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Car reviews - Mahindra - Scorpio


We like
Feels relatively light on its feet; finessed damping control; well-balanced handling (for its type); torquey engine; supportive seating in first two rows; auto-locking rear diff; effective off-road capability; respectable road-noise refinement
Room for improvement
No AEB; lacks steering reach adjustment; all-vinyl upholstery; hard cabin plastics; crude third-row seat-folding; compromised boot space; deeply flawed idle-stop system; engine zizzing under hard acceleration

Mainstream metro push begins for Indian brand with its promising body-on-frame Scorpio

26 Apr 2023



WITH plans to expand beyond its predominantly rural buyer base to having a presence in almost all Australian capital cities and “significant market share”, Mahindra Automotive Australia is set to embark on an ambitious re-branding exercise – starting with the all-new Scorpio medium/large body-on-frame SUV and followed by the XUV700 medium SUV in June, plus up to 10 new metro-market dealerships featuring Mahindra’s sophisticated new branding design.


But first, the Scorpio.


Marketed as the Scorpio-N in its home market due to it being the replacement for India’s iconic 20-year-old Mahindra Scorpio (now called the Scorpio Classic, or Scorpio-C), the Scorpio-N debuts in Australia simply as ‘Scorpio’ to avoid any confusion … or being called ‘Scorpion’.


Glance at its tailgate and you will notice the red ‘N’ missing from the badge … though it remains on the relatively discreet dashboard and floor-mat branding.


Described as a large SUV by Mahindra, because the square metreage of its footprint just sneaks into FCAI’s categorisation, in reality the Scorpio sits at the upper end of the medium SUV segment for both wheelbase (2750mm) and overall length (4662mm), though it stands quite tall (1857mm), is relatively wide (1917mm) and offers 227mm of ground clearance.


Compare those measurements to another category straddler, the Skoda Kodiaq – 4697mm long and 1882mm wide, riding on a 2791mm wheelbase, though only 1676mm tall with 187mm of ground clearance seeing it is a car-based monocoque SUV with on-demand AWD compared to the full-frame, part-time 4WD Mahindra.


Offered in Australia solely in range-topping six-seat guise with second-row ‘captain’s chairs’, the Scorpio Z8 and slightly fancier Z8L offer ample equipment for their asking prices ($41,990–$44,990 driveaway), though it’s all fairly run-of-the-mill stuff.


Included are LED headlights with DRLs and sequential indicators, 18-inch diamond-cut alloys, a sunroof, keyless entry, push-button start, power-folding mirrors, auto headlights/wipers, driver’s auto up/down window, dual-zone climate control with fan-controlled second-row vents, a chilled glovebox, 8.0-inch touchscreen with wired Apple CarPlay/Android Auto (though wireless is coming), a leather-bound steering wheel and tyre-pressure monitoring.


The Z8L gains an auto up/down window for the front passenger, front parking sensors with a front camera (joining the Z8’s rear sensors and camera), a six-way electric driver’s seat, a 7.0-inch colour driver’s display, wireless phone charging and 12-speaker Sony audio with subwoofer.


Mechanically, there is ‘4xplor’ shift-in-the-fly 4WD (up to 80km/h) with three terrain modes, an auto-locking rear differential (below 30km/h), three drive modes (Zip, Zap and Zoom – equating to Eco, Normal and Sport), an idle-stop system, four-wheel disc brakes with brake-wiping, a hill-hold system and hill-descent control.


Mahindra Automotive Australia says it spent six months and 120,000km testing the Scorpio in Australian conditions – from desert to snow country – with the only required tweak following this validation being to the turbo-diesel engine’s emissions calibration for Euro 6b (a step down from the Indian market’s Euro 6d).


The rest, they claim, was good enough not to need any Australia-specific tuning.


Driving Impressions


Given the fact that the Mahindra Scorpio is almost as tall as it is wide and weighs around 2100kg, it is surprising just how lithe this full-frame SUV/4WD can feel. Perhaps not from an outright performance perspective – its 129kW/400Nm 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine tied to an Aisin six-speed automatic is more about effective torque usage and competent driveability than dazzling 0-100km/h times (around 11 seconds) – but certainly in terms of dynamics.


Featuring an all-new platform with double-wishbone front suspension, a coil-sprung live rear axle with Watts linkage, and frequency selective damping, it is refreshing to discover that the Scorpio feels nicely polished on Australian roads.


There is a firm discipline to its damping performance that greatly benefits body control and road feel, while also contributing to a pleasant balance between ride comfort and handling agility. For its vehicle type, the Scorpio feels well-balanced in faster corners, with (electric) steering that turns in promptly once it has passed a slight dead zone at straight ahead.


Even the ESC (electronic stability control) is relatively subtle in its intervention, though too much enthusiasm through roundabouts can betray the Scorpio’s considerable height and heft, as well as the all-terrain, Indian-made 225/60R18 MRF Wanderer tyres it wears.


And while its steering system mostly deserves praise – particularly its lightness when parking, backed by confidence-inspiring firmness as speeds rise – there’s a degree of weighting change around straight ahead that feels a bit like lane-assist intrusion … which is a feature it doesn’t offer. Yet…


Mahindra’s mHawk 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine represents a comprehensive re-engineering of a long-lived powertrain, now featuring an aluminium block and a variable-vane turbocharger, and for the most part, it feels impressively strong.


Offering 129kW at 3500rpm and 400Nm from 1750-2750rpm, its driveability from around 1700rpm to the upshift point at 3800rpm is effortless – even with only six gear ratios – and it channels torque the way you’d expect from a vehicle like this, with a competitive combined fuel consumption figure of 7.2L/100km.


Maximum braked towing capacity is 2500kg, and the Scorpio feels like it would comfortably handle big loads, though the transmission’s tip-shift manual gate does not hold a selected gear and will upshift if you leave it too long or nudge the upper rev limit.


There is also some zizzing from the turbo-diesel under hard acceleration that, while not unpleasant, detracts from the otherwise respectable refinement from this grandfather’s axe of an engine.


The Scorpio’s idle-stop system also possesses two annoying and potentially dangerous quirks. If the system switches the engine off at a standstill and then you flatten the throttle – as you would when entering fast-moving traffic – it goes into limp-home mode and simply crawls forward … but if you only use half-throttle, it does not. We tried it several times and it kept repeating the same scenario.


Same goes for when you manually switch the idle-stop system off after it has already turned the engine off (as you would if you are easily irritated by a system like this – especially when it cuts the air conditioning on a hot day). Every time, without fail, it stalls the engine – forcing the driver to shift back into Park and start the engine again.


We demonstrated both these ‘faults’ to Mahindra and they were aware of the idle-stop ‘quirk’ but not the limp-home situation. Given the unusual nature of both these scenarios, expect a running change of some kind sooner rather than later.


Off-road, the Scorpio does exactly what it says on the tin.


Arguably its best feature is the auto-locking rear differential that works at speeds below 30km/h, even in rear-wheel drive, so you don’t always need to select 4H or 4L (via a push-button on the centre console). Yet with all that accessible engine torque and low-range gearing, plus its effective hill-hold function and hill-descent control, the Scorpio achieves a fine compromise between size, agility and maneuverability – apart from its large 12.6m turning circle.


As for packaging and general interior ergonomics, the Scorpio is hit and miss. While the front two rows of seating offer bucket seats, only the driver gets height adjustment while the second-row pair only offer backrest recline (in five positions). Yet overall comfort and support in both rows is really good, and while the two-tone upholstery is merely perforated vinyl, trim quality seems robust and the stitching appears nicely even.


It is the third row that lets the side down. While the two-person bench would be fine for two children, offers good vision and can be easily accessed from the kerbside centre seat by an effective tilt-and-slide mechanism, there are no air vents back there – or child-seat anchorages – and it doesn’t fold into the floor when not needed.


Instead, the Scorpio’s third row simply double-tumbles against the centre pair – eating into luggage space (686 litres when folded) – and while it can be removed, the means by which this can happen is reportedly not easy. At least the Scorpio packages an 18-inch full-size (steel) spare beneath the rear floor.


As for the rest of the interior, it functions effectively, has terrific visibility, and is designed inoffensively. The doors have proper grab handles and will take 1.25-litre bottles, and the third row has fixed roof handles, just like the A-pillars.


The 8.0-inch touchscreen operates reasonably well with a consistent quality of fonts (as well as a USB-C charge port for the second row), the instruments are clear and classy, and the Z8L’s Sony stereo sounds strong. Even the overall black/coffee trim treatment is likeable – despite being all-vinyl – and the driving position feels ergonomically sorted, despite offering tilt-only steering adjustment.


The Mahindra Scorpio may not be the most sophisticated medium-to-large SUV/4WD you can buy, however at $44,990 driveaway for the top-spec Z8L, with a seven-year/150,000-kilometre warranty (and soon-to-be-announced capped-price servicing), it has a lot more appeal than many people probably expected from a new Mahindra.


At best, it drives and performs with a level of competence that is right at home in Australian conditions. At worst, it falls behind the current standard for active-safety gear (though its lack of AEB and lane-assist features will eventually be sorted) and its pair of software-calibration quirks need to be rectified quickly to offer the necessary sophistication in a contemporary vehicle such as this.


As it stands, for a country buyer the Mahindra Scorpio is a surprisingly appealing SUV. But it remains a solid once-over away from offering the same level of appeal in a heavily populated urban environment.

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