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.