AUTO COULD DO THE TRICK FOR IN­DIAN CAR MAKER

Mt Druitt - St Mary's Standard (East) - - CARS GUIDE - Bill Buys

MAHIN­DRA could soon be­come a much big­ger player in Aus­tralia’s medium SUV mar­ket than it has been in the past.

So far the gi­ant In­dian com­pany’s SUV sales have been hob­bled by a lack of deal­ers, small line-up and the ab­sence of an au­to­matic trans­mis­sion for its oth­er­wise quite im­pres­sive seven-seat XUV500.

How­ever, that has been fixed with the lat­est ver­sion of the “chee­tah-in­spired” model, due in Aus­tralia in May, which fea­tures a new six-speed Aisin au­to­matic out of Ja­pan and a load of good gear that could have class ri­vals wor­ried.

STYLING

THERE’S a new grille in a re­designed nose and a neater tail, too, a big change from the ear­lier one that looked as if a pair of bull’s horns had been painted across it.

Also stan­dard are swiv­el­ling “see around cor­ners” headlights, up­rated sus­pen­sion and new 17inch al­loy wheels.

The dash gets a 7.0-inch touch­screen, a new in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem with GPS, USB, Blue­tooth au­dio, hands free call, voice recog­ni­tion, iPod con­nec­tiv­ity and auto-on headlights and wipers.

Mahin­dra says other bits of “chee­tah” can be seen in the black ac­cents around the headlights which repli­cate the lithe cat’s tear ducts, and the car’s door han­dles are curved and ver­ti­cal, like a chee­tah’s claw.

SAFETY

NO CUR­RENT ANCAP rat­ing as yet but it scores discs all around, ven­ti­lated in front, six airbags, ESP, hill holder, hill de­scent con­trol and all the usual.

In­side there’s air con­trol in the back seats, cruise con­trol – and did I men­tion re­vers­ing cam­era?

Ear­lier stars.

DRIV­ING

model

scored

four THE en­gine is the same 103kW/330Nm, 2.2-litre four-cylin­der turbo-diesel as used in the In­ter­est­ing ve­hi­cle, well fea­tured, de­cent auto, looks OK. man­ual model.

We put in a few laps of Mahin­dra’s test track at its vast new and largely au­to­mated Chakan plant, 100km from Mum­bai, In­dia – which has the ca­pac­ity to build 500,000 ve­hi­cles a year – and rather liked the slightly quirky new trans­mis­sion.

We also took the tallish (1.78m) ve­hi­cle on some of In­dia’s new ex­press­ways, where it ran along eas­ily at 100km/h, with the rev counter show­ing only around 1700rpm.

It’s a smooth unit that will make up­shifts from about 1500rpm – un­less you have a heavy foot, in which case the tacho will run to close on 4000 be­fore go­ing into the next ra­tio.

En­thu­si­asts can also lit­er­ally switch to man­ual shift: a thumb but­ton on the gear lever knob does the job.

And the lever it­self has a neat sports-style gate.

Ac­cel­er­a­tion is strong and an eye needs to be kept on the speedo, which, like the rev counter, is in a sunken cowl in the dash, where the red nee­dle is hard to see.

It cruised com­fort­ably at around 140km/h on the In­dian ex­press­ways, but in Aus­tralia such speeds would send Mul­tanovas (speed cam­eras) into a frenzy.

How­ever, the 2.5 tonne SUV is not so chee­tah-like in the han­dling depart­ment, where it un­der­steers through fast cor­ners and has a fair bit of steer­ing kick­back.

The sus­pen­sion, Mac­struts in front and a de­cent multi-link sys­tem at the back, has been re­tuned and, while still com­fort­ably firm, is no longer brit­tle.

The diesel is not the world’s qui­etest, but it’s not too in­tru­sive – and it doesn’t need much fuel.

Av­er­age con­sump­tion is 6.7 litres/100km.

IN­SIDE

AC­COM­MO­DA­TION

front and rear is more than gen­er­ous, even with three adults in the se­cond row.

There’s a lot of head and legroom, but the rear­most pop-up seats are re­ally for chil­dren – and if they’re in the “up” po­si­tion there’s next to no cargo space.

The new Mahin­dra XUV500 gets a black leather-trimmed in­te­rior with an all-plas­tic dash, but fit and fin­ish has been im­proved and the touch screen’s many func­tions work a treat.

Mahin­dra builds XUV500s in seven dif­fer­ent mod­els, all sim­i­larly pow­ered, but with dif­fer­ent spec­i­fi­ca­tions.

Aus­tralia cur­rently gets the se­cond-from-top W8 mod­els but the top W10 ver­sion is also a pos­si­bil­ity.

The man­ual mod­els are still priced at $29,900 drive-away for the 2WD and $32,900 for the AWD, and while fi­nal pric­ing for the auto ver­sions has not been fi­nalised, Mahin­dra says they’ll be “un­der $35,000”, which would make them about the best in class in terms of stan­dard equip­ment, and an at­trac­tive propo­si­tion.

Mahin­dra … Fi­nally get­ting se­ri­ous?

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