MAHINDRA MAKES ITS MOVE
CHEETAH-INSPIRED SUV SURGES AHEAD OF THE PACK
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 the absence of an automatic transmission for its otherwise quite impressive seven-seat XUV500.
But that has been fixed with the latest version of the 'cheetah-inspired' model, due in Australia in May, with a new six-speed Aisin automatic and loads of good gear that should have class rivals worried.
There's a new grille in a redesigned nose and a neater tail too, to remove 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 and 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.
The engine is the same 103kW/330Nm, 2.2-litre fourcylinder turbo-diesel as used in the 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 – 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 into a frenzy.
But 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 its not too intrusive and it doesn't need much fuel. Average consumption is 6.7litres/ 100km.
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 kids; and if they're in the 'up' position, there's next to no cargo space.
For on-board storage there's a coolbox in the console, a glovebox, nets behind the seats, and bottle holders and extra space in the doors.
The new Mahindra XUV500 gets a black leathertrimmed interior with an all-plastic dash, but fit and finish has been improved and the touchscreen's many functions work a treat.
Safety bits include six airbags, hill holder, hill ascent and descent control, and the usual braking and stability electronics.
Mahindra builds XUV 500s 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 driveaway 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's handsome XUV500 has had a mild facelift and a considerable equipment upgrade.