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Mahindra XUV 500 review
Driven December 2011
You never know what ticks us Indians off. We seem extremely tolerant of corruption, crime and pathetic living conditions, but we’re all ready to riot if a pigeon craps on a statue of some ‘holy’ figure. We’re still not sure what to do with Ajmal Kasab and Pakistan. But when a Pakistani dignitary came visiting Mumbai the other day, all hell broke loose when it was found that his car did not have an Indian flag.
People even suggested a heightened vigil on the Line of Control. Our cricket team went to England and performed like a Best of Primary School XI. Which everybody seems pretty fine with. But when Shoaib Akthar cheekily says he believed Sachin Tendulkar was scared of his bowling, we want to ban his book, and demand that he apologise and do sit-ups.
Which brings me to the XUV 500, Mahindra’s ‘global’ SUV. It’s been in the pipeline for a long while now. And I’m sure a lot of people have worked hard on it. It’s got world-stage aspirations, packs a lot of firsts for the company, including a newly-developed, first-for-Mahindra monocoque platform that can potentially be used to churn out other cars.
As you can see, a situation ripe for people to get touchy about. But since I have a living to earn, I will say what I think. The XUV 500 is like no Mahindra before it. The goal posts have moved, there are big improvements over previous Mahindras, and it’s got the dock to harbour international aspirations. If I were Mahindra, though, I’d still iron out some chinks in the car’s dynamics before going global.
Because the XUV seems to have got everything else right, except for some bits. Like the front, with that confluence of mesh grilles, which is a bit too much. And the taillights, which have some Chinese tattoo-like inscriptions, again over-the-top. Still, this car turns heads. And in this colour, the mesh grilles don’t stand out glaringly, so the camera phones come out quick.
Then there are the features. Six airbags, touch-screen media console that syncs beautifully with the music on your Bluetooth phone, tyre pressure monitoring, ABS, ESP, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, reverse assist, music when you start the car, a butler… oh sorry. No butler. But you see, it’s exhaustive.
Oh, and I forgot to mention electric folding mirrors and hill assist. So it’s packed. And the car doesn’t shudder in fright when you bring the 2.2-litre 140bhp to life. The gear stick doesn’t vibrate, the steering doesn’t transfer tingling sensations to your palm at idle, and the noise doesn’t make birds flutter away from trees.
Plus the engine’s got serious grunt. It doesn’t sound great but its pulling power from high gears is incredible. Fourth gear, under 1000rpm and you still don’t need to shift down. Besides, it takes the machine to 100 in 12.3 seconds. Not bad at all for an SUV powered by a very humble engine.
Which is where the dynamics come in. The XUV is packed for sure, and the dynamics are a big improvement over previous Mahindras, but we still won’t call this a sorted car. Sure, its wheels don’t point heavenward every time you take a corner hard, which is great. And while there is some body roll, it’s nothing alarming.
The brakes are though. Despite discs on all four wheels, ABS and ESP, the brakes feel spongy, offering insufficient feel, and just when you’re convinced there’s no way the car will stop on time, the wheels lock up. Under hard braking, the car actually changes lanes, unless you’re thoroughly in control of the steering wheel. So yes, the brakes need a lot of work.
As does the gearbox. It’s not difficult to shift, but sometimes, from first, the stick shifts back to neutral. Just like that. It’s a good thing this doesn’t happen at higher gears and higher speeds. Also, when you’re in the middle of a slow manoeuvre, and you push the clutch pedal into the floor and turn the steering around… say at a fuel pump, you’ll notice a creepy sensation on your left toe. It’s the steering rod rubbing under your toe as your turn the wheel.
Then there’s the ride. It’s set up to be soft and cushions out most irregularities on the road. But that has also made the ride a bit too bouncy and wallowy. This setup is perfect to soak up those expansion joints on flyovers and elevated roads, but in every other situation, you just end up bobbing and bouncing about. Sure, you’ll be cushioned when you’re bobbing about, but this isn’t the best setup for any car.
And around corners, you quickly realise this isn’t four-wheel drive. The front wheels hate the exercise and are nearly forcing the steering to straighten out to end their misery. I was under the impression this was the all-wheel drive version. But this was the fully-loaded front-wheel drive W8 variant.
We don’t know about off-roading, but the front wheel drive set-up isn’t great around corners. The hill descent system works brilliantly off the road, though. And with four-wheel drive, we think the XUV can amount to a capable off-roader. At high speeds, we did an indicated 190, and while the XUV isn’t entirely comfortable with that speed, the needle does stay at 150+ without the car threatening to blow up.
So you see, the XUV is a mixed bag. Handling is okay, ride not so much. Acceleration is good, braking isn’t. The dials seem to be good quality, but the stalks aren’t. The middle row is spacious, it has a flat floor, and the third row is decent for two adults.
But while the XUV is a mixed bag from Mahindra, its Rs 13-15 lakh price range shows up the daftness of Rs 18 lakh+ SUVs like the Endeavour, X-Trail and Captiva whose manufacturers insist on importing / assembling SUVs rather than making them here and bringing costs down. While not ideal, the XUV is the only SUV in its category at this price point.
Would I buy it? I like the price – which is introductory, I like the features, I like the equipment. But it just doesn’t have the dynamic coherence a car like this should have. If you ask me, I would’ve gone easy on the features, equipment and styling and concentrated on making this a dynamically better package.
Sure, things have improved with this Mahindra. But things have also improved with the rest of the world. If this story has touched any nerves, well, it’s all in the line of duty.