MAHINDRA CURRYING FAVOUR
INDIAN SUV RANGE SET TO PRESSURE COMPETITIVE SECTOR
STAND by for some more spice in the SUV sector with the arrival in May of the Mahindra XUV500, with six-speed automatic transmission.
The Indian company's SUV sales have been hamstrung in the past by the absence of an automatic transmission for its otherwise quite impressive seven-seat XUV500.
However, that has been fixed with the latest version of its XUV500, which features a new six-speed Aisin automatic and a load of good gear that should have class rivals worried.
There's a new grille in a redesigned nose and a neater tail, up-rated suspension, new 17-inch alloy wheels and 'bending' see-around-corners headlights.
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.
A reversing camera is also standard, likewise cruise control, tyre monitoring, and auto-on wipers and lights.
Black accents around the headlights replicate the lithe cheetah’s tear ducts, and the car's door handles are curved and vertical, like a cheetah's claws.
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 at 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 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 about 140km/h on the Indian expressways, but in Australia, such speeds would send Multanovas into a frenzy.
However, the 2.5 tonne SUV 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 is comfortably firm.
The diesel is 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 onboard 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 leather-trimmed inte- rior with an all-plastic dash, but fit and finish has been improved and the touchscreen's many functions work a treat.
Safety items include six airbags, hill holder, hill ascent and descent control, and the usual braking and stability electronic aids.
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 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 major equipment upgrade.