Mahindra XUV500 auto long-term
Meandering through South Africa with the revamped XUV500 Mahindra during a long-term test with a difference, Ferdi de Vos experienced some of the architectural diversity (and similarities) that makes the country unique.
Form follows function; sometimes, no, probably most times, out of necessity. This again was evident when comparing building styles and architecture in different regions during our recent Mahindra travels.
From Cape Dutch style homesteads and ostentatious estate palaces in the picturesque Western Cape, white-chalked fisherman’s cottages and white “hartbeeshouses” in the remote West Coast, to corbelled dwellings and sandstone mansions on the harsh, endless plains of the Karoo and Northern Cape.
These differences, but also the similarities in style and design are probably best illustrated by the “bee-hive” houses on Karoo farms in the vicinity of Carnarvon and Loxton, and the high-tech domed structures of the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) field station near Sutherland.
The corbelled houses of the Northern Cape Karoo were built by the first Trekboers in the early 1800s. It was out of necessity, as they needed to protect their families and stores from the harsh climate of this forsaken region.
These stone dwellings were the first permanent structures in a large area of the Great Karoo, and they were erected after the British authorities at the Cape changed the conditions of land ownership in 1813.
It was an important development, as it marked the first transition from the land owners’ nomadic lifestyle towards permanent settlement in the area. Yet, no one really knows how it came about that this ancient Mediterranean style of architecture was adopted here. What is clear, though, is that the self-reliant **boers** used whatever was available to them, mostly dolerite and sandstone.
In contrast, the dome for the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere and among the largest in the world, was purpose-built. However, its function – as the Giant Eye of Africa on the Universe – dictated its corbelled form, as well as that of all the other observatory buildings around it.
The XUV500 was developed in much the same fashion. As the first completely self-developed model of Mahindra, it needed to be functional, but still make a statement. So, the aim of chief designer Ramkripa Ananthan – one of the few women car designers at any car brand – was to style a vehicle that matched modern SUV products from Western brands, but retained some unique Indian flair.
Using the cheetah as inspiration, her creation in true Indian fashion displays some interesting, curvaceous lines, yet is sober enough to attract Westerners as well. First released here in 2011, the XUV was substantially refreshed in late 2015.
Aesthetic highlights include a redesigned black grille with chrome accents and black mesh inserts, and restyled headlights with S-shaped LED running lights. The rear is streamlined, framed by tall, longitudinally arranged tail light clusters, and it runs on big, multi-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels shod with all-terrain tyres.
Term test … with a difference
It was a long-term test with a difference, because the satin white XUV500 auto received from Mahindra South Africa already had some 30,000 km on the odometer – 27,541 km to be exact. Normally these types of tests are done with low-mileage vehicles; but, in this instance, I specifically requested a high-miler since the real object was to test the durability of the flagship model of Mahindra in local conditions.
While its redesign was cosmetically extensive, it did not include any mechanical updates. The so-called New Age XUV500 retained its 2,2-litre four-cylinder mHawk 140 turbodiesel engine of its predecessor, with variable geometry turbocharger, mated to a six-speed manual gearbox.
However, it was clear that an automatic derivative was necessary – particularly in light of the growing SUV buyer preference towards self-shifter ’boxes. As a result, an automatic derivative was launched in August last year – a front-wheel drive W8 model equipped with an advanced transmission sourced from the leading global Japanese transmission manufacturer Aisin.
(Interestingly, the originally intended transmission for the XUV was from the Australian company DSI, but its development was terminated when Chinese manufacturer Geely purchased DSI.)
However, our XUV500 auto was not a W8 – no, it was the top-spec W10 with all-wheel drive (AWD), used by Mahindra as “test mule” (and executive transport) before the auto model was released to the market. Besides the auto ’box (the W8 AWD is only available with manual transmission) the W10 comes with a slightly higher spec level – including a sunroof, keyless entry with a start/stop button, and an aftermarket tow bar.
On the road
After driving other versions of the “five double-oh” one expected its turbodiesel mill to be raucous at lower revs, but after this initial clatter it became more subdued at cruising speeds.
Also, driving the new auto version quickly revealed how the new six-speed auto transmission enhanced the XU500s drivability. The well-selected gear ratios ensured good acceleration and punchy midrange tractability, while the overdrive sixth gear allowed for economical cruising.
Still, while upshifts of the intelligent transmission (with what Mahindra calls Micro Hybrid Technology) were smooth enough, it was not always as precise on the downshifts. It adapted well to different driving conditions, and I welcomed the “creep” function to cope with stop-start driving circumstances, but sometimes the ’box was slow in finding a gear when coasting.
Delivering 103 kW at 3 750 rpm and 330 Nm of torque at a low1 600 rpm, sustained up to 2 800 rpm, the smaller mHawk mill is not as powerful as the power plants in rival SUVs. Yet, the engine and transmission combination ensures agile responses, excellent in-gear tractability, and good lugging power – and, the XUV often surprised more modern Everests, Fortuners, and Prados on an uphill drag.
An overdrive sixth gear allows for economical open-road driving, while an override mode – interestingly operated by a switch on the gear lever requiring only a flick of a thumb to shift up or down – offers the option to change gears manually. Under power there was some resonance, most likely due to some subtle drivetrain vibration that could be felt in the cabin, but it was a small distraction in an otherwise good driving experience.
On our trips, we came to appreciate the XUVs capable air conditioning system, its roominess, its quite intuitive infotainment system, complaint ride, and competent handling traits. With temperatures reaching the low 40s on the West Coast in mid-summer, passengers welcomed the air vents for all three rows of seats in the black-clad interior. Luggage space is limited with all seven seats in use, but fold down the third row, and a cavernous 702 litres becomes available – easily swallowing four big suitcases and other holiday paraphernalia.
The 7-inch ICE infotainment touchscreen display, which takes centre stage on the dashboard, is very touch responsive, and the menus are easy to navigate. The Bluetooth connectivity worked problem free, and syncing to your contact list, it even read SMSs out loud.
The sat-nav also worked well; with a variety of voice guidance accents to choose from – we first tried Londoner Dolores, but eventually settled for Nigel with his Oxford accent … While Nigel was very competent, he sometimes wanted to take long detours, and some settings adjustment was called for to get him on track again.
A Car Info feature displaying information like average fuel consumption (in km/litre), tyre pressures (via the standard TPMS), vehicle alerts and service info, was welcome, but a more detailed instant consumption function would have been appreciated.
The air-conditioned centre console – great for keepings drinks cold on the road – was another unmissable feature, while occupants also appreciated the charging points in all three seating rows.
Ride and handling
Other features such as automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, six airbags, a reverse camera and rear parking sensors, electrically folding wing mirrors, and a multi-function steering wheel with cruise control – not to mention the multi-speaker system with crystal clear sound quality – made living with the mid-size SUV easy.
Over our six months evaluation period, the XUVs black leather seats, with 8-way electrical adjustment for the driver’s seat, proved superbly comfortable on long trips; and durable too. Actually, the only quality problems encountered after numerous kilometres was a broken light clip in the driver’s door (it was fixed in no time) and a rattle coming from the second-row seats when unoccupied, probably due to some chassis flex.
Night driving was a breeze, owing to projector headlamps with cornering lights illuminating the road, and cool blue instrument and interior lighting adding a sense of calmness to the cabin. Another nice touch is the pair of illuminated scuff plates on both sides and “puddle lights” with XUV logo illuminating the ground when opening the doors at night.
On the rutted Karoo dirt roads the excellent ride quality of the XUVs independent MacPherson strut suspension up-front and multilink setup at the rear really surprised us. Here the 200 mm ride height and AWD system of Mahindra showed its worth, while the response and good accuracy of the power-assisted steering ensured confidence on the loose surfaces.
This was augmented by an all-disc braking system with active electronic safety systems (ABS, EBD, and ESP with roll-over mitigation) which responded well to modulation, plus Hill Hold and Hill Descent Control.
Covering more than 12,000 km on all types of road surfaces, and in a wide variety of conditions, the Mahindra averaged around 9 litres/100 km (and CO2 emission of 215 g/km) – good enough for a range of about 900 km on one fill of its 70-litre tank.
After putting the uprated XUV500 through its paces in all conceivable conditions, it is clear this model is currently the best offering in the Mahindra stable, and the new auto model augments the range further. Even with a comprehensive specification level, the XUV500 W8 auto is still affordable – available for less than R400,000 (R394,995) – while most of its competitors in terms of size and capacity (such as the Nissan X-Trail, Kia Sorento, and Hyundai Santa Fe) are nearly R80k more expensive.
Yes, its chassis is now starting to show its age in terms of rigidity, there are still some issues with fit and finish, and yes, the service network is limited, but taking into account its spaciousness, acceptable refinement, good handing, and decent performance, it is probably the most underrated SUV on the market.
The XUV500 is a very attractive alternative for those wanting a competent mid-size SUV at a decent price, and it is certainly worth considering for any extended road trip.