Car reviews - Mahindra - XUV500 - Auto
Ride comfort, interior space for all three rows, loads of storage, big boot, high equipment levels, great automatic transmission, willing engine
Room for improvement
Wind noise, road noise, engine noise, driveline vibration, wobbly dynamics, weird seat mechanisms
20 Jun 2016
Price and equipment
THE XUV500 range is priced drive-away across the board, starting at $29,900 for the front-drive manual, with the automatic costing an additional $2000. The all-wheel-drive manual XUV500 is $32,900 with the automatic again adding $2000.
These figures are for the ‘W8’ variant, that will eventually serve as mid-tier in a three-level XUV500 line-up bookended by a lower-spec W6 and flagship W10.
We tested the $31,990 front-drive W8 automatic that is expected to account for around 80 per cent of XUV500 sales. It undercuts and out-specifies other three-row mid-sizers such as the Holden Captiva LS seven-seat ($33,490 plus on-roads) and Nissan X-Trail ST seven-seat ($31,990 plus on-roads).
Inside, the XUV500 feels more like a rival for the likes of a Santa Fe from the next size up. Cars in that segment tend to start from the high $30,000s, with the aforementioned Hyundai starting at $38,490 plus on-roads.
No two ways about it, value for money looks like this: A leather-upholstered seven-seat SUV including a full-featured 7.0-inch touchscreen, satellite navigation, a reversing camera with animated guidance lines and distance indicators to supplement the rear parking sensors, Bluetooth audio streaming with address book functions and smartphone app-control functionality, climate control, tyre pressure monitoring, alloy wheels, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers and automatic headlights.
Then there’s class-leading braked towing capacity of 2.5 tonnes – equivalent to the large-segment Santa Fe – and a massive 702 litre boot space with the centre seating row in place that grows to 1512L with them folded (more than a Holden Captiva but less than a Honda CR-V or Mitsubishi Outlander).
Like we said, the Mahindra looks good on paper. Let’s have a look inside.
The XUV500 cleverly straddles the medium and large SUV segments, being the same length as a Honda CR-V but with a girth mid-way between a Santa Fe and a Ford Territory.
All three seating rows provide plenty of space and the large, flat floor area of the central row just adds to that roomy feel with its lack of transmission tunnel. We even managed to get a tall bloke seated tolerably comfortably in the third row for a short journey.
The XUV500 has a high seating position that is more like a proper body-on-frame off-roader than a crossover, despite its car-like monocoque chassis putting it firmly in the latter camp. Big windows with low sills provide great visibility and add to the airy, spacious feel.
A pair of gloveboxes – the lower one big enough to accommodate a 15-inch laptop – plus a big two-tier and chilled bin beneath the front armrest, lidded compartments on the dash-top and in front of the gear selector, huge multi-compartment door bins all round with bottle-friendly cut-outs, small storage nets in the front footwells, map pockets, more nets for the third row and enough cupholders to keep a barista busy for several hours plus a sunglasses holder in the ceiling mean there is enough onboard storage in the XUV500 to lose around half your worldly possessions.
Finding them again shouldn’t be too hard though, because Mahindra has fitted what must be the greatest number of interior lights we have seen on one vehicle. They are everywhere, all are LED and we particularly liked the one on the inside of the boot-lid that we reckon would be excellent for providing overhead illumination for camping trips.
So far, so family friendly. But it’s a cheap car built in India, so the quality must be shocking, right? Wrong. The leather upholstery was impressively plush and while the dashboard is all hard plastics, you’d never know without touching them as the (rather unconventional) woodgrain texture exactly matches that of the soft-touch door trims. Less matching was the metallic shade of trim applied to the steering wheel and everything else, including the centre console, door handles and so-on.
Almost everything felt pretty solid in there and while there were a couple of ill-fitting trims and flimsy compartment lids, we saw nothing worse than in say, a Mercedes-Benz A-Class. And unlike the A-Class, we didn’t hear any rattles.
Which brings us onto what we did hear. The XUV500 is a noisy way to travel, with the wind noise, road roar and a loud engine all assaulting the senses at unacceptable levels. At 100km/h it is genuinely difficult to hold a polite conversation and the racket quickly gets tiring. Urban and suburban driving is a bit more peaceful, but there is still a commotion from under the bonnet.
Apart from noise insulation, there were a couple of other areas where the XUV500 didn’t feel quite finished. The obtrusive, stiff, staggered gate for the gear selector was our number-one gripe. Our car arrived with just seven kilometres on the clock, which may explain this a little, but it seemed to only get worse during our more than 400km of driving.
The two-stage centre-row seat-folding mechanism feels industrial, requiring some serious muscle to manoeuvre that could cause petite mums and children to struggle, while the leather flaps trying to hide the Victorian-England-industrial-revolution style hinge points smacked of afterthought.
Not quite behind the leather flaps are three Isofix child restraint anchor points, which we found a little hard to access but once we’d clicked in, everything went into place better than many cars we have tested. A logically located top-tether point also helped and plenty of room to manoeuvre our infant in and out of their seat scored parent points.
Like the centre-row seats, front seat adjustment is also fairly clunky and the thigh support droops away, making the otherwise comfortable pews feel a little perch-like.
For ease-of-use, the third-row seats have to be the slickest, but they do need a good shove to get them to sit flush with the boot floor. The headrests are awfully close to the rear windscreen when the rearmost seats are deployed, too.
Overall, the more conservative cabin design is a relief compared with the pre-facelift effort, and some of the exterior excess has also been watered down – although a motif in the tail-light lenses that one observer likened to a ‘tramp stamp tattoo’ remains.
We also chuckled at the touchscreen’s in-built instructional videos that are a great idea but largely about features not fitted to the W8, but will be available on the W10. Is this some kind of clever up-sell? More touchscreen quirks included the climate control display popping up every time it automatically adjusted the fan speed, obscuring the sat-nav or other infotainment function in use at the time.
The touchscreen functionality and its smartphone integration was pretty impressive overall, but the system’s lagginess suggested a bit more processing power is needed. It would always revert to a default audio and sat-nav voice guidance volume every time the vehicle was re-started. Annoying.
Also annoying was the number of times the cruise control of our test car would just suddenly stop working. Restarting the engine always cured it, but you’re not going to do that on the motorway.
No car is perfect and they all have their quirks. We guess Mahindra customers would be able to live with a few niggles in return for the amount of vehicle they got for the money.
But we’re not convinced they would tolerate the noise levels. Good job the audio system offers decent sound quality to drown it all out with your favourite tunes.
Engine and transmission
Power and torque outputs from the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder are modest for its size, it developing 103kW at 3750rpm and 330Nm between 1600 and 2800rpm, but the real-world performance is peppier than the numbers suggest.
Throttle response is respectable, there is plenty of grunt if you floor it and, unladen at least, it will fly up hills at speed as if they aren’t there.
But, as mentioned in the interior section, the engine is really noisy. It also vibrates heavily at idle, even when fully warmed-up and there are some odd wobbles at low revs that feel like something is out of balance in there. A trailing throttle between 1500 and 2000rpm results in a sound that we thought was the ghost of the cow whose hide was used to upholster the seats.
After all, Mahindra is the largest tractor-maker in the world by sales volume and this engine certainly plays to the brand’s agricultural heritage.
Better news comes from Mahindra’s new Aisin-sourced six-speed automatic, which is a good unit when left to its own devices and is certainly up there with some of the best on the market. Rarely in the wrong ratio and willing to kick down quickly where required, we found it hard to fault – apart from the aforementioned selector annoyance.
Only once did it refuse to kick down, on an 80km/h hill where it was doggedly determined to use the engine’s torque to maintain speed. To the car’s credit, it made it up the hill just fine and we didn’t actually need a lower ratio.
During our dynamic drive we used the odd little plastic switch on the side of the selector knob to effect manual shifts. Its forward-backward orientation made it surprisingly easy to use compared with the similarly located manual controls we have encountered on Fords. It would up-shift automatically at high revs but this was more of a favour than a hindrance.
Official combined fuel consumption for the front-drive automatic XUV500 is 7.4L/100km and we achieved 8.3L/100km.
The XUV500’s 70-litre tank provides a theoretical range of 946km for the front-drive auto, which from the figures achieved on our brand-spanking new car that was not yet run-in, we have no hesitation in believing this claim.
Ride and handling
If it were not for the noisy cabin, the XUV500’s comfortable ride would have made for a consummate long-distance cruiser. For us, the ride was one of this car’s highlights as it provided smooth progress in most circumstances.
Scratch below the surface and the softly-sprung setup is a bit underdamped, with some low-speed impacts resulting in a double-bounce that we also notice a couple of times at higher speeds.
But we only really uncovered these traits in circumstances most XUV500 buyers will seldom experience, such as deliberately driving quickly over a speed bump at an angle or hitting a raised drain cover at the bottom of a dip on our road-test circuit where the suspension is already under compression at 100km/h.
The payoff is dynamics, where the XUV500 feels two generations old. It lollops along a fast, twisty road like a body-on-frame four-wheel-drive rather than carving up corners like the best modern monocoque SUVs.
Vague, slow steering, understeer and a tendency to flop lethargically into corners are hallmarks of cars designed with hardcore off-road abilities and a compromise we accept for that versatility. But the front-drive XUV500 can’t claim that excuse.
In the wet conditions of our road test following the second east coast low in a month, the Mahindra’s Indian-made Bridgestone tyres provided little confidence, scrabbling away as they pawed for traction and reaching their limits of grip without much notice.
Around town it was also difficult to accelerate quickly out of junctions without lighting up a tyre, which the traction control was slow to correct.
Upgrading to the all-wheel-drive version would help, but we found the Mahindra struggled for grip as well as traction.
There was an odd grittiness to the XUV500’s brake pedal feel, too.
Suburban and urban driving in the dry provided little indication as to the disappointing dynamics we were to discover, so if this is your main use, the XUV500 would be an acceptable drive.
Safety and servicing
When the 2012 pre-facelift XUV500 was launched, it achieved a four-star ANCAP crash-test safety rating. Points were deducted for steering column movement, loss of structure to the dashboard and pedal displacement.
At the time Mahindra said it intended to get a five-star result, which could possibly be achieved in six to 12 months, but this year they claim to be still “working on it”, which suggests the fix is not a simple one. In addition, since the original XUV500 launched in mid-2012 ANCAP has moved the goalposts for attaining a five-star rating, making it even harder for Mahindra to achieve the top-tier result.
Standard safety equipment includes six airbags including side curtains protecting all three seating rows, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, electronic stability control with rollover mitigation, hill-hold and hill descent control.
Mahindra’s warranty coverage lasts three years or 100,000 kilometres including roadside assistance for the duration, with service intervals at six months or 10,000km.
Capped price servicing plans and extended warranty offerings are under consideration for introduction in the near future.
We were pleasantly surprised by the XUV500, which hides its bargain-basement positioning well with its space, comfort, equipment and interior quality.
But there are two main flies in the XUV500 ointment: Noise and fast-road handling. Apart from engine noise, neither would be much of a problem for people who just pootle around town and the suburbs as is the stereotype with seven-seat SUVs.
Also, given the family-oriented segment in which it competes, the Mahindra’s four-star ANCAP rating might put people off. We also noticed strange wrinkles in the sail panels above the rear doors that suggest they are welded at multiple points and not formed of one stamping.
Nothing really comes close in terms of space or equipment for the price. Unless it is a people-mover rather than an SUV, in which case a Kia Rondo (diesel automatic from $32,990 plus on-road costs) or SsangYong Stavic ($31,990 driveaway for an automatic) might do the job.
Straddling the people-mover and SUV scene is the Dodge Journey, from $35,000 plus on-road costs, but with a whacking great 3.6-litre V6 petrol engine to send fuel bills through the roof.
Those determined to have an SUV must cop less space from another mid-size SUV or stump up for a large one. Other than $30K-ish second-hand large SUVs, the XUV500 has a small corner of the market all to itself.
Holden Captiva LS automatic seven-seat from $33,490 plus on-roads
Despite a recent facelift, the Captiva is still an old creaker with a distant replacement providing only dim light at the end of the tunnel. It’s the only real rival to the XUV500 in terms of space and value, and Holden keeps doing deals that will make Mahindra’s life difficult.
Nissan X-Trail ST seven-seat from $31,990 plus on-roads
Seven seats but only just, the X-Trail is only here because of the amount of people it can theoretically hold and the price point. Mahindra packs in more for the money, in more ways than one.
Hyundai Santa Fe Active from $38,490 plus on-road costs
Demonstrating how much you have to spend to get Mahindra-like seven-seat space, the entry level Santa Fe Active is nowhere compared with the Indian newcomer in terms of standard equipment.
Dodge Journey SXT wagon from $35,000 plus on-road costs>br>Yes it’s still on sale in Australia. The Journey has seven seats and is almost in the Mahindra’s price range – while being a similarly left-field choice – but it has a big, relatively thirsty petrol engine that probably puts it out of the running. They don’t sell many of these so a discount is likely.
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