A day spent well with one of India's fine home grown SUV.
INDIAN AND PROUD
Mahindra & Mahindra needs no introduction to an Indian, but for our international readers a little introduction-Mahindra & Mahindra was set up as a steel trading company in 1945.Mainly into tractors and farming equipment. It eventually saw a business opportunity in expanding into manufacturing and selling larger MUVs, starting with the assembly under licence of the Willy's Jeep in India. Soon established as the Jeep manufacturers of India, the company later commenced manufacturing light commercial vehicles (LCVs) and trucks. Over the years Mahindra & Mahindras (M&M) has expanded their portfolio- now they have major stake and owners of Pininfarina (Italy) Ssangyoung Motors and the infamous Reva electric cars which Jezza hated well most of us did too!
Affectionately Mahindra means "Jeep” for us Indians. Well way before the original one landed here, M & M had the loyalty to build and sell these icons Jeep CJ3. The association and technological exposure with foreign manufacturer somewhat trickled the car manufacture genes inside M & M. By the dawn of 2000’s new models came in Armada, Scorpio and the most selling UV in India Bolero. The latter two changed the face of M & M, from a farm animal to a proper well almost civilized car (SUV). We embraced them with all our love and affection, and they were praised for their un-break ability. You just can’t break one, believe me I have tried and miserably failed!
All of M & M’s product line were doing fabulous, but one thing was missing, a true modern-day SUV for the road and off of it, well if the owners take them. In 2011 Mahindra XUV500 (it is pronounced as five double O) was reveled and it took the market by storm. Tata, Toyota and to some extent Ford were caught off-guard, cos all of them has a SUV. The cheetah inspired XUV500 set the sales chart on fire and it still continues to do so. No major updates have been done to the chassis, it’s an equipment and design upgrade but a worthy one.
THE PLUSH NEW XUV500
The new name tag “The Plush New XUV500” well I must say it is plush. Mahindra gave XUV500 a much-needed design update. The old one was a looker, a brute one but had some cheap looking Day time running lights. The front now is more mature, more in-order rather than spread out. The front end has been thoroughly redesigned and looks excellent with new grille which has the diamond shaped ornaments and subtle air- dams. Attention has been given to the cheetah inspiration and a testament to that would be the gloss flowing piece from headlamp to fog lamp. Mahindra affectionately calls it cheetah’s tear-duct. Well, erm.. I will leave it for everyone's judgment.
Move on the side and the familiar silhouettes treats you, nothing major here no sheet metal has been changed. To be exact the only change would be new 18-inch diamond cut wheels. Truly international eh? Has this affected ride comfort we will get there!
The rear has been massively redesigned. Tailgate was put back on the drawing board and it now looks muscular and proportionate. A trend has been put to end the Christmas tree tail lamp cluster. The New XUV500 features a much more functional and aesthetically appealing tail lamps. Mahindra sells XUV500 in South Africa, Australia and some other continents too so for that international touch this is much needed.
BLACK AND TAN
These are the first colors that treat your eyes when you open the heavy doors. First thing that you notice are the seats their texture and the intricate stitching. They just look and feel like from a segment above and they truly are. The new seats are perfect for long, lazy highway journeys and for winding hilly sections. The side bolstering and under thigh support are spot on, I am on the heavier side with a pretty big frame (6’2) and these quilted leather seats just wrap around me fine. The driver seat is electrically adjustable and the steering for reach and rake one more reason for enjoying them. Mahindra has come long way from their quirky choice of interior colors and choice of materials. New Soft-touch dashboards and door pads are welcomed, and much needed in an SUV worth 20+ lakhs. The quality can be compared to international manufactures a step below Hyundai. mind you there are hard scratchy plastics but fortunately those are hidden away in places where you won’t reach often. Fit and finish has improved but there is room for more improvement.
A major part of dashboard is the excellent In-dash media entertainment system. It is just an excellent piece of technology which incorporates Climate Control information, Tire pressure monitoring system and your normal MP3, USB and Bluetooth interface with Navigation. Laxo Orbis is the company that develops the Multimedia System and they got inspired from the technical guru of automotive world – Tesla!
There is more in the central console, controls for selecting Phone, volume control and other ancillary switchers. Climate control keeps you cool in all kind of weather and if you feel stuffy just pop open the sunroof. The opening area is generous, and it makes you feel like you are in a bigger car, want to catch some wind no worried it has anti-pinch, so you won’t get stuck. Smart Key is a standard affair just walk-up to the car, press on the black button, Open and Push to Start. In my opinion every manufacturer should provide this, it is ergonomically good. Cup holders and storage's are usable and can accommodate most of your gadgets, bottles cans and chargers.
Now moving on to the rear, leg space and head room is immense, coupled with that excellent seats which I said earlier you can easily nod off within minutes. I would have liked it more if it was a captain seat set-up, truly first class. Door pads at the rear too are soft-touch and a class above, good thinking Mahindra. The last set of seats are for kids, most of you will fold it down and use it as a big trunk. Understandable and I second that opinion.
TORQUE AND AWD
m-Hawk is Mahindra's engine series for new generation SUV and they have certainly upped the game with their face-lift looking smart and tout so does it under the bonnet. It now gives out 155bhp and 360Nm torque in Diesel guise but wait there is a Petrol variant too which has 140Bhp and 320Nm of power. These might not sound much, but we are getting there. All the power is routed through a 6-speed manual or a 6-Speed AISIN built Torque Converter with optional All Wheel Drive available for both. Not 4x4 All Wheel Drive, in sense XUV500 is mainly a front wheel drive SUV, if it senses slippage it engages the rear wheels, pretty clever system for minor off-roading but major highway mile munching.
Driving the Automatic front wheel drive (2WD) is quite easy. Once you fire up the engine the familiar diesel rumble is heard. Put it into D and you are off, it moves effortlessly, smoothly and gear shifting is seamless, no jerky shifts here. When you reach an incline there is albeit a little bit of noise from the engine especially when shifting from 2nd to 3rd other than that its butter smooth. You can manually shift via switches in the shifter, I found it little bit uncomfortable and to be honest very confusing, give me a normal up and down automatic shifter any day and I will be happy.
First thing you notice while driving is your seating position, no matter how high you put the seat, catching a glimpse of the bonnet end is a dream. But the smooth steering makes it a breeze to drive. No worries on how to judge the front end, in a matter of minutes you are in control. Steering is vague but weighs up nicely as speed builds up. It needs to be vague you can’t expect an almost 2-tonne SUV to dart like a hatchback! Up front we have familiar McPherson and, in the rear, an independent Multilink set-up. What all this means is unmatched on-road manners. Show the XUV500 a good highway and it just keeps on going flat no matter what all undulations are there. Three-digit speeds can be maintained all day long thanks to the engine and special mention for the Brakes, all Discs All around. Bumps and potholes are soaked up nicely, sometimes with a loud thud. Even if you feel you are pushing the SUV too much ESP will kick in letting you know you are not driving a car! Suspension is set up to be both firm and comfortable, it almost strikes that perfect balance, almost. Body roll is tightly controlled by the Anti Roll Bars on each end, 18 inch wheels does rob you off some handling traits and comfort, I believe 17inch variants will be much more good to drive.
Off-road, well I firmly believe no XUV500 owner is going to take it into a forest let alone to a 4x4 trail. Normal soft roading, river crossing and places where roads does not exist XUV500 handles it excellently. Once you reach too much of a crest or a dip, you will need other siblings from Mahindra to tow you out.
XUV500 is really in a class of its own at-least here in India. A worthy competitor has not arrived yet, some might say Renault/Nissan twins (read as Dacia Duster) can be compared but no. Both are monocuque SUV’s and have 2WD and AWD variants, the similarities end there. Everything else is different and is one or two notches above others. Honda CR-V we have to wait for that, it might be the only competitor XUV500 is going to have.
XUV500 has been transformed into a much more mature, poised and polished SUV. It still has the road presence, all the gadgetry and wizardry you need. Oodles of power, commendable handling characteristics and above all the Mahindra pedigree. As of now XUV500 and Mahindra has made their mark. The face-lift emphases Mahindra’s aspiration towards future. Fit and finish, shut lines are the places where Mahindra needs to improve, but looking back on their timeline of car manufacturing the quality level which they are on right now deserves an applaud and a standing ovation.
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