With the XUV300, Mahindra’s taken yet another stab at cracking the sub-4m compact SUV segment. Has it worked? We find out.
If you are asked to talk about a Mahindra SUV today, chances are that all you’d think of is toughness, ladder-frame underpinnings, and macho this and macho that. That’s the image that they’ve earned over the years and it’s something that Mahindra can’t stop beating their chest about, too. Now, having said that, this rough-and-tough approach doesn’t work everywhere for them. And one of the segments, where they got convincingly beaten by the competition, is the thriving sub-4m compact SUV market, where their offering, the TUV300, couldn’t quite manage to challenge the likes of the Maruti Suzuki Brezza or the Ford EcoSport.
Now Mahindra has realised this that not everyone is a wannabe alpha male – instead, most of the buyers in this segment want a pseudo SUV that’s feature-packed and one that drives like a car. So with some help from their global partners, Mahindra has now brought in the XUV300. A brand new compact-SUV that rides on a proven global platform and is claimed to be a more sophisticated vehicle. So, has Mahindra finally cracked the sub-4m code? Let’s find out…
With space from Korea
That the XUV300 is based on the same platform as the Ssangyong Tivoli is something that we all know. However, while its Korean sibling’s bodywork stretches to 4.2m, the Mahindra is 3.99m long. Now you’d imagine that Mahindra had to cut corners to squeeze the XUV300 under the 4m mark. And they have but in the very literal sense. You see, the bumpers have been chopped on either ends and the rear is a little slab-sided. But the chassis hasn’t been touched. The wheelbase is 2,600mm – same as the Tivoli, and this makes it the longest among its direct rivals. In fact, it’s 10mm more than the Hyundai Creta. The Mahindra is also the widest in the segment (1.82m). It isn’t the tallest though (1.62m), meaning it’s slightly dwarfed by both the Brezza and EcoSport.
Numbers and measurements aside, the design of the XUV300 is a highlight in itself. The overall silhouette – apart from the stubby rear-end – is virtually identical to the Tivoli, but Mahindra’s in-house design team has peppered it with a fair dose of chrome, extended LED DRLs and aggressive creases. Sure it doesn’t look intimidating, but it sure has that SUV-ish appeal that most of us want from these pseudo off-roaders. As far as I can tell, the rear three-quarters is the only odd angle – the squashed boot, massive haunches and rear wheels that stretch right to the edge are a giveaway that it’s been tailored to the sub 4m specs.
The top-of-the-line W8 (O) variant that we tested gets dual-tone exterior paint and 17-inch diamond cut alloys, which look neat and classy. Overall, I think it’s a job well done by Mahindra’s design team because, for once, they haven’t gone overboard, like they did with the first-gen XUV500 or the KUV100 recently.
The XUV300’s rivals, especially the Brezza and EcoSport, are pretty rich in terms of features and equipment. But Mahindra had to one-up the competition here and, as a consequence, they’ve packed the XUV300 with everything but the kitchen sink. While familiar stuff like projector lamps, a touchscreen infotainment with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, engine start-stop function, keyless entry and ignition, sunroof, electrically powered ORVMs, rear camera with sensors, auto-dimming inside mirror, et al, are offered on the top-spec variant, it also gets first-in-segment things like front parking sensors, dual-zone air-conditioning, heated ORVMs, tyre pressure monitoring system, disc brakes on all four wheels and three steering assistance modes (Normal, Comfort and Sport). If you think about it, these features used to be a reserve of high-end luxury cars not too long ago. So, full marks to Mahindra for moving the game forward for mainstream car buyers.
Likewise, in the safety department, ABS and front airbags are offered as standard, but the top-end comes with 7 airbags – including driver knee airbag – which is again a segment first. As for its NCAP rating, Mahindra assured us that the results will be out soon. And given the fact that the Marazzo scored a 4-star rating, you can expect the XUV300 to fare well in the crash tests.
The moment I stepped inside the cabin and stationed myself behind the wheel, there were a few things that were apparent right from the go – the driver’s seat is super comfortable and supportive, but the ivory white upholstery is going to be a pain to maintain in our dusty conditions. The touch and feel of plastics inside is decent – if not the best – but there’s a sense of sturdiness in the cabin. For instance, the doors are heavy and they shut with a solid thud. The design and layout of the dashboard, especially air-conditioning controls, feel a bit yesterday, but that’s my personal opinion. Coming to the touchscreen infotainment, it has a slew of features and it’s easy to comprehend, but lacks the crispness of Ford’s brilliant SYNC system or the intuitiveness of Maruti’s touchscreen. That said, when it comes to the space in the cabin, the Mahindra beats its rivals by quite some margin. There’s more legroom and shoulder room for passengers at the back, plus the seats are supremely comfortable – in fact, I’d go as far as to say that this is the most spacious car in its segment. It feels almost Creta big, to be honest.
So now coming to the main question, how does it drive? The moment I fired up the engine, it was clearly apparent that this is one refined motor. At idle, it just hums like a monk and the insulation inside is so good that you’d have a hard time to figure out if it’s a petrol or diesel. Speaking of its powertrains, there are two engine options on offer – a brand new 1.2-litre petrol turbo and 1.5-litre diesel. The one that we got to drive was the latter.
The diesel engine here is a familiar unit because it’s the same 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo engine that debuted with the Marazzo last year. However, in the XUV300, it produces 115bhp and a whopping 300Nm of torque. Power transmission duties are carried out by a 6-speed gearbox that sends the drive to front wheels.
Before setting off, I realised that the clutch has quite some travel and the six-speeder has long throws. That said, the clutch action is super light and then there’s the engine that completely overshadows everything. There’s a slight lag below 1,500rpm, but from there on there’s a strong and relentless surge of torque. The performance is brisk since the peak torque – all 300Nm of it – stays put with you till about 2,500rpm. And because there’s so much torque on offer, the gearbox has taller ratios, which means you don’t need to downshift or upshift that frequently. But what really impresses you is the refinement of the motor. It’s only after 3,500rpm that it starts to protest a bit. From what I experienced though, you never need to rev this motor that high, for it has oodles of performance in the mid-range for every kind of driving.
In the ride and handling department, the XUV300 doesn't disappoint either. The ride quality is stellar and you can glide over bumps without a care in the world. Potholes, speed breakers, bumps - the suspension gobbles up everything that comes in its way. At the same time, the handling is not compromised. Despite having a softer setup, body movements are predictable and it rolls slightly when poked. This stability can be credited to its rigid chassis, short rear overhang and long wheelbase. That said, it doesn't feel as enthusiastic as the Brezza in the handling department. I couldn't really stretch its legs in the backroads of Goa, so can't really comment on its high-speed stability at the moment.
Braking performance is phenomenal as well. All discs on four wheels mean you come to a dead stop as soon you drop the anchors. The pedal feel and feedback is progressive, and not spongy as it's in other Mahindra vehicles like the Scorpio or TUV300.
A solid 4 out of 5, I’d say. All things considered, there's only one thing that I have to say about the XUV300. It's ace! Mahindra has absolutely nailed it on the head with this vehicle. You see, to sum it up, it has appealing looks, is the most spacious among its rivals, comes packed with features, and most importantly it drives like a car. The only thing missing from the equation is an automatic gearbox, because on all the other fronts it’s excellent. So much so that I am ready to bet that this is going to be the best sub-4m compact SUV when it's launched. If Mahindra doesn't botch up its pricing that is...
- Mahindra XUV300 1.5 Diesel
Engine: 1,497cc / 4-Cylinder / 16-Valve / Turbocharged
Transmission: 6-Speed Manual / Front-Wheel Drive
Power: 115bhp @ 3,750rpm
Torque: 300Nm @ 1,500-2,500rpm
X-Factor: Not just a very capable product, but the XUV300 is now the most sophisticated and modern Mahindra vehicle out there!