Car reviews - Mahindra - XUV500 - W6 2WD Petrol
Low driveway price, spaciousness, excellent storage facilities, comfortable ride
Room for improvement
Safety equipment cutbacks, quality issues, thirsty engine, driving dynamics
Mahindra’s XUV500 seems to have all bases covered – but is it too good to be true?
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22 Aug 2018
By TERRY MARTIN
MAHINDRA has repositioned its XUV500 seven-seat mid-size SUV to become an even more appealing proposition, swapping out its previous diesel engine for a petrol unit and introducing a new entry W6 model grade that brings the asking price down to just $25,990 driveaway.
This includes an automatic transmission and gives the relatively obscure Indian brand fresh ammunition with which to present its case to Australian families, particularly along the east coast where the vast majority of its dealers are located.
It’s hard to believe the XUV500 has been with us for six years already, available only with a diesel engine before now and initially with a manual gearbox before a long-overdue automatic gearbox arrived two years ago.
Now moving towards the end of its current lifecycle, the Indian brand’s SUV has, arguably, never been more relevant.
This is unequivocally Australia’s cheapest seven-seat mid-size SUV on the new-vehicle market, ready for you to drive off the forecourt with a petrol/auto combo at less than $26K.
Enough said? No. Please read on…
Price and equipment
Seven seats, petrol engine, automatic transmission, 702 litres of luggage room with the third row folded and a 2500kg braked towing capacity. Yours for $25,990 driveaway.
These are the key selling points of the XUV500 W6 as Mahindra sees them, although the equipment list extends to single-zone climate-control air-conditioning (with separate third-row fan control), cruise control, power-operated windows/mirrors, multi-function steering wheel (including phone, radio and cruise switchgear), a trip computer, 6.0-inch monochrome LCD infotainment system and DAB/CD/MP3 stereo with four speakers and two tweeters.
The base W6 is also fitted with 17-inch alloy wheels with a full-size (steel) spare wheel located underneath the vehicle.
On the downside, Mahindra has seen fit to remove curtain airbags in the W6, which compromises the vehicle’s safety. See our ‘Safety and servicing’ section below for more details.
Stepping up to the W8 grade costs an extra $4000 and includes the curtain airbags, leather upholstery, a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system (with satellite navigation and a reversing camera) and other convenience features such as folding exterior mirrors and a rear tailgate LED camping light.
The roominess of the XUV500 is immediately apparent when clambering in but the cabin isn’t an altogether welcoming environment.
There is an overwhelmingly plasticky feel and smell to the interior, particularly via the hard surfaces across the dashboard and doors, and the infotainment unit at the top of the dash stack is small, black-and-white, non-touchscreen, highly limited in its functionality, not easy to use on the run and terribly outdated with graphic displays. It really screams ‘early 1980s’ rather than late 20-teens.
The driver is provided with a fully adjustable steering wheel and is perched up high on the soft and only mildly supportive seat, which offers lumbar and height adjustment but the latter can really only be done when the front door is open, such is the lack of space between seat squab and door trim.
There is no height adjustment for the front passenger, the front LED maplights are perhaps the brightest we have ever encountered – certainly distracting for the driver at night (as are the reflections of the instruments on the windscreen) – and the blue ‘mood’ lighting panel in this overhead console area is more weird than wonderful.
The basic instrument panel is similarly retro and tacky but, given time, proves functional enough with its aqua-coloured backlighting, double-arm red needles and secondary gauges set inside the two big circular binnacles. That said, the panel is crying out for an LCD screen to support the driver with information that must otherwise be accessed via the dash unit.
The lower console switchgear for temperature control is easier to use, although two separate buttons to switch between recirculation and fresh air is simply counterintuitive.
We are, however, pleased to report that careful consideration has gone into storage facilities, particularly in the front compartment. There is a huge variety of nooks, crannies, cubbies, drawers and bins to pack in all sorts of gear, with cool air piped into the centre console box if you want it.
The second row is missing a power socket but has storage, cup placement, lighting and ventilation issues covered, and, even with fixed-position seat bases, the sheer room afforded to larger-framed occupants in the outboard positions – in all directions – is excellent.
The centre position is, typically, firmer because it doubles as an armrest, and its headrest adjustment is limited, so it really only suits smaller people – as does the third row, which is best reserved for occasional use, and then only with kids, even though we welcome the fan control and basic storage solutions here too.
There is no useable cargo space when the third row is employed but plenty of room when the rear seats are folded down to create an almost-flat floor.
A cumbersome fold-and-tumble process on the smaller portion of the 60/40 split-fold second-row bench seat is provided for access to the third row, which becomes easier with practice but is never as simple as a conventional tilt/slide operation. The bigger section only folds down, discouraging access to the rear.
We expect kids in the third row trying to get out – and many getting in – will invariably push the backrest down but ignore the secondary lever for the flip-forward process, clambering over the seat instead.
This will cause wear and tear but, more worryingly, the hinge point on the larger section of the centre bench seat protrudes from the seat and could easily come into contact with passengers at any time. The flimsy elasticised fabric trim meant to cover this hinge point, and others on the bench, are also inadequate.
This is an issue of suspect quality in the XUV500, which is clearly below the standard we have come to expect from new vehicles on the Australian market.
There were other areas of concern with our test vehicle: a creaking noise noticed with the accelerator pedal; unwanted vibration through the brake pedal; noticeably loud windscreen wiper action; a USB point that gave rise to constant on/off charging via a (new) phone cable; and left-rear seatback trim that had warped from previous use and impeded the folding process.
The rear windscreen wiper’s angled resting position cuts into rearward vision, and turning the wiper on produced a clicking noise from behind the dash on our test vehicle.
There is also no provision in the driver’s footwell for anchoring down the floor mat to avoid it slipping and potentially disrupting pedal operation.
Engine and transmission
The XUV500 is now motivated by a 2.2-litre ‘mHawk’ four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 103kW of power at 4500rpm and 320Nm of torque from 2000-3000rpm – similar numbers to the previous diesel unit that points to above-average pulling power.
Combined with a six-speed automatic gearbox, this should, really, make for easy and enjoyable driving with plenty of people and/or cargo on board, but it doesn’t, as we found out within moments of taking off.
The issue here is ‘torque steer’ – a pronounced tug at the steering wheel that surfaces at low speeds at moderate to heavy acceleration, such as simply turning left at a suburban intersection with a bit of haste to slot into the normal traffic flow.
This front-wheel-drive W6 XUV500 is all too often overwhelmed by torque being transferred to the road, with the tyres at the front end quickly losing traction (and howling in the process) whenever the vehicle is called upon to execute a relatively quick move.
This is not simply a tyre specification matter, but a deeper drivetrain engineering issue that we are surprised to find in a new vehicle in 2018 – particularly one that was apparently subject to some 50,000km of local testing over several months to ensure it was suitable for Australian conditions.
The transmission shifts cleanly enough, and is generally responsive to driver input. A button on the shift lever is provided for manual gear selection, which can be useful at times when the driver looks to make the most of the torquey nature of the engine without revving it too hard – it gets noisy in the upper reaches, and soon runs out of breath, anyway.
It can also feel sluggish when caught in a higher gear at low revs in hillier terrain. This engine might have more grunt than those of its rivals, but the front-drive XUV500 is heavier, too, tipping the scales at 1840kg – some 365kg more than Mitsubishi’s Outlander ES seven-seat auto, for example.
Fuel economy suffers as a result, as the official laboratory-derived combined-cycle figure of 11.0 litres per 100km indicates. We recorded higher figures than this on test and, if the 2500kg towing capacity is exploited, the fuel bills will certainly be felt.
Ride and handling
You know something’s not quite right when more than one person over the course of our week-long test checked to see whether the windows were fully up, such is the wind noise than enters the XUV500’s cabin when travelling at highway speeds.
Coupled with the engine noise we’ve already mentioned, tyre drone over coarse-chip bluestone and gravel ping from underneath the vehicle on dirt roads, sound deadening, or lack thereof, leaves a lot to be desired.
As with the torque steer we have described above, other undesirable front-wheel-drive traits are soon found out on typical back roads where there are lumps and bumps and other surface imperfections – and which the XUV500 fails to deal with effectively.
We’ve noted in previous tests that the steering is slow and vague, but the constant kickback through the tiller on even the smallest of bumps, the mildest corners and at only moderate speeds was a revelation.
Other front-drive vehicles we have tested simply glide over these roads, while particularly large mid-corner bumps that show us whether there is any negative feedback through the steering produce a response in the Mahindra that is savage.
This is all apparent in everyday conditions, so pushing on into corners, searching for any semblance of sportiness or accomplished dynamics, brings only further discontent as the XUV500 has little hold over front wheel adhesion and tends to push straight ahead rather than negotiate a bend.
Down on the floodplain, on a relatively smooth, straight stretch with the horizon stretching off into the distance, the XUV500 – with its cushy ride and clear preference for open-road touring – is finally seen in its best light. But it’s taken a long time to get here and it doesn’t last for long.
Safety and servicing
Airbags for the driver and front passenger only are fitted in the W6 XUV500, with curtain airbags restricted to higher-grade W8 variants – and then only protecting the first two rows.
As such, the four-star ANCAP safety rating handed out to the previous W8 model in 2012 (with diesel engine and all-wheel-drive system) does not apply to the W6.
The W6 does have electronic stability control with rollover mitigation system, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), a basic tyre pressure monitoring system, a hill holder and hill-descent control.
Daytime running lights are provided for improved visibility for other cars and pedestrians, foglights are included and the headlights offer extra illumination in corners and automatic dusk-sensing operation.
On automatic mode, however, the driver cannot switch to high beam, which away from the suburbs requires the dial to be switched to the ‘on’ position – a move that goes past the ‘off’ mark and therefore requires a pitstop to get the lights into the right mode. General headlight performance on low beam is average.
No reversing camera is provided, and we found the rear parking sensors were slow to react. In slow and progressive reversing manoeuvres, the distance advice on central screen would routinely move from a comfortable 150cm or so to all-out panic stations (‘Stop!’) in only split second.
A point for securing Isofix child seats and top tether straps are provided for all three positions in the centre row, but not further astern.
There are no driver-assist safety technologies that are becoming increasingly common in the industry, such as autonomous emergency braking (now a prerequisite for a five-star safety rating) and lane-keep assist.
The XUV500 comes with a five-year/100,000km limited warranty, five years of roadside assistance and a four-year capped-price servicing program.
Apart from a free initial service after three months or 5000km, service intervals happily come less often than they did with the previous diesel model – now every 12 months or 15,000km (previously six months/10,000km).
The price is $345 for the first year, $450 the next, $495 after 36 months/40,000km and $430 at the four-year/55,000km mark.
At first glance, the XUV500 W6 looks to have all bases covered with its price advantage, packaging and petrol powertrain.
Yet digging a little deeper, and living with the SUV for a week, leaves us disappointed that Mahindra has not improved the vehicle’s standing with this latest upgrade – and has arguably lowered it, cutting out safety equipment in a fresh attempt to appeal to budget-conscious Australian families.
We like the spaciousness, love the storage facilities, we forgive the person responsible for developing such strange exterior doorhandles and, given time, we could probably live with the Atari-style graphic displays, ultra-high-beam map lights and other cabin complaints.
But there are bigger issues here in terms of safety, quality and the driving experience that do not, as Mahindra claims, make the W6 “the best-value seven-seat vehicle on the Australian market”.
Mitsubishi Outlander ES 7-Seat 2WD auto from $30,500 plus on-road costs
Milder 124kW/220Nm 2.4-litre engine a little underdone when a full load on board but there is no denying its practical nature and inherent value.
Nissan X-Trail ST 7-Seat 2WD auto from $32,490 plus on-road costs
A must-see contender with a 126kW/226Nm 2.5-litre engine, fuss-free driving experience and up-to-date safety gear like AEB and forward collision warning.
Honda CR-V VTi-L 7-Seat 2WD auto from $38,990
More expensive but appealing for its spaciousness, practicality, cabin presentation and road manners – all attributes that should still apply to a lower-series variant coming soon.
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