Mahindra XUV 3XO vs Tata Nexon: Comparison test

The Mahindra XUV 3XO and Tata Nexon have been heavily updated, and square off as top contenders for the compact SUV crown
How well the XUV 3XO go up against segment-leading Tata Nexon?
How well the XUV 3XO go up against segment-leading Tata Nexon?Shot by Avdhoot A Kolhe for evo India

Before we dive into this story let's take a moment to reflect on the two contenders battling for the compact SUV crown. There is, as you know, no dearth of rivals. The Brezza is snapping at the heels of the Nexon for the sales crown. Then there’s the Venue, Sonet, Magnite, Kiger and even the C3, although Citroen doesn’t classify in this category. All have their strengths but only two compact SUVs have scored full 5 stars in the G-NCAP crash safety tests and those are the two you see on these pages.

Isn’t it massively commendable that despite competition from around the world, it is our home-grown players Tata Motors and Mahindra – and only our home-grown players! – that make 5-star rated SUVs? The two adopt an uncompromising approach towards material quality, devote the necessary resources in engineering a solid structure, avoid cost cutting in this most important area, and maintain a laser-sharp focus on building safer cars. It really makes your choice easy. If safety is your number one priority – as it should be! – only the Nexon and 3XO deserve to be on your shopping list. And with that established, let’s now deal with the diesel situation.

The anti-diesel lobby

It will tell you that oil burners are bad, smelly, noisy and their emissions will kill you. Which is all humbug, really. Diesels are still relevant in India; even in small SUVs such as these. Despite the influx of turbo-petrols, a modern turbo-diesel still gives you a better blend of power and efficiency. Their running costs are lower. And the refinement is a far cry from what you probably remember of diesels when growing up. Knowledgeable enthusiasts are buying diesels to enjoy driving. The Thrill of Diesels is definitely a big draw and that’s down to the torque.

The Nexon’s 1.5-litre diesel puts out 260Nm which is 90Nm more than the turbo-petrol. Power of the diesel is only 5bhp down at 113bhp. And it makes for a strong performer, lots of grunt to chew highway miles. Very little in terms of turbo-lag to spoil the experience in the city. And while there is a bit of diesel clatter it is never intrusive. Tata Motors have vast experience of diesels and it shows. Where the market leader, Maruti Suzuki, has run away from diesels Tata Motors continues to develop, refine and make better and better diesel engines.

And the same holds true for Mahindra as well. In fact, Mahindra have an even stronger focus on performance, be it petrol or diesel. The 1.5-litre diesel, carried over from the XUV300, puts out a class-best 300Nm of torque. Even power, at 115bhp, is 2bhp up on the Nexon and it shows on the road, 0-100kmph taking 13.59 seconds. Mahindra claims reduced turbo lag but you do feel the surge of torque and if you aren’t judicious with the throttle it can lurch unexpectedly. This is amplified by the transmission – Mahindra’s gearbox is not the slickest and the clutch is not easy to modulate. You get auto start-stop but you have to keep the clutch depressed for a second or two longer than in other cars equipped with a similar system – this is irritating enough for one to find and punch the button to switch it off. That said Mahindra’s mHawk diesel does have better refinement and this makes an excellent case for diesels continuing long into the future (except if ill advised legislation bans it altogether).

Does that mean the turbo-petrol is irrelevant? Not quite. They are thirsty and cost more to run but are significantly more powerful, more enthusiastic, deliver faster acceleration times and most important, come with proper automatic gearboxes. Where the diesels make do with AMT transmissions the turbo-petrol on the Nexon gets a DCT while the 3XO gets a proper torque converter. And that genuinely delivers a superior driving experience.

The turbo-petrols

The Mahindra beats the Nexon on paper — the 3-cylinder 1.2-litre T-GDI petrol engine puts out a strong 119bhp and 239Nm, which are incidentally class benchmarks. Those numbers translate to very strong real world performance as well. Lag is well contained and there’s a strong surge in acceleration getting the 3XO up to triple-digit speeds without any effort. It feels effortless and it’s pleasant to see a small car that can get up to speed so quickly. Often, I would glance down at the speedo and find myself rather surprised by the speeds the 3XO was carrying. NVH is very good, despite it being a 3-cyl and Mahindra claims NVH levels for this drivetrain to be on par with the XUV700. Transmission duties are taken up by an Aisin-sourced 6-speed AT. It is smooth, and despite not having paddles, it remains very responsive downshifts. The AT also solves the issue of the slow-to-react start-stop button.

The Nexon turbo-petrol has similar 1.2-litre capacity but it isn’t a direct-injection turbo. Outputs stand at 170Nm, and performance isn’t quite as sprightly. Sport mode does inject some degree of enthusiasm into the drivetrain, but the 3XO remains the quicker car. Refinement is also not quite as good. Something that is new with this drivetrain is the DCT. It is quick and snappy, and works rather well. City mode keeps it quite conservative but Sport mode sends downshifts more willingly. Plus, it has paddles to keep you engaged. That said, the performance and NVH of the 3XO petrol is a step above the Nexon’s and is the drivetrain of choice here!

Styling

Now styling is a matter of personal taste and, personally, the 3XO has not grown on me. A week of living with it and I can tell you the 3XO is not my cup of tea. Nothing wrong with the rear but the front is a bit… too expressive. Which does work for many; even in the evo India office the 3XO’s styling has plenty of fans and that’s why no comparison test will be won or lost purely on the basis of styling.

But if that were the case, the Nexon would win this comparison. The diesel Nexon we have here isn’t even in the shouty red or purple, and yet it looks so classy, proportionate and elegant. On the inside, the Nexon sports a significantly more updated cabin than what Mahindra has done in the transition from 300 to 3XO. The Nexon has a new dash which you can (but I wouldn’t) spec with purple leatherette. There’s a 10.25-inch infotainment, 10.25-inch digital cluster (with frustratingly small fonts), new steering wheel with the illuminated Tata logo, and glossy black touch panel for the climate control that will be a nightmare to keep free of fingerprints. Ergonomically the Nexon has the edge – the steering wheel adjusts for reach as well as rake, the seats are wider, more comfortable and can be specced with ventilation, and most importantly there is a dead pedal unlike the 3XO that has a very narrow foot well.

Headlining the 3XO’s cabin is the new 10.25-inch infotainment screen which has been stuck onto the dash of the old 300, but it is a neatly integrated job. You get a 10.25-inch digital cluster which, for all intents and purposes, could have been taken from the 700. In fact, Mahindra’s whole rationale for the 3XO is that you want a 700 but either don’t want something so big, or let’s face it cannot afford something so big, here’s the 3XO with everything in the 700 at a smaller size and cheaper price. You even get level 2 ADAS from the 700 – which is a very big deal and something that Mahindra’s president of automotive technology, R Velusamy, was keen to highlight. A game changer in fact. If you are obsessed about safety, the 3XO wins this test by dint of ADAS plus rear disc brakes compared to the Nexon’s rear drums. Even the ESP system, Bosch 9.3 with improved BLDC motor taken straight from the 700 raises the bar in this segment and is standard across all variants.

The other headline feature of the 3XO is the panoramic sunroof. That’s crazy! A compact SUV now gets a panoramic sunroof! There’s Wireless CarPlay and Android Auto though neither was active on our test car (I remember even the 700 didn’t have it active at launch, don’t ask me why they didn’t do the certification beforehand). There’s wireless charging with cooling fans, Harman Kardon sound system with a sub-woofer, 360-degree camera like the Nexon and the steering wheel is from the 700. All the materials are really nice, especially the top of the dash that flows into the doors. Except I am not sure about white leatherette in India.

As for space, the 3XO has the longest wheelbase in this class, 2600mm compared to the Nexon’s 2498mm, and it definitely translates into more rear kneeroom. The 3XO is also wider which means three seated abreast are less uncomfortable at the rear than in the Nexon. And with that, let’s get back to driving.

The genes of an SUV manufacturer

Tata Motors and Mahindra have solid SUV provenance and despite the Nexon and 3XO being resolutely front-wheel-drive they do have that solidity that is a hallmark of SUVs. We had always praised the outgoing Mahindra XUV300 for the fantastic way it hammered down broken roads – unlike any other compact SUV, including the Nexon. It was robust. And now it has become, erm, robust-er.

The suspension setup is same with MacPherson struts up front and torsion beam at the rear. The 5-link rear suspension from the 700 doesn’t filter down to the 3XO but what does are the MTV-CL dampers that alter the damping force basis the road conditions. The theory is that you get reduced damping force at high piston velocity and increased damping force at low piston velocity. And the reality is that it works. Really works!

The low-speed ride comfort of the 3XO is excellent and it only gets better as you ramp up speeds. Over undulating roads the dampers deliver excellent body control, the body remains level despite wavy roads and it delivers excellent straight line stability.

Point it at a set of twisties and you notice the lifeless steering – you can increase the steering weight like in the 300 but it doesn’t increase any feel. But once you get used to that you notice excellent cornering performance. There is noticeable body roll but you can lean on the front with terrific confidence. It digs in and holds its line, the wider rubber on 17-inch wheels also adding to cornering grip. And then you hit a dirt road and Mahindra’s SUV genes come shining through. The 3XO feels tough and built to take a hammering. Not that you will take it off-roading but Mahindra also highlights the 23.6-degree approach, 39.6-degree departure and 350mm water wading on the 17-inch wheels. But what they didn’t mention was the 201mm ground clearance, up from 180 on the 300, is still no match for Nexon’s 208mm. 7mm makes barely any difference in the real world but we must also do our own research and present you with the facts. Mahindra also says the 3XO has the more commanding seating position with best-in-class forward visibility; the eye level is 1398mm above the ground, matching the 700.

I prefer lowering the driver’s seat as much as it will go so the benefits of the commanding driving position are lost on me. What I can tell you is, you can get into a better driving position in the Nexon thanks to rake-and-reach adjustable steering and your backside is also better catered for with Tata’s comfier seats. The Nexon also has a tough and robust build and doesn’t shy away from corners but the 3XO now moves the game on dynamically. Drive the Nexon in isolation and you’re unlikely to ever complain. But swap into the 3XO and you are happier, more comfortable, and even feel more secure.

The price equation

This is the section that the entire team broke their heads over to understand – Tata Motors have their personas and Mahindra have variants after baffling variants. For ease of understanding we are analysing prices of the diesels and focusing only on the main features and variants.

Let’s start with entry point. The diesel 3XO starts with the MX2 variant that only gets the manual and is priced at Rs' 9.99 lakh. In comparison the Nexon diesel starts with the Pure at Rs'11.1 lakh but you do get the option of the AMT for an additional Rs'70,000.

If you are a sunroof aficionado – despite the 40-degree heat! – you can option that on any of the Nexon variants for Rs`50,000. On the 3XO the sunroof starts with the MX2 Pro that’s priced at Rs`10.39 lakh for the diesel.

Want an AMT automatic on your diesel 3XO? For that you upgrade to the MX3 costing Rs`11.69 lakh which also brings in wireless CarPlay and Android Auto. Upgrade to the MX3 Pro at Rs`11.39 lakh and you get the full-width LED taillamps which are standard across the Nexon.

Want a 360-degree camera? This is only available on the top end AX7 L variant of the 3XO whereas on the Nexon it starts with the Creative+ at Rs`13.2 lakh, which also includes the blind view camera and wireless CarPlay and Android Auto. This Nexon variant also gets alloys while on the 3XO you need to look at the AX5 which also gets connected car features and the 10.25-inch digital cluster, yet is priced lower at Rs`12.09 lakh. All variants of the 3XO get the 10.25-inch infotainment while the Nexon only gets a 7-inch cluster which starts with the Fearless variant priced at Rs`14 lakh. This variant also gets the air purifier that is unique to the Nexon. Add ventilated seats and a branded sound system and you are looking at the Fearless + S variant for Rs`15 lakh. However, if you ignore these three features, the Rs`12.09 lakh AX5 variant offers almost all the features of the top-end Nexon.

Spend the same Rs`15 lakh on the 3XO and you get absolutely spoilt with AX7L which offers the segment-first panoramic sunroof, 17-inch wheels and level 2 ADAS along with the Harman Kardon sound system. In terms of sheer value then, the Mahindra 3XO is the clear winner. ADAS along with rear disc brakes give the Mahindra the edge in terms of that all-important safety factor. It has a bit more space. Is more comfortable. Has better performance and driving dynamics. As long you can stomach the styling of the 3XO, you have a winner here.

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