Innova vs. Xylo: MPVs bring out the machete

The Mahindra Xylo has challenged Toyota's dominance over the MPV segment, and the leader has responded promptly with its upgraded Innova. Will the cosmetic makeover be enough to guarantee the Innova's lead? Sopan Sharma investigates

Families; the good old Indian way of staying together, doing whatever. And when it comes to doing fun things together on the road, nothing comes close to MPVs, the Multi-Purpose Vehicles that have formed a sure-shot steady sale segment for itself over the years. Multi-purpose also means that the vehicles double up as spacious and economical modes of public transport for fleet operators.

From the Tata Sumos and the Tempo Traxes from a decade ago to the spanking new MPVs today that actually feel like upsized cars and not downsized trucks, the segment has come a long way - riding on the Indian middle class boom. After the stonking success of the Toyota Qualis, the company decided to do away with its 'taxi' image and move towards a more family appeal car-like vehicle with the Innova, the MPV has been hugely popular and almost peerless.

Not until the advent of the home-grown Mahindra Xylo. With its extremely well engineered and smartly thought out tit-bits, it is clear that this is unlike any other vehicle built by the house of Mahindra. The Innova is out with a fresher, more dynamic look too, but will it be enough to speed away from Mahindra's charging bull? We find out.

Design and style: Elegance vs. aggression

The upgraded Innova has lots of design changes on the outside, the most noticeable one being the new chrome slated grille and revised bumpers that give the car a more stylish and yet a more mature look. By contrast, the Mahindra Xylo carries the company's hallmark aggressive stance, which is led by the toothy and snarling grille.

Moving rearward with respect to the exterior design, however, the upgraded Innova is more conventional, and hence more palatable especially to its target audience. The flowing roofline and the well packaged rear end with its new lamps make the car very slick and presentable. The Xylo tends to lose the design plot as you move towards the rear, with thematic mismatches in the front, rear and profile design. So far as deciding on a good-looking MPV is concerned, the new Innova takes the cake, cakewalk style. Brownie points to Mahindra though for its daring and aggressive design that stays true to its way of making vehicles.

Interiors and creature comforts: Xylo goes avant-garde

The Xylo came with creature comforts that pretty much stunned not only the segment, but also the entire Indian car industry. Parktronic, multi-information display, great functional vents for the rear benches, lights, storage space - the list for impressive parts on the Xylo's insides just goes on.

Just when we thought Mahindra had this sealed and in the pocket, Toyota has come out with a competitive creature comforts package in the new Innova. It has all of the above mentioned features - parktronic too - which we feel is a great help for vehicles their size.

Space on the inside is comparable on both vehicles, but the Xylo comes out shining with its fabulous third bench seat. At six feet tall, I may not have had enough headroom but had more than an inch between my knees and the bucket seat in the front. Loss of luggage space is a downside, sure, but the comfort that the Xylo offers is definitely a notch above the Innova's.

The difference between the interiors is telling too. While the new Innova offers great add-on bits, it is still does not come up to the Xylo's level. The Mahindra MPV is new from the ground-up offering more options to Mahindra's thoughtful R&D team, which results in great bits that add a whole lot of value to the interiors. Light for the floor-board, aircraft style reading lights for individual benches and lunch trays - we stay impressed with the Xylo.

Engine: Diesel power at its usable best

Innova's D-4D diesel always had the stage set as one of the most refined and advanced diesel engines in affordable cars, and it keeps pace in the new Innova as well. The Xylo's M-Eagle engine has the grunt and the push, but cold start clatter and smoke mean that Mahindra is still off the Japanese giant's pace. Even in the transmission department, the Xylo's shifts get smooth only after the engine is warmed up, but the Innova shifts without skipping a beat from the word go.

The two engines are almost at par with their performance and fuel efficiency, even though the Xylo's comes out as the slightly more frugal powerplant. Value over refinement, the choice will lie upon discerning families.

Handling and ride quality: The Xylo comes on trumps

If we were to make a guess regarding the better handler between the two cars before we had driven the Xylo, we wouldn't have bet largely on the Mahindra vehicle. After all, the Innova had us mightily impressed with its composure and ability to corner with confidence despite its size and weight.

The biggest surprise after driving the Xylo, however, was the way it manages the ride quality vs. handling equation. The ride is jerk free and bounce free in all the benches of the Xylo irrespective of the road speed and conditions - and we can imagine the immense R&D exercise it must have been on M&M's part to achieve this. It fits the bill for a comfortable family drive, and yet retains Mahindra's DNA of driver appeal and fun on the run.

Verdict: When the right price strikes...

So, the MPV segment may focus on comfort and ease of use, but economy is the other major factor in the equation - for large families and fleet owners alike. And even though the two vehicles are fairly well matched, up a few notches and down a few on some parameters, the Xylo takes the thunder away from the Innova decidedly on the price front.

Starting at Rs 9.45 lakh ex-showroom and going all the way up to Rs 11 lakh, the Innova comes with the price that Toyota's reputation and reliability would demand. Even the fully loaded version of the Xylo, on the other hand, is a whopping Rs 1.65 lakh cheaper than the base version of the diesel Innova. At Rs 7.70 lakh ex-showroom Delhi for its fully loaded version and Rs 6.24 lakh for the base (that is cheaper than even some of the new premium hatchbacks in the Indian market!), the Xylo has the price wars in its pocket, easy.

Inexpensive, approachable, well-made and completely practical, the Xylo definitely has the edge over the new Innova. The cosmetic upgrade will help the Toyota carrier by granting it a fresh lease and increase its appeal amongst the more well-heeled families, but the Xylo promises to be the segment blockbuster. Stay logged in to www.zigwheels.com for regular reports on how the ZigWheels long term Mahindra Xylo is faring, and if it stays in as good a shape as the Ed's personal Innova stays!

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