Mahindra is not a name known to many car drivers in Australia and for those that are aware of the brand, the mention of it elicits a range of responses, with most of them not entirely positive. That suggests the brand has a lot to do to both be more visible here and to overcome the negativity surrounding that. The company manufactures a number of different vehicles, predominantly of a workhourse utility style. However, there is an SUV in the range, called the XUV500, and until recently available only with a manual transmission, limiting its appeal somewhat.To that end, Mahindra has fitted a six speed auto, sourced from leading Japanese transmission maker, Aisin. Now available as a four level range, with 2WD and AWD for the manual and auto, the Mahindra XUV500 starts at $29900 and tops out at a reasonable $34900, with which A Wheel Thing spent the week.Tagged the W8, there’s a 2.2L diesel up front, with a rated fuel economy of 7.4L per 100 km on a combined cycle. Powerwise it delivers 103 kilowatts and a healthy 330 torques between 1600 to 2800 revs. The Aisin six speed has a good spread of ratios and is definitely worth the investment. It’s smooth in its shifting, with no discernable hesitation between ratios and also doesn’t hold a gear unneccesarily on descents. However, off the line the ratios also don’t do that torque any justice, as acceleration is not the car’s strong point. The 1915 kilogram kerb weight is no doubt a major contributor and also explains the plus ten litres per hundred consumption for the urban cycle.
The transmission itself has a manual change option and it’s here the list of “umm, why” for this car starts. Rather than offering a paddle shift setup, or a rocker motion for the selector, there’s a small rocker switch fitted to the selector’s knob. Although admittedly it’s not difficult to use, it’s counter intuitive and doesn’t exactly feel comfortable. Does it make the XUV500 any quicker? More on that, later. Another niggle is the shift from Drive back to Park, with the usual slide through the gate (it’s a jagged, not straight gateway here), requiring a momentary pause at Neutral in order to then go through Reverse to Park. Again, not a deal breaker but an ultimately pointless thing in the frustration it brings.On tarmac the XUV500 is reasonably tied down. The rear is softer, though, with more rebound than expected and it certainly doesn’t match the more taut feeling up front. Being a seven seater, perhaps Mahindra have gone a little too soft in the expectation there’ll be seven aboard every time the car goes out. Also, the steering is heavily weighted whilst under way but there’s a noticeable feeling of slackness, a sense of disconnection between the wheel and the mechanism itself. Tyres are from Bridgestone and are 235/65 on nicely styled 17 inch alloys. There’s more than a hint of tyre squeal from this lot, with a blocky, all road/all weather tread pattern and that high sidewall profile working together to create that.Inside, the Mahindra delights with a comfortable set of seats, albeit manual only at the front, and some interesting design cues. Of note, and one that won’t please all, is the decision to use a font not unlike that seen in the banner for the movie “Lethal Weapon” on the tabs. It’s somewhat out of place and frankly the size is too small. Otherwise, it’s cleanly laid out, has double redundancy (controls are duplicated on the touchscreen) and have a soft touch with just a hint of click underneath. The same applies to the audio controls on the steerer; soft with a bit of click. Rear leg room is surprisingly spacious and would be suitable for almost all styles of passengers.The dash plastic has a print style many would be unaccustomed to; again, not unattractive, just different. There’s a pair of gloveboxes in front of the passenger seat, with one looking as if it’s a cooler box. The level of the door was a few millimetres higher than the surrounds, but this was the only apparent misalignment of material inside. Being a seven seater, Mahindra has gone to great pains to simplify what some other makers make difficult: raising and lowering the rear seats. A simple lever action mechanism on the back of the seat is all it takes and is brilliant in its simplicity.Tech wise you get satnav, a seven inch touchscreen (as mentioned, but there’s a picture rather than a blankness as a background), curtain and side airbags, super bright LED interior lighting, door mounted safety lights, plus an AWD system that’s engaged at the push of a button. However, there’s no noticeable difference on tarmac and the only indication you get is a tiny glowing backlight on the tab itself. You do, however, get Hill Descent Control.Externally, the Mahindra design crew have taken inspiration from other companies. There’s hints of Mitsubishi Pajero, a touch of Toyota RAV4 and older Mitsubishi Outlander. There’s oversized wheel arch extensions that head north and intrude into the panels. At the rear the tail lights curl upwards into the rear quarters, meeting the swage line from the front. The headlights have a sinuous S-Curve embedded into the design and mirror the similar look embedded in the driving light structure. They bracket Mahindra’s signature grille design, which will not appeal to all, being a rather toothsome look. Also, you’ll get an unusual look for the door handles. Not unpleasant, just different.Back to that manual switch for changing gears; short answer is yes but it’s a qualified yes. There is a subtle but noticeable change in how the ‘box changes but it’d require a camera and someone with a stopwatch to accurately determine if acceleration is actually any quicker. There’s a seat of the pants feeling that it is, but…At The End Of the Drive.
First up, A Wheel Thing must say thank you to James Halliwell at Mahindra Automotive Australia for the opportunity to review the XUV500.
Looks wise, it’s a standout because of its unusual styling. It’s certainly not to everyone’s taste and perhaps it could be seen as a case of trying too hard to look different in order to be seen as different. Personally, a name change would be in order, as it’s a generic and also Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote Acme naming.
Where the car works is on road, as it should. This may read as stating the blindingly obvious, Sybil, however as an unknown, people will have certain expectations to be met. There’s little to question in the way the car rides; it’s compliant enough, needs a tightening at the rear to match the front but is predictable in its handling.
A diet wouldn’t be a bad idea, as people have an expectation that a diesel is economical.
Inside, it’s reasonable enough but could do with a lift in regards to the general presence. The font and size of that, as mentioned, for starters. A move towards a “traditional” manual option for the transmission in having a rocker motion for the lever, not a switch, is another. Electric seats are almost mandatory for a top of the range vehicle yet not seen here.
The touchscreen itself was easy to use but, again, the use of something such as a picture, which looked like a field of flowers, just didn’t quite gel with the overall presentation.
Outside, well here it’s a matter of personal choice and A Wheel Thing would like to see a scaling back of the overt attempt to make the XUV500 stand out. Again, it’s not unattractive, it’s just a little too different for comfort.
Where the car does win is in the price. 35K isn’t a bad ask and seems to adequately reflect the perception many stated of the vehicle.
For more information and to look at booking yourself a test drive, go here: Mahindra XUV500 SUV