Mahindra is out on the hunt and not for the usual prey but a whole lot more thanks to the technologically brilliant XUV Five-Double-Oh! Team ZigWheels put the country's most modern automobile in class through a comprehensive 4500km test to see whether it is all it purports to represent!
Years of seeing and chasing heavily camouflaged W201s running the length and breadth of India finally came to an end when Mahindra pulled the wraps off its global SUV which was the subject of endless hours of debate, speculation and derring do. The most important aspect of the new vehicle had been to denote to the world at large, especially the domestic automotive industry that Mahindra & Mahindra was capable of thinking right and just as importantly doing right. The first thing it needed to do was to demonstrate that it could get away from its legendary Jeep-derived vehicle characterisation and from there to make a contemporary vehicle which would be a mainstream vehicle with universal markets in mind and not just the domestic Indian market.
As soon as Anand Mahindra and Dr Pawan Goenka pulled off the covers, it was evident that the product was all that and more. I have long believed in a rule of thumb subscribed to within the global auto industry which states that if it looks right, it invariably is so and this thought came strongly to mind when I took in the XUV500. Just right, dazzling in its wide and planted stance, stylishly aggressive yet built to close tolerances which no other Indian-built vehicle can boast of, the XUV500 looked and seemed so right. Adulation aside the only thing beckoning was for us to pick up one of the early build vehicles and head straight out to put it through our road test regime.
Design and Style: Global appeal, animalistic athletic!
Form follows function they say, but that did not dampen the opportunity to experience the XUV500 function in a form which should impress not just rivals in class but also those who would have made do with sedans. The big, bold hi-tech face of the new Mahindra is seen uninhibitedly on the XUV500. The grille is different while the front end treatment with projector headlamps, LED day-time running lights, large front bumper with streaked air dam and recessed fog lamps makes for a menacing look. “Objects in the mirror are closer than you think” gets an altogether new meaning for many both in class and also those who could be sucked in as collateral damage!
The XUV500 in profile is all muscle and snazzy style personified – like a strapping athlete in a designer suit! The large pronounced wheel arches with their machined look plus the character crease at the waist level along with a similar smaller line at the door sill level imparts a good stance when viewed with the sharply raked windscreen and the well penned glass area. In profile one can clearly see some hints, on proportion, from Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Suzuki Vitara et al but overall the XUV500 is distinctive on its own. Another important observation about the new Mahindra is the absolutely clean and sanitised under-vehicle layout with nary any plumbing or wires or ungainly accoutrements spoiling the show or the under-floor air flow. The XUV500’s tail light cluster treatment is distinctive yet simple and very effective. Note the manner in which the leading edge of the reflector is also made into a style detail. The large tailgate flips upwards to reveal a large load area with the rear row of seats folded flat. The spare tyre sits under the floor and is easily accessed from below in the same manner as on the Toyota Innova.
Mahindra’s XUV500 breaks new ground for the firm in that it is not just its new age offering in this millennium, but also the firm’s first all-monocoque passenger vehicle, its first with a transverse-engine, front-wheel drive layout and also one which finally makes the break from its distinct Jeep lineage. And again let it be said that its design was signed off before the Ssangyong acquisition! The sheer dynamism of the design on the move is further heightened by the wedgy swoop of the belt line and the sharply raked windscreen. The subtle roof rails play their own part in the overall aesthetique.
The devil is in the details and these are finely carved, but what is of even greater import is the fact that the craftsmanship is of a high order. Panel gaps on our test car as also the earlier one we drove and inspected were uniform yet close and the metal-plastic-glass medley on the exterior made for delightful aesthetics. By and large thanks to the brilliant surfacing of the external sheet metal, the overall sheen and finish of the XUV500 is magnificent. In fact it puts many Indian-assembled and painted high end luxury cars to shame.
Structure and Build:
This is no Mahindra from the past and in fact a virtual techno tour de force from any of our indigenous car makers. Developing a monocoque is no mean feat, especially when you have to do it for the first time and that too while remaining constantly steadfast to core values of ruggedness and almost go-anywhere capability. Developing the monocoque into one which is not just cavernous but also structurally stiff and has the crumple zones designed into it from the outset means it is also capable enough of passing the Euro NCAP crash tests with flying colours.
Just as with the Xylo, the overall design and engineering called for an optimized track to wheelbase relationship and this was one of the big takeaways for Mahindra from the Xylo. The engineers devised their monocoque and grafted their suspension hard points in such a manner that the car not only got the right footprint for a stable ride but also that it didn’t compromise on handling or unnecessarily shifting the centre of gravity away from the ground. The XUV500 is built on a 2700mm wheelbase with track at both ends measuring a uniform 1600mm.
What one has to contend and appreciate with all this is the fact that the car makes do with a very generous 200mm of ground clearance which given its near flat floor and multi-link suspension set-up at the rear is absolutely impressive. The multi link independent suspension at the rear incorporated coil over shock absorbers while up front the independent suspension is by means of gas charged MacPherson struts. The XUV500 sits and rolls on stylish 7J 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped with R235/65-R17 rubber.
Structure is one thing but getting everything in the right order is another because just having a stiff structure and throwing it a set of mediocre aggregates will not give the desired results when it comes to dynamic ability and the Mahindra engineers have gone the whole hog. Steering gear is by rack and pinion with hydraulic assist while retardation is by means of a disc brake set up all around, the ones up front having a twin caliper config while those at the rear made do with a single pot detail. If that’s not all, the XUV500 also comes stocked to the gills with ABS and EBD, there is ESP with hill hold and hill descent control plus also tyre pressure monitoring system as standard. It is a vehicle where the typical skimping on detail and equipment has been cut out marking a very welcome new outlook to delivering well equipped cars to the Indian market as standard fare. I am sure this sort of an approach will go a long way in upgrading people to seek technologically proficient and safer vehicles from all OEMs.
Instrumentation Americana seems to be the theme for the XUV500’s tell-all cluster. Styled like one of the mean muscular Pontiac Firebirds of the 1970s, the twin round instruments pack in the speedo (calibrated to 220km/h) and the fuel gauge on the left while the one of the right has the rev counter lined up all the way to 7000rpm with the smaller central dial having telltales for temperature and oil. The central console is business personified yet has a good feel to it. The large sized switches plus the rotary controls knobs make access and usage very simple. The steering wheel is a nice meaty affair and very sporty in its design and feel. A large central pad dominates the senses and the two tiny side stalks also provide the base for the multi-function switches for phone and audio volume on the left along with cruise control settings on the right.
The digital touch screen is also very user friendly. The chromed strips and that large chromed rotary knob for the audio system and that polished top cover of the dashboard makes for an irritating reflection in the windshield which can get a bit disconcerting for the driver.
Seats are large, well cushioned and profiled, and generally speaking we reckon them to be the best of any Indian-built vehicle in the UV space. What further helps are the well defined floor height and the large expansive door openings. All put together these make for very ergonomic ingress and egress, something which should delight the family no end. Ample optimizing of the H-points was so very critical from this perspective but one just opens the doors and glides on to the seat squabs in as natural a manner as can be – brilliant and not many will even know it! The third row of seats is good and overall the packaging designers and engineers have learnt from rivals as to what not to do and also how to get everything spot-on first time out. Both front seats have built in lumbar support and the seat backs have netted sections for mags and maps. Nice touch this but the arm rests, for the driver at least, do impede gear shifting. Maybe a repositioning in height could solve this glitch.
And finally we come to space, which is not exactly the final frontier but a whole new expanse to savour and revel in, in the XUV500. The leg room, elbow room and head room shames so many that it is not funny recounting those who have come off with a bloody nose in this area against the XUV500. All round support from the seats is very good and should quieten the back seat drivers. It is also a great place for the kids to indulge in their impromptu rugby tackles and dives from the middle row to the back row and with the seats folded flat and a thick rug laid out, it could be the ideal getaway vehicle into the wilds. Trouble is the middle row doesn’t feature any means to shift and disconnect and maybe a flexi-seating system would be the next big thing the packaging engineers would need to look at, if only to enhance the practical appeal of the vehicle.
The central stack has a large touch-screen digital display for GPS, air-con controls, music system and other ancillaries. The steering wheel design is refreshingly modern and really well executed. The controls fall nicely to hand (and foot!), a case in point being the parking brake lever angled towards the driver’s left. Large air vents on the dash direct cool air flow to the front seat hotshots while quality of interior trimming is well defined though it could have been better. Slight irritants abound but by and large the business end of the interior is a fine place to ply one’s craft! While trim is of a high order, colour choice is pretty subjective.
The headliner incorporates many welcome features including interior lighting which is by LEDs, a goggle holder in one flap while another one incorporates a fish-eye mirror giving the driver unimpeded rear vision from pillar to pillar! A large double-decker glove box on the dashboard is just one among a myriad of cubby holes and bottle holders which abound in the cabin. The manner in which the door pads meld with the dashboard provides a fine continuous sweep of line to the interior which is pleasing to behold.
How often have we seen cars from reputed international manufacturers skimping on basic creature comforts and features, sending out a signal of them underrating the Indian market? The XUV500 goes to break this very mould, and offers almost all imaginable features which would usually be expected in cars upwards of twice its price. What’s special here is that the features don’t just rely on a “wow” factor, but are responsible equally in part to create a safer vehicle.
For a vehicle with strong forward thrust, the XUV500 doesn’t skimp on the retardation at its disposal, disc brakes abound on all four wheels as we have mentioned before. In addition there is ABS, EBD plus ESP to ensure safety and peace of mind. If that’s not all, there are driver and front passenger air bags, start/stop is standard equipment and there is also hill descent control for the top line offering.
Projector headlamps make an appearance for normal driving beams, with normal reflector-based lights coming into play for the high beam. This is a very inspiring feature, especially since we cannot begin to count the number of good cars we have tested in the past which have had horrid illumination. A park-assist device which also measures and displays the distance from obstacles behind the car is a nifty value-add. In fact, the entire package of features itself would have demanded a couple of lakh rupees more, had it come from many other car makers, but is made available at a significantly lower, or should we term it sensible, price coming from Mahindra. The features do add significantly to the ease of use when it comes to this car which thanks to its style might look visually small but in the actual physical realm is a pretty sizeable but more critically, it surely adds to an almost unbeatable value for money proposition.
The heart which pumps the thrust for the XUV500 is this freshly tweaked 2.2-litre mHawk engine which now resides in an east-west layout as against a north-south placement in other Mahindra vehicles. This engine develops 140bhp but more importantly has 330Nm of torque to delight its driver. Mated to this engine is another first for an all Indian vehicle – a six-speed manual gearbox, developed in-house by Mahindra itself as is the front wheel drive transfer case. Base models have a front wheel drive option, indicated by the transversely mounted engine – again a first for Mahindra - while the higher version has an all-wheel drive layout with a torque on demand mechanism which delivers drive to the rear wheels in situations where the traction gets tricky. While we’re at it, the under bonnet aesthetics are top class too – clearly Mahindra has left no stone unturned to the visual appeal of the XUV500, even if it is the hidden view under the hood.
Speaking with Rajan Wadhera, who spearheaded the engineering and product development team, the mHawk has been optimised even further to try and deliver more from less. This 16-valve engine employs the latest Bosch common-rail direct injection technology and uses a fifth generation S-type variable geometry turbocharger supplied by TurboEnergy. In fact this is the first application of this type of a turbocharger which thanks to its vane geometry reduces the back pressure in a massive way resulting in smoother power delivery, better torque thrust and the boost pressure can also be hiked to take advantage of newer advances in CRDi technology.
The mHawk engine was designed from the outset with thin wall castings, the aim being not just to enhance power density but also sustain that over long operating periods. With injection pressures constantly on the upswing from 1800 bar to 2000 bar and now moving on to 2200 bar the entire focus shifted to heat management and the engine team within Mahindra came up trumps. Given that the high boost pressures could get the much needed power one had to take care that this didn’t come in the way of the engine’s structural integrity for the diesel engine is subjected to greater stresses than a petrol motor so internal strengthening had to also take place but overall a combination of detail modifications helped make the engine deliver power smoothly and consistently without the torque petering off. The multi-point injection system now features four injections instead of the three in the engine’s previous avatar and along with other friction busting measures the torque comes on thick and smooth across the powerband.
As mentioned earlier, the six-speed manual gearbox on the new car has been developed indigenously by M&M, and leaves behind the company’s earlier gearboxes in the dust, not just in terms of delivery and pull but also when it comes to feel. Given the under-bonnet packaging constraints, Wadhera’s team working with FEV devised a three-shaft transaxle instead of the more common two-shaft layout but other mods have helped the gearbox to effect transfer of power to the front wheels quite efficiently and without much shunt. The engine also utilizes a dual mass flywheel which goes a long way to scrub off primary vibes from engine and transmission from making their way into the cabin and this has been a great NVH detail on the vehicle.
The throw of the gearstick itself is not too long which makes great sense for urban use, but engagement is positive and chunky, very much in line with the robust but sophisticated feel that the SUV carries around itself. Feedback from fellow ZigWheelers was that the throw of the clutch is slightly long, and the cogs refuse to slot cleanly unless it is completely depressed, but this is more of a driving style fault than a design or engineering flaw.
The base XUV500 comes with front-wheel drive only but there is an all-wheel drive version which with the torsen type central diff administers torque to the wheels with the most grip so as to make for safe and sure motoring. Add to that the hill hold and hill descent control functions and you have the making of a loaded up to the gills vehicle capable of decent driving on the dirt though mud-plugging or wadi bashing or rock climbing is something we wouldn’t recommend.
The gear ratios are very sensibly plotted out and employ the six speeds over the engine’s functional rev range to great effect. Just to put things in perspective, the gearbox allows the engine’s ample torque to be let out on the street even at low revs, including idling in second gear. Accelerating from speeds of around 30km/h in second gear though creates an unhealthy vibration from the big diesel, which percolates into the cabin to some discomfort. Apart from this, the grunty engine accelerates the XUV to 100km/h from standstill in a rapid 13.85 seconds, and the sixth gear allows for a top speed in excess of 180km/h. For a vehicle of its size, those are striking figures. For those who value sense (which would be all of us in these times of unannounced and vulgar fuel price hikes) fuel efficiency numbers are also impressive given that our test car averaged 11 kilometres to a litre of diesel within city limits, and batted out a figure of 16kmpl on the highway.
Ride quality and handling:
Well planted stance, decent manners and a good balance between ride and handling should really pull in the troops to cheer for the XUV500. The meaty 5-spoke alloys are shod with 235 x 65 – R17 Bridgestones and with the underpinnings they do make for the vehicle’s dynamics to bear positively for the occupants – be it the driver or passengers.
A mention of the braking must be made here as well, since the disc brakes on all four corners with ABS and EBD in tow allowed the XUV500’s 1800-odd kilo bulk to halt from 80km/h in a little less than 30 meters, and in a little over 2.5 seconds. There was a disconcerting grind-judder-squeak that had developed in the brakes of our test car though, which is definitely something that Mahindra could look into. If that’s not all, the three-point engine installation system in the monocoque needs to be beefed up a bit so that lateral vibes do not make their presence felt. Compared to many others, the XUV500 starts from a very high reference base so ironing out small glitches should be done quicker than ever.
The final blow from the XUV500 on debut for the rest of competition comes in terms of its pricing, but this is also indicative of what can be achieved with a product that is developed completely in-house. Rivaling most sedans in India, the XUV500 has been pegged at an invitation price that lies between Rs 10.85 lakh for the base front-wheel variant and Rs 12.88 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) for the fully loaded all-wheel drive version. What is critical though is that the amount of features it offers across variants, and the style with which it manages this. The SUV space in India was restricted for choice between the price band of Rs 10-20 lakh, and this hot new number from Mahindra comes not just as a smart, but also an immensely well put together and sensible choice to woo buyers across segments, and walks of life.
The XUV500 marks a bold but obvious move by a forward thinking company which dares to do what many conservative Indians shy away from. It is flamboyant in its turn-out but only because it is an Indian product, from a global perspective it is just spot-on! It breaks new ground for its maker not in its application of modern automobile technology embraced by the marque (first all monocoque construction, first front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive configs, the latter being different from four-wheel drive, mind you) but for going the whole hog on design and style, engineering excellence, top notch packaging and for delivering a product-performance-price package which has everyone reeling.
If there is a flaw in the make-up, it is that the company prefers to hit the road in measured manner and even though it has garnered over 5000 paid bookings within a week of its launch, production ramp up at its modern Chakan facility is being supervised so that the reality exceeds the hype. Speaking of hype, can one beat the fact that the XUV500 first drive story on www.zigwheels.comgarnered no less than 1.17 million views and counting within four days of the story going live! Add to that another 1.72 lakh views for the pricing and launch story and one begins to unravel the method behind consumer going mad over this Mahindra. The good thing though is that here is one aspect of the domestic Indian automotive industry which has reality writ large all over its shiny handsome face. The XUV500 works well, near almost, for a product right out of the box and this is another myth which has been laid to rest, for a vehicle by an Indian OEM. Having subjected the XUV500 to one of the most gruelling tests we have ever subjected a vehicle to, we can only but ask just one question: “If Mahindra can do this, why haven’t some of the world’s big name car makers done so?” Responses awaited from all you MNC car-wallahs out there.