It’s been more than a year since it’s launch, but the manner in which people have responded to Mahindra XUV 500 is overwhelming to witness not only for us automobile journalists, but also (I presume when I say this) the company. So I thought to myself, what better way to understand this love for the Mahindra XUV 500 than to take it out into the wilderness where it belongs. Ashish, I must say, tried to persuade me by offering a few other suggestions but I stuck to the Indian born global SUV. As Anand Mahindra, MD Chairman, Mahindra and Mahindra, said during the press conference probably a year back, “The XUV is a combined effort, an Indian effort to tell the world that our vision is not restricted to our country, it’s global.” And it was these words that brought out the patriotic in me and I dismissed Ashish’s suggestions, setting off on a journey from metropolitan Bangalore to the picturesque towns of Coorg and Kabini with a car that I had high expectations from.
All kicked about the idea of heading into the wilderness, with a car that does look pretty impressive (design-wise of course) I put the keys into the ignition but the engine refused to fire. What an anti-climax, isn’t it? Weird displays on the instrument cluster like the ABS sign which flashed a number of times, the beep of the driver seat-belt warning sign (though the belt was very much clamped) and the horn which did not honk were clear signs that the XUV had battery issues. After downing two bottles of distilled water in two compartments of the battery, the Mahindra XUV 500 (which almost had an Uh Oh! moment) fired all cylinders and I hoped that was the end of that problem. As I drove through the city, I figured using the Sat-Nav system would not be advisable and so depended on the locals to direct me to the road to Mysore. Having lost all hope however because of the language barrier, I dared to switch it on and voila! Good morning Mr. Mahindra Navigator, as it is called, came into play. Like most of the Sat-Nav systems, it took the input and presented me with a route map, distance to go, precise directions and oh almost forgot, I was directed by a male voice.
Usually you aren’t greeted by a male voice but here Mahindra has made it sure that the guy breathes down your neck and tells you precisely where to turn. I got so scared of the voice itself that I wondered if I didn’t go to where he directed me to; I would be punched in the face with the airbag or would be subjected to shock therapy or something more gruesome. But yes, I have to admit; it did its job and got me out of the city in no time. It was in city traffic conditions that I also realised the clutch of the XUV is quite heavy and its release action pretty jerky, which makes smooth progress in the city a bit tricky.
Once I hit the highway I figured it would be a good idea to sit back and let the Mahindra XUV 500 do its share of driving, which is why I tried my best to push the cruise control button on the steering wheel, but it didn’t work. In fact all the buttons on the steering wheel, except the volume button, did not work. It is because of these small niggles that I even refused to put on the radio or anything that required usage of battery and that meant compromising on the air-con as well. In short, I was in South India, where the only way to cool off is with a pint of local made beer or air conditioning, both of which were now a lost cause.
But my attention was completely on the engine, as the 2.2 litre tried and tested mHawk, which is taken out straight from the Scorpio, completely dominates the nature of this SUV. The motors transverse placement to drive the front wheels is what differentiates it from the Scorpio, while the six-speed manual gearbox mated to a dual-mass flywheel helps driving at low speeds. Immensely powerful, the Mahindra XUV 500 roars across the highway while others on the road are left wondering what species of cat just flew by. The engine delivers 140bhp which is thanks to an S-vane BorgWarner variable geometry turbocharger. Peak power is delivered when the revs hit 2500rpm and yes there is slight turbo lag under 1600rpm.
However, it takes minimal effort as you try to overtake the small puny creatures that inhabit the rest of the road, but as the road conditions turned to becoming ‘the one less travelled by’ it brought out a whole new, not so pleasing side of the car. The cracks in the tarmacs and potholes were ruthless to the Mahindra XUV 500, as it rattled around, and the fact that the suspension could not keep up with the undulations made it a bumpy ride. But, to give credit where it’s due, the underpinning of the Mahindra XUV 500 is a monocoque chassis, and this is what adds balance to the car, making it feel much more planted than the Scorpio. It feels pretty sorted when you drive through the snaky, well-paved roads of the coffee plantations but I think the tyres could do with a bit more grip.
Mahindra has managed to make a car that looks good but the interiors could have been slightly better and it’s evident that the cost-cutting strategy has all been applied to the interior. But, you have to hand it to the Indian SUV giant, they have brewed a car that stood out amongst its contenders (till the Renault Duster showed up). Safety features like dual airbags are standard across the range with the top models additionally featuring ESP, rollover mitigation and curtain airbags, which shows the company’s dedication to setting the bar high, very high.
As I neared the end of my journey however, I faced some more problems with the car. The driver-side door was rusting from underneath and that is certainly not something that one likes to see, especially on a modern car which is barely a year old. Having said that though, there was not a moment when I doubted the performance of the car and neither did I think I would be left stranded on the road with it. After spending time with it, I can say by experience that the XUV500 is a very capable vehicle and with so much to offer in terms of features, driving experience and looks; it deserves every bit of its recognition. However, it needs some more attention to detail and needs more focus on quality, which I’m sure will come in time as Mahindra moves to higher standards of manufacturing in its quest to become a global manufacturer, improving upon what is already a very impressive vehicle, making it a class leader.