa simultaneously (the full global launch is still some time away) dispelled all notions of design not being a forte of desi car companies. With its sharp design elements, the pronounced stance (inspired by the cheetah), packed-to-the-gills features, and value-for-money price, it brought out a collective gasp from automotive watchers.


Not surprisingly, there was a virtual stampede for bookings and soon we saw full-page adverts from Mahindra stopping bookings until further notice. The appetite to get behind the wheel of the XUV was further whetted. But getting it all to myself to do a simple drive was a huge ask with the waiting list stretching a mile (the website took some very serious hits for those wanting to test out the car). While I was looking to “test” the car extensively, the wait was a test of my patience. My tenacity of following up with a few kind friends in Mahindra paid off, with the D-day arriving for a 3-day sojourn with the XUV500 badged W8 over a weekend. And boy, did it create a stir in the office!


XUV500 – specifications

Engine
mHawk 140, Direct injection diesel engine, 5th generation Variable Geometry Turbocharger
Cubic Capacity
2179 cc
Max Gross Power
140 Bhp (103kW) @ 3750 rpm
Max Gross Torque
330 Nm @1600-2800 rpm
Gear Box
6 speed synchromesh manual
Ground Clearance
200 mm
Tyres
P235/65 R17, Radial Tubeless
Suspension
Independent Suspension
Front
McPherson type with anti-roll bar
Rear
Multilink type with anti-roll bar
Brakes
All Disc brakes
Front
Disc & Caliper type
Rear
Disc & Caliper type
Fuel Tank Capacity
70 litres
Turning Circle Radius
5.6 m
Gross Vehicle Weight
2450 kg
Vehicle Dimensions

Wheelbase, mm
2700
Overall width, mm
1890
Overall length, mm
4585
Overall height, mm
1785

Source: Mahindra


The XUV500 is a “Neil Armstrong-ish giant leap” for Mahindra in terms of both engineering and design, maybe even for the Indian automotive industry. Designed completely in-house, the XUV500 comes in three variants – the W6 2-wheel-drive, the W8 2WD (this is what I got to drive – in Tuscan Red; caveat: the red that you see in the brochures isn’t what you get in hand – give me a Ferrari Red anytime!) and the top-end W8 AWD or 4WD. Besides the drive train, the difference is zilch in the top-end W8 variants, while the W6 loses out on minor creature comforts and some of the safety bits. Otherwise, all three variants are feature-rich and for a vehicle of this segment (desi at that) they are class-leading. And the killer is the price point. So, is it the archetypical Mahindra machine or is there more to it than just looks and the price point?


Swanky design


Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder! In this case, one would have to be extremely cynical or critical to feel that this is anything but a beautiful creation of art by the in-house design team at Mahindra. If not anything else, they deserve all kudos for what may be India’s very-own first iconic design in automobiles with a long shelf life and many more avatars. Mahindra should be justifiably proud of what it has created. And it does seem that it has yet another winner on its hands.

The words ‘handsome’ and ‘macho’ do justice to the XUV500 – Mahindra has put a premium on styling, although the designers have gone a little overboard at a few places. The style statement is quite emphatic with design cues inspired by the cheetah – the impressive front grille (with the standard Mahindra seven slats), the faux air vents (too much I feel) with the fog lamps below, the strong stance (muscular, lithe and well planted), the pronounced nose leading to a raked windscreen, the front indicators blending into the front wheel arch, paw-like door handles (cheetah inspired – a very neat touch), the rising waistline with a muscle twitch at the hip (C-pillar), those projector headlamps with daytime running LED lights (standard equipment), tattooed tail lights, et al. And when you look under the twin exhausts, you see a clean sanitised line all the way to the hood – no wires hanging or things sticking out to cut the airflow.




The massive wheel arches seem a little out of place (another place where the designers have gone overboard), and give a slight spindly feel to the impressive R235/65-R17 Bridgestone rubber adorning the XUV. The kinky muscle twitch or bulge along the waistline – at the C-pillar – further accentuates this feeling. But the stylish 5-spoke 7J 17” alloys feel the part, and give the XUV a sorted feel on the handling front. The boot reminds me of the Xylo – but the Xylo this is not; if the Xylo was slightly “unconventional” in looks and stance, the XUV is anything but that. The boot sports a moustache above a Brer Rabbit-like bucktooth for a number plate (the crease on the rear bumper completes the big grin) – the moustache and the adorning upturned kink on the rear fender (to ease loading) gives me a “little Salvador Dali meets bigger Adolf Hitler” kind of feel!


The tail lights look neat, extending into the muscular shoulder and cheetah-like claws. But there is a little too-much of fussing on them – a tattoo artist has gone to work with gusto on them with the cheetah theme. It is the headlight section, though, that draws your attention the most. The day-time running LED lights look trendy and lend glamour, while the projector lamps light up dark spots while cornering, aiding you in night-time visibility. These are features found in high-end cars. The lamps sense night time and light up, while the wipers sense moisture and get to work.  The blacked-out B-, C- and D-pillars are very modern, and there is enough glass all around to give it a greenhouse touch.



The front three-quarter view is impressive; but it’s the front-on view that makes you draw in your breath sharply. The subtle roof rails play their own part in the overall aesthetics. I saw quite a few Beemers, Mercs, Audis et al slow down to admire the car, while quite a few knocked on the window asking me about the features and performance. It felt good to be behind the XUV’s wheel. It spells road presence, while the looks guarantee it a place in global parking lots. The whole profile spells class – the roof is very Evoque-ish, while the rising waistline is more coupe-ish. Now, if only Mahindra had gone ahead and indulged us with a full sun roof!


Comfortable interiors


You get a very clunky key to get into the XUV – it doesn’t feel sleek, while the buttons needed a lot of working out to ensure that I gave up on trying to remotely lock or open the doors, or open the boot. A second car that I drove had better dynamics as far as the buttons went, but the clunky feel wouldn’t go away. Neither did the fit and finish of the key. It should have been sleeker for a world SUV.


Open the boot upward and the paucity of space for luggage stares at you point blank. There is hardly place to keep a couple of small gym bags. But the 50:50 split third row seats fold down easily to open up a fairly large boot for a family outing. And if you are looking for more space, the 60:40 split second row is there to help – this also folds down as easily to open up quite a cavernous inside. Mahindra should have thought of adding a little more space at the back for those overnighters. The tool kit is neatly packed along the floor, while the spare wheel sits under the floor hidden from prying eyes.



Getting in and out of the XUV is easy as the doors open wide. Despite the impressive ground clearance, it isn’t that difficult to lug yourself on the well-sculpted seats. Headroom and legroom at the first two rows is pleasant and offers a lot of space for even bulky 6-footers. The front row is on rails. The space on offer in the second row is a lot, even with the front row pushed back at max. Thigh support on the second row could have been better, but it is more of an afterthought. The centre arm rest in the second row feels flimsy. The third row is very cramped and is strictly for kids or people of extremely slim build; there is hardly any legroom to manoeuvre oneself. Maybe putting the second row on rails may resolve issues with the third row seating to a certain extent. A few brave hearts that ventured into the third row didn’t feel that woozy, but then neither did they travel for a long distance in that cramped row. That said, three kids had a virtual ball on the third row, and one even slept there with ease during a decently long journey!



The twin-tone leather-clad seats (fabric in W6) come with generous bolstering, but cushioning is on the firm side. A little more plushness would definitely help. The colour code is very subjective though. The driver’s seat features manual height adjustments (works better when no one is seated), while both the front row seats offer adjustable lumbar support and are pretty supportive. The ORVMs open and shut gracefully, and give the driver a very good view of “objects in the mirror may be closer than they seem”. The steering column adjusts for rake and reach (in W8 trim) but is still a tad too high, even at the lowest setting. Moreover, I found it difficult to adjust the tilt or manoeuvre the telescopic design, or to get to the lock lever. The large windows move up and down with ease, while the driver’s side window is express.


High-end features


The six-inch infotainment system (monochrome for W6, colour for W8) welcomes you with “Mahindra Rise”, and rise it is for Mahindra. The gear lever is easy to reach and feels good in hand, while the centre pad of the steering wheel feels nice and easy to use. The GPS is superb (voice is crisp and clear), the quality of speakers even more so (surround sound), while the ease of use in connecting multiple cellphones and making/taking calls is easy. Volume controls on the steering and also cruise control is easy to access and use, and so is voice activation. The aircon dials are neat, the touchscreen works very well (don’t expect an Apple though!), while there is provision for reverse cam viewing on the touchscreen. The intellipark tells you distance in “centimeters” to disaster at the rear (would prefer it for the front too), while tyretronics alerts you on tyre pressure (including the spare) along with other important data on the car – features found in high-end cars. It also tells you when the next service is due for the car!



Once you are behind the leather-clad steering wheel, you notice luxurious bits from high-end cars on offer. The steering could have been chunkier given the overall size, but maybe I am nitpicking. The centre console flows nicely in a waterfall design. There are reading lamps with a soft glow for all three rows, while there is mood lighting too available in an easy-to-the-eyes red. In fact, red is the underlying lighting theme for the XUV – when you open the doors, ignition point, just above the rear view mirror, and at the feet of the driver and co-passenger. A neat touch that, especially at night. Bring down the passenger-side visor, and slide the panel to see the vanity mirror, and the missus can touch-up the mascara even at night. Right above the rear view mirror are two flaps. One is a holder for your glasses. The other has a built-in fish-eye mirror giving the driver unimpeded rear vision from pillar to pillar!



Straight away, I notice the three different kinds of trim used – faux wood for the centre console, and twin-tone plastics for the rest of the dash. The manner of the door pads melding with the dashboard provides a fine continuous sweep of line to the interior, which is pleasing to behold. Feel and texture of the plastics (and the colour combination too) isn’t up to scratch and doesn’t befit a ‘world SUV’. It feels tacky and needs improvement pronto. The same can be said of the fabric used for the roof, and also for the plastic panels behind the front seats. Neither is fit-and-finish up to the mark as one can see gaps where none should exist, especially around the glove box – the shut lines are all over the place. The door handles felt flimsy and one felt a little apprehensive while opening doors, lest it should break, while the handbrake felt cheap and stiff to handle – it has been angled in a way that it doesn’t interfere with the steering movement (nice touch that). Above the infotainment system is one of the many storage spaces. It just wouldn’t pop open at the touch of the button, while the velvet lining inside didn’t feel fitted right, and will also gather dust in our environment.


The twin-pod instrument cluster with chrome-ringed dials lights up like a Christmas tree when the ignition is switched on, while the needles go all the way and back like a sports car. The third row gets a separate control knob for the aircon – quality of plastics on front row vents is tacky, while aircon/audio dials have a high-quality feel. However, the same can’t be said about other buttons. They feel like Scrabble tiles, small and flimsy. It feels as if the writing may vanish with excessive use. The chrome strips adorning the waterfall console and the polished top cover of the dashboard make for a constant reflection on the windshield, which can get a bit disconcerting for the driver and an irritation.



Further, while the LEDs for the aircon and a couple other features are pretty easy to see in daylight, one is forced to strain the eye to see the LEDs for features like ESP, stop-start or hill descent even at night. The passenger side seatbelt button is just that – a button. It doesn’t work at all. Additionally, some of the lights on the centre console (hill descent or hill-hold) came alive or went dead without me having to make any effort. The seek time on the infotainment system is also more at certain points. It is indeed a bold move by Mahindra in terms of design and creature comforts. While they have taken a huge step away from the design cues and comfort levels in the Scorpio and the Xylo, the benchmarks should have been global competition, especially in terms of trim levels and fit-and-finish.


There are plenty of storage spaces strewn around the cabin and a lot of thought seems to have gone into creating them. The double-decker glove box can hold a small laptop with ease, while all the three rows have points to charge your mobile or laptop. The centre console also has points for the iPod or any USB/Aux. There is a smaller storage area between the front row, which is velvet lined too – once again the point about the dust in our environment comes up. And under it there is a chiller – but one gets confused between the lever for the storage area and the chiller, not something one would appreciate when trying to open the compartments and driving while keeping eyes on the road ahead. It works very well, with control given at the base – for those chocolates, medicines, water, or cans of aerated water or beer, maybe.


Caution: Don’t drink and drive!




Engineering overdrive

This is and feels like one hell of a tough vehicle. The doors feel heavy and shut with a near-Teutonic thunk. Mahindra has moved well away from its WW II vintage ‘Jeep’ leanings with this monocoque design for the XUV as opposed to the traditional body-on-chassis that has done duty till now. Apart from better stability and safety due to its inherent nature, the design nicely blends in stiffness of ride with weight (1865kg – on par with the smaller Scorpio) within a very generous wheelbase (2700mm); overall length is 4585mm, while ground clearance is impressive at 200mm.


The weight has also been kept in check with the inclusion of plastics in the fuel tank and fenders, and the use of high-tensile steel for 30%+ of the body structure. This is another aspect in which Mahindra has taken cues from high-end cars from the stables of global car manufacturers. The metal-plastic-glass medley on the exterior makes for delightful aesthetics. Plus, the lower centre of gravity ensures that the cornering is surer and the dynamics is closer to that of a car than a SUV. All this engineering has been packaged in such a way that they have achieved a flat floor.



The engine is the same 2.2-litre 4-cylinder oil burner mHawk CRDi with a variable geometry turbocharger that does duty under the best-selling Scorpio’s hood. It now makes more power and torque – 140bhp (120bhp for Scorpio) at 3750rpm and 33.65kgm (29.3kgm for Scorpio) available between 1600-2800rpm respectively, due to the new S-vane BorgWarner VGT and a high-pressure fuel system. Additionally, the mHawk is placed transversely (east-west as opposed to their traditional north-south), to help in driving the front wheels via a transaxle. This is another first for Mahindra, as till now they have been doing only rear-wheel drives. The transversely mounted mHawk and tight packaging also open up a lot of space to create crumple zones and provisions to meet stricter safety norms globally. The under-bonnet aesthetics are superb – clearly Mahindra has left no stone unturned to the visual appeal of the XUV, even if it is away from normal view.



The 6-speed manual gearbox (the automatic is at least 12 months away, if not more, say sources) is mated to a dual-mass flywheel that lessens transmission rattle at low speeds. The 6-speed `box enables two overdrives, helping to optimise engine torque and speed. The result is better acceleration and fuel economy. The XUV has anti-roll bars at both ends, and is equipped with McPherson struts at the front and a multilink suspension at the rear, much like luxury cars. The top-end W8 comes with an all-wheel-drive option; full-time AWD detects wheel spin and directs torque to the wheels that have grip; so it feels quite secure around corners as well. The XUV still isn’t hardcore 4x4, and is more of a soft-roader or for limited off-road use.

Though I drove the 2WD version, Mahindra says the AWD transitions seamlessly from 2WD to AWD as and when required, without any driver intervention, giving one a level of high-end handling. While I would want to test that statement out, given the overall experience with the XUV, I would tend to believe it to a larger degree. The XUV comes with a lot of standard safety features like front airbags, ABS with EBD. The W8 features 4 curtain airbags additionally, plus ESP, rollover mitigation, hill-descent control (works very well – tested it down Teen Batti to Marine Drive) and hill-hold.

Cruise at ease

Switch on the ignition and the mHawk comes to life with a low growl. This is a very refined oil burner, and NVH levels are muted inside the cabin. Cruising at 100+kmph is a breeze, and the engine is refined apart from a hint of turbo-whistle. The short first and second gears make it quick off the line, while the 2 overdrives – at fifth and sixth – allow you to cruise lazily. The transmission box feels notchy, especially when moving into second gear, and gears are difficult to engage without an extra push (I encountered it many times when moving from fourth to fifth). The clutch feels heavy, while release action was jerky and takes a little getting used to, which makes driving smoothly in the city hard work. The throw of the gearstick itself is short, which is very good when negotiating city traffic.

The gear ratios are plotted well and employ speeds over the engine’s functional rev range to great effect. The gearbox allows the torque to be let out even at low revs, including idling in second gear. But then one doesn’t need to really idle the vehicle when stuck in traffic jams or waiting at signals. Mahindra has deployed the in-house developed micro hybrid technology in the XUV. This gets activated or deactivated at the touch of a button on the centre console. When activated, if the vehicle comes to a halt and the gear is in neutral, with your foot off the clutch, the engine shuts down. Restart is simply done by stepping on the clutch. Impressive, indeed! This saves fuel, although city-slickers may have an issue with the aircon getting switched off.

Amid all this, I got a shock when the steering started to shudder violently when the XUV went beyond 80kmph in fourth gear. And this shuddering continued all the way to 120kmph. But once I had shifted to overdrive, it was calm once more. I tried using the 80-120kmph band time and again, and encountered this every time. That didn’t allow me to have the confidence to go higher than 160kmph as my top speed, even on stretches where one could have let rip – after all the speedo is calibrated for 220kmph. That said I feel a top speed of 180-185kmph is possible. Coming back to the unnatural shuddering, to be fair to Mahindra, a second W8 that I drove didn’t have this ‘shudder’. This is an issue that Mahindra will have to look into as buyers will not have the patience to see these issues sorted out after buying the XUV.

There is a hint of lag below 1500rpm, the turbo kicks soon after and the engine pulls cleanly to its 5000rpm redline. That said, I went over flyovers at 1000rpm in fourth gear at a speed of 40kmph, and the mHawk didn’t feel troubled at all – no knocking, no protest, although the turbo lag could be felt. But accelerating from very low speeds in second gear creates vibration, and flows into the cabin to some discomfort. The meat of the power though is in the 2500rpm to 4000rpm range – effortless performance comes through when the engine is kept within these points.

Low-speed ride is pretty good, but largely, the poise is darn good. The suspension does however give a lot of feedback (especially to people in the second row) on broken roads, like the ones that I encountered around the JNPT-Uran-Panvel belt or a few other places along the BPT Road that I ventured on. Handling is a marked improvement over the existing UV range from the Mahindra stables, but is still a long way to go or call it a work-in-progress. No doubt, driveability is impressive, and overtaking slower-moving vehicles is pretty effortless. Once you get used to the sheer bulk and size, the XUV behaves more like a sedan – whether in bumper-to-bumper traffic in the city, or on the highway, where it tackles corners quite comfortably. But the steering kickback is felt when accelerating across loose surfaces. The XUV doesn’t display any of the Scorpio’s wayward high-speed manners – no body roll, feels stable in a straight line, and the lower centre of gravity and longer wheelbase makes you feel more secure.



The XUV may not be Usain Bolt’s brethren, but it is no slouch either. 0-60kph was taken up in 6secs with squealing tyres, while 0-100kph from standstill is lapped in a peppy 13secs. In the initial phase of my drive, the brakes felt a bit leaden, but later on I was willing to let them keep me safe at high speeds too.

Economy all the way

A relatively lighter weight also helps the XUV’s sprightly performance and fuel economy as well. The ARAI efficiency figure for the XUV is a class-leading 15.1kmpl. I managed to coax it to give me 12.1kmpl in a combination of highway and city driving over a distance of 400+km. This is blue riband in times of vulgar price rises (so what if this is a diesel), and for a vehicle of this size, it is absolutely top class. The start-stop micro hybrid technology helps in heightening the fuel efficiency (albeit with little sweat beads over your brow), and also helps lower CO2 emissions.

To give a distinctive touch to the lifestyle SUV from it stables, Mahindra has also launched the “Purple Club” for XUV500 users. Under its aegis, owners will get their very own Relationship Managers on hand to address all sorts of queries pertaining to the vehicle and its service. Mahindra intends to use the Purple Club to offer various other facilities like 24-hour road assistance, pick-ups and drops, invites to auto related events, et al.



The best bit is that Mahindra has given the XUV a shatteringly competitive price. The base 2WD W6 starts at Rs10.73 lakh (US$21,072) going onto Rs11.88 lakh (US$22,881) for the 2WD W8, and Rs12.81 lakh (US$25,157) for the top-end 4WD W8. However, these surely are introductory prices and may go up in two or three months. 

All prices are ex-showroom, Mumbai.

A winner…

Customers have lapped up the XUV500 like no other SUV before it in India. Is it worth the hype? The answer is an overwhelming “YES”. Value-for-money screams the XUV500. Benchmark the XUV against earlier Mahindra products like Armada, Voyager, Bolero, Scorpio and Xylo, and you realise the giant leap taken by the tractor-to-UV giant. Even when benchmarked to global manufacturers, the XUV comes out smelling sweet. The XUV500 has many SUVs and sedans (from the top-end Verna, and City, to the Cruze, Jetta, and Laura, all the way to the Fortuner, Captiva, and Endeavour) firmly in its crosshairs as Mahindra goes for the jugular.

It’s an unabashed, no-holds-barred dandy in terms of looks and comes loaded abundantly with class-leading features. Add to it performance, the feeling of power and fuel efficiency to this recipe. And top it with something called “value-for-money”. The XUV500 is not perfect though and nor is it quite world-class. Car dynamics will have to be taken care of while fit-and-finish is quite patchy. Hopefully, these issues will be sorted out by the time Mahindra starts to take fresh bookings from next month (that’s what I hear) onwards.

Even if I leave the jingoistic feelings aside (never felt this way with the Aria even after having driven it; come to think of it – and I never thought I would say it ever – fit-and-finish and quality of interior plastics is better on the Aria), I have to say that the XUV500 has what it takes to take on the world. Mahindra now has to ensure that niggles are ironed out and a truly global produce comes out of Chakan. The special feeling is also evoked because unlike many inferior products being sold in India by global giants just on the power of the badge that adorns the grille, the XUV500 at least offers a lot of value. And the pricing takes the cake.

Colours offered by Mahindra for such a stunning car don’t match up. This is a kind of car that can carry off flamboyance in colours a lot more than a lot of its peers. So come on Mahindra, don’t fight shy and bring on the bright shades. Despite the small niggles, you are bang-on on all fronts – design, engineering, performance, packaging and pricing. You deserve all the accolades and applause coming your way. Take a bow.

Note: All images courtesy Mahindra and Mahindra