- Mean Machines
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
|| 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 |
|| P235/65 R17, Radial Tubeless |
|| Independent Suspension |
|| McPherson type with anti-roll bar |
|| Multilink type with anti-roll bar |
|| All Disc brakes |
|| Disc & Caliper type |
|| 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 |
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?
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!
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.
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!
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 fro