Design & Engineering
The XUV500 is a well proportioned vehicle which looks athletic and sharp from plenty of angles and in plenty of places. Mahindra & Mahindra insists that the new SUV’s design has taken inspiration from cheetah, known to be the fastest animal on land. The jaw-like front grille, the paw-styled handles, the pouncing cheetah body line and the haunches inspired by those of a cheetah are some of the most prominent cues taken from the body of the magnificent beast. The XUV500’s taut, angular lines, small overhangs, a swooping roofline, flared wheel arches and well judged proportions really make it an interesting work in automotive design. It has the zing to turn heads, especially when looked upon head on. There are, however elements which still make evident Mahindra’s newness to the world of evolved automotive design. The XUV500, although a good effort overall lacks the panache and refinement that you’d expect from a product rolling out of a seasoned European design house. The design bit is overdone in places, more evidently so around the front grille, below the headlamps and at the rear.
Starting from the front end, the height of the bonnet’s surface, the width, the track, the stance, everything looks good. Those twin barrel projector headlamps look extremely well designed and go a long way in lending the XUV500 an air of sophistication. The array of LED lamps behind the headlamps looks nice both during the day and in the night when they are lit up in all their glory. The lower bumper and the fog lamps too have been beautifully executed. The cuts, the creases, everything looks nice, except for that overdose of the honeycomb mesh effect. The two black faux honeycomb-mesh surfaces on the flanks of the bumper look rather unwarranted and make the front of the car look busy and overly done. Mahindra could very well have done without these inserts, as they don’t do much to the look of the otherwise fantastic front, except adding an air of juvenility. A plain bumper or just the lower one of the two black inserts would have given the XUV500’s front a more sophisticated look. In its present form, it’s too loud.
In profile the XUV500 impresses again. The surfaces on the vehicle are quite complex and a carmaker out to build a low cost vehicle would never dare to incorporate such intricate detailing on its vehicle. This is an indicator of the fact that the XUV500 is a full-fledged effort from Mahindra, a product which they have put their heart and soul into – no cutting corners here! To me, the most impressive part about the Mahindra XUV500’s profile is the central portion, where two parallel running creases dip towards the front and lend the XUV500 a front forward and ‘in motion’ stance. The upper crease, however, spoils the flow as it meets the front fender and points skywards before blending with the curvature of the wheel arch. The top crease may have been left dipping, and blending into the surface just before the fender.
All is well at the rear haunches too, before a crease emanating from the tail-lamp meets them and again creates a rather unsophisticated and complex merging point of lines and curves just above the rear wheel arch. It’s the capability of seamless blending curves and lines that makes the better known design houses stand apart from the not-so-honed ones, and the experience of Mahindra is rather evident in such places.
The inexperience is even more evident as you move towards the rear of this car. The tail-lamp, to start with isn’t definitely the most tasteful designs we have seen. The bottle-like shape of the car when seen from behind with the lamps bending into the body at the bottom doesn’t look very stylish. It does create an impression of sturdiness and robustness though. The area below the rear windscreen again is overdone, too busy, trying too hard and failing in the process. Although I hate to mention it, but the black insert above the rear number plate carrying the Mahindra emblem, together with curvy crease that emanates from it looks like a hybrid of the moustaches of Hitler and the Air India’s Maharaja Mascot. Funny is the word.
Overall, the design of the XUV500 still is a quantum leap for Mahindra. It’s a vehicle with a contemporary design and would be saleable in a wide spectrum of markets. The quality of paint, thanks to the company’s state of the art paint shop at Chakan is top notch. The panel gaps are consistent and minimal. The overall fit & finish is in a different league, especially knowing the turnout of the Scorpio and Xylo. The XUV500 may have its highs and lows, but it comes across as an impressive package. Critics like us may point out flaws, but overall, the XUV500’s design will appeal to every buyer in the SUV segment. The vehicle has its own character, and one it could be proud of. It will stand in company of the likes of the CR-V and Captiva with pride, and will outshine them too, for some.
The overall turnout for the car’s interior is nothing short of a surprise for us. Visually the interior of the XUV500 appears to be from a car a segment higher. The first thing you notice about the XUV500’s interior IS its very un-Mahindra, plush two tone interiors. The seats have generous bolstering, they are shaped well and materials such as leather, chrome and faux wood, associated with premium cars abound within the cabin. The driver side seat is 8-way adjustable, including height, and also features lumbar support. The attention to detail and the finesse may not be comparable with the best in the business, but the first sight does leave a mighty positive impression. While we discuss all this, you also have to remember the fact that the XUV500 carries a sticker price which is almost half THAT of other SUVs which don’t have even half the features you’ll find on this baby. Point being, it won’t be difficult at all for us to pardon Mahindra for some mistakes with this one. Not that they have made many though.
From the driver’s side, the instrument binnacle appears fantastic. Huge dials, chrome bezels, dozens of tell-tale lights, dial-in-dial layout, analogue-digital combo and very tastefully done backlight + graphics make the XUV500’s instrument cluster appear befitting of a 30 lakh rupee car. The instrument cluster is one of the strongest points of the XUV’s interior, and is going to win it thousands of customers all by itself.
The chunky four spoke steering wheel is a neat design, and has turned out well for a first such bit on a Mahindra vehicle. Mounted on the horizontal spokes are buttons for volume control, audio mute, source selection, make / reject call, cruise control and audio commands. The steering wheel has a tilt + telescopic adjust function and with leather wrapped around it, feels great to hold. Talking of leather, the quality isn’t the best we have come across, but doesn’t warrant criticism either.
Behind the steering wheel you have a pair of loaded stalks which apart from controlling the regular functions related to headlamps, foglamps and wipers also have functions to engage / disengage the rain sensing wipers and light sensing headlamps. You’ll really be amazed the sheer number of toys and gizmos the XUV500 boasts. For example, those headlamps which are capable of turning on automatically as the evening draws, would also turn in alignment with the car’s steering to illuminate the corners better. Amazing, isn’t it?
The waterfall-like center console on the XUV500 has a 6 inch touchscreen at the very top of it. In addition to all the infotainment controls, the touchscreen interface allows information and control to most of the vehicle related features. It can play movies for you, will help you call people from your phone’s contact list and will guide you across India with its in-built MapMyIndia GPS navigation system. It’s quite an extensive unit, comprises several menus and sub-menus and needs a good half an hour before you are well versed with all the functions. That it displays the tyre pressure condition of all the tyres, including the spare wheel exemplifies how sophisticated a unit it is.
Right below the display unit, you have the panel for audio, video and phone controls, followed by the slot to slide in a CD / DVD. Right below it you have the controls for the two-zone fully automatic climate control.
Right above the center console you have a storage space which can be popped open with the press of a button. The storage area is also home to a USB slot which has to be used exclusively for the MapMyIndia firmware upgrades. The way lid for this storage opens and the feel you get when you push the release button does make it appear a tad flimsy. The XUV lacks finesse in such areas of finer details. Probably this is one aspect Mahindra would do well to hone for all its future products.
There are plenty of cubbyholes and storage spaces in the XUV’s cabin. There is a storage space right below the center console, followed by the space for two 1-liter water bottles. The silding / adjustable central armrest is wide, comfortable and very convenient. It is also home to a chilled compartment with space for as many as four cans of soft drinks. There is another split compartment above it, so you can store things above the chilled compartment. Rarely do you get such well thought out space management in vehicles of this class. For the front passenger, apart from the regulation glove compartment, there is another storage compartment on the dashboard, somewhat on the lines of the Nissan Micra. Both the front doors have space for a 1-liter water bottle in addition to space for documents.
The A/C vents are a new design, and may appeal to a lot of buyers. For us, though, they are a complex, and not so tasteful design. Mahindra could very well have done with a simpler and more elegant design. There are A/C vents for all three rows of seats. The vents on the second row of seats get a sliding shut-off control to regulate the air. However, the third row of seats gets a fancy, chrome lined and very nice looking proper flow controlled to regulate the A/C blast. All 3 rows get their reading lamps, although the third row is too cramped for an individual to sit properly, forget indulging into reading. All three rows are equipped with power outlets too, so the occupants may charge their cellphones or work on a laptop on the go without having to worry about the battery draining out.
A very nice feature included in the XUv500’s cabin is the conversation mirror. It shows the driver and the front passenger the faces of all the occupants and both the front occupants can converse with the rear passenger without having to look behind. The fuel lid opener control for the driver is electrically operated.
The second row of seats has plenty of head, knee and shoulder room to accommodate three in comfort. In fact, the knee room in the XUV500 is more than some of the big cars such as the Toyota Corolla and the Chevrolet Cruze. The third row, however, is terribly cramped in terms of shoulder room and knee room – meant only for the friends you hate, or for your enemies. Moms and dad of most girlfriends would also qualify.
The overall quality of materials used on the seats, dashboard, window panels and the roof doesn’t leave us with anything to complain about, especially at the price it is offered at. The texture of the material used on the dashboard needs a special mention here. Comprising ridged, wavy surface, it is great to touch and feels, and quite an interesting new experiment. The material used on the roof of the car too is very different from what we have seen thus far. It is a different, much softer material when compared to the plastic on the dash, but matches it exactly in terms of texture.
Everything looks well put together and apart from some easily pardonable gaps in panels in not-so-visible areas of the cabin, the finish is up there. Here are a few things which didn’t make us feel too happy about the XUV500’s cabin.
The panel joints in the area below the dash / in the footwell not as neat as the rest of the cabin.
The Handbrake doesn’t feel nice to operate. There is a tacky, plasticky feel to it and it doesn’t work to well either.
The dials / buttons on the center console look good, and are of a decent quality too. However, when you operate them, you realize that they lack the build quality and finesse of more evolved cars in the premium range.
Finish of certain items, such as the foam lining for the storage compartment under the central armrest, shows a few rough edges.
Storage compartment above the center console feels a tad flimsy to operate. Again, as we mentioned earlier, you have to always keep in mind the price at which the product is being offered and we absolutely floored by the quality for the price. You cannot buy a better equipped cabin for this price in India as we write this. The XUV500’s interior is an absolute bonanza for the price!
Engine & Gearbox
The 2.2 liter mHawk 140 isn’t just a retuned version of the 2.2 liter mill that does duty on the Scorpio. It’s a significant upgrade and technically a much superior unit. Several new components have been added to the engine to improve the output, efficiency and smoothness of the powerplant. The new powertrain boasts inclusions such as a variable geometry turbo to eliminate turbo lag and a dual mass flywheel for smoother operation. The engine is mated with an all new, next generation 6-speed manual transmission which is much smoother and optimized than the Mahindra transmissions seen on the Scorpio and the Xylo. There isn’t any irritating rubberiness to it and shifts slot into the gates in a reasonably fluid manner. However, it’s still not a tastily slick ‘stick as that of say, a CR-V.
The engine has a lot of grunt to it, and the 140PS of peak power and 330Nm of peak torque makes itself evident the moment you are on the go. The new engine, although surprisingly silent when heard outside the cabin and at low rpm from within, gets a tad noisier as it builds revs. The noise escalates as you speed up in a gear, though it never translates into vibes or a resistance from the mill to rev up. Given the stick, the rev needle keeps climbing up before stopping a little distance before touching the 5000 mark.
Surprisingly there isn’t any perceptible turbo lag in the engine. There is just that teeny bit of a laziness below 1500rpm, but hardly any diesels are eager that low down the rev range. The power and torque delivery is appreciably smooth and surprisingly linear. Our test car was loaded with 5 well built men. Pulling the car in third gear from as low as 1200 rpm didn’t make me witness any splutter from the engine, not did the car feel dead as I stomped on the accelerator. The engine comes into its element after 2000rpm though and pulls neatly. Overtaking without shifting down would never an issue with this one. The XUV500 will pull from really low rpms and you won’t feel a thrust to announce the turbo kicking in. Hats off to the Mahindra tech blokes for pulling off this beauty!
Ride Quality & Comfort
The biggest improvement for Mahindra as a carmaker with the XUV500 has been in the handling department. It’s no secret that the Scorpio’s handling, thanks to the soft suspension setup is bad if we may put it politely. The braking is nervous and emergency braking would make you feel your guts in your mouth. The Xylo feels wallowy and you can see the bonnet yo-yoing even as you accelerate and decelerate. The XUV500 on the other hand surprises with its composure. Mahindra have tested it for more than one and a half years to hone its body behavior to a very high level, and it shows. Big thanks also to the modern monocoque construction, the XUV500 would change your perception about Mahindra vehicles’ dynamic traits forever.
All that tech gadgetry encapsulated in the ESP package makes itself sufficiently evident as you steer the baby around the bends. It’s not sports car, mind, but there is no upsetting understeer, no belly churning body roll and no leaving the straight line under braking. The XUV500 behaves and plausibly well knowing which garage its coming from. Turn the ESP off, however, and you can feel the car not being as obedient as it is when governed by the electronic nanny. There is a bit of understeer around the bends with the software and electronics being gagged and bound. However, all in all the XUV500 behaves and represents a quantum leap for Mahindra as regards vehicle dynamics.
We must, however mention here that the brake pedal lacks the feel and bite for the first few centimeters of decompression. There is a very loose, soft and soggy feel to it which doesn’t inspire confidence, although it works quite fine in the end. It’s also about getting used to a car, and you can eventually modulate the thing once you are used to driving it, but that instant ‘feel-good’ factor is not there about the brakes.
The XUv500 is loaded to the gills with technology, features and equipment. The toys and tech on this baby is absolutely breathtaking, especially once you have a look at the incredible price Mahindra is making it all available at. The XUV500 by virtue of its modern styling, great pricing and generous equipment list is going to lure in customers from across segments and categories. From C-segment sedans to 20+ lakh SUV’s every class of vehicle will witness customer attrition towards this highly plausible effort from Mahindra.
Images & Words - Motoroids