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First drive: Mahindra set to surprise

Indian takeaway: Australian journalists get their first taste of the Mahindra XUV500 on a typically manic Indian road.

Indian car-maker Mahindra to impact Australia with its XUV500 passenger vehicle


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1 Jun 2012


MAHINDRA’S XUV500 could change the way Australians think about Indian vehicles when it arrives in dealerships this July.

A test drive of the new product in Mumbai has revealed that it to be a great deal better than expected, offering better quality and refinement than Chinese models.

Mahindra Automotive builds a wide range of vehicles from three-wheelers to rugged farm-friendly utes such as the Pik Up, which is sold in Australia, and is currently the highest-volume tractor manufacturer in the world.

The seven-seat XUV500 is the first monocoque-based vehicle it has made and its first that has been developed specifically for global markets.

Our drive indicated this is a remarkable ‘first’ effort, although some quality issues were also evident.

Ultimately, the XUV500’s success will largely depend on three factors – pricing, safety and the introduction of an automatic transmission.

It will launch with a manual gearbox only, which will hurt sales, and an auto could be anything from eight months to two years away.

The XUV500 comes will the right safety gear, including six airbags and electronic stability control, but the upcoming release of the ANCAP crash results will be crucial.

Anything less than four stars would be damning, while a five-star rating would be a huge plus.

As for pricing, Mahindra is keeping tight-lipped, but has hinted it will not match the five-seat Great Wall X200’s $26,990 driveaway price.

The closest seven-seat rival is the two-wheel-drive (petrol) Holden Captiva 7 at $32,490 (plus on-roads), which is one of the key models Mahindra benchmarked when developing the XUV 500.

The Mahindra is 88mm shorter than that vehicle, measuring 4585mm from nose to tail, but is similar in width at 1890mm and height at 1785mm.

Inside, the XUV500 feels spacious, especially in the second row, where there is an abundance of legroom even when the front two passengers put their seats back a reasonable distance.

There is even some legroom, or at least footroom, for the third-row passengers.

With the rear seats folded almost flat, there is adequate boot space and carrying capacity opens right up when the second row seats are folded down.

The vast amount of headroom adds to the feeling of space inside, but the XUV500 feels a little narrow, even though its dimensions suggest it is on par in this regard, perhaps because of the height of the seats, especially those in the front.

The driver and lead passenger seats are too high for this reviewer, even after all adjustments are made, and this is further accentuated by the vehicle’s soft suspension settings, which means there is a reasonable amount of body roll.

We’ll have to wait to drive the car in Australia for a definitive view on whether the suspension will work well our roads, but the XUV500’s body is likely to move around a lot.

It runs a MacPherson strut set-up at the front and a modern multi-link rear suspension architecture at the rear, so at least the components are good.

The plush ride contributed to a comfortable run on a local highway, although it was a little difficult to properly analyse the vehicle given the high level of concentration needed to avoid hitting any thing or being hit by anyone on a typically manic Indian road.

The Mahindra test track did upset the two test cars we drove, with the steering wheel jerking considerably on some corners. This ‘rack rattle’, which is usually caused by mid-corner bumps, was more noticeable on one particular test vehicle.

There is very little feel from the steering, but that’s acceptable given this isn’t a sportscar.

One of the big selling points is the diesel engine. While some customers might prefer a petrol unit, this 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel is strong and refined. Similar to the Pik Up engine, but with a different variable-geometry turbo, it generates 103kW and 330Nm and pulls without fuss.

However, the six-speed gearbox with a rubbery feel and a long-throw action detracts from the experience, so it’s a pity there is no automatic yet.

We drove both front-drive and all-wheel-drive versions, but not on gravel, so the on-demand AWD system never kicked in.

Fuel economy is likely to be good, with an official rating of better than 7L/100km expected thanks partly to an idle-stop system.

The interior gives a mixed impression. Some surfaces such as the leather seats are as good as premium models, while some of the plastic surfaces and joins are closer to Chinese quality.

A high-resolution colour touchscreen in the centre of the dashboard is a highlight and is better than in many more expensive models. Australian models will get satellite-navigation.

Cruise control, climate-control and audible reverse sensors will be standard in Australia while a reversing camera will be available as a dealer-fitted accessory.

Prominent air vents are fitted for both the second and third rows, while passengers in the final row will even have fan-speed adjustment.

Our quick test suggests the XUV500 has some real strengths as well as some real weaknesses that will need to be weighed up when the pricing is known.

It represents quite an achievement for an emerging Indian brand, but whether it is good enough to convince many Australians to sign on the dotted line remains to be seen.

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