Mahindra Scorpio-N Test Drive Review

From the Toyota Fortuner at one end to mid-size SUVs like the Creta and Seltos at the other, even the Tata Safari and their very own XUV 700, Mahindra are targeting a wide swathe of SUVs with the new Scorpio-N
The Mahindra Scorpio-N is set to take the market by storm
The Mahindra Scorpio-N is set to take the market by stormShot by Abhishek Benny

SUVs have been the flavour of the past decade. Everybody wants an SUV and everybody is making SUVs, except, as many of you keep pointing out, are these really SUVs? The traditional definition involves an intimidatingly large body bolted on to a ladder frame chassis; a North-South oriented engine sending torque to the rear wheels; the option of 4x4 though hardly anybody spent extra dough on it. But when was the last time any of these newly-minted SUVs — save for the Thar! — conformed to that definition? That’s the USP of the new Mahindra Scorpio-N. While the whole world has moved towards FWD and monocoque construction, Mahindra have stuck with the traditional template for the fifth generation of what was their break-out product when first launched twenty years ago. It’s why their communication stresses on credibility and authenticity while going overboard with all the big daddy hype.

But there’s a reason why SUVs no longer run the body-on-frame construction. Customers, today, are more demanding. They want car-like handling and comfort. They want their SUVs to be light on their feet. They want city commutes to be as effortless as highway jaunts. They don’t want the weight penalties of a ladder frame, and they definitely don’t want to pay for the consequent drop in fuel economy. Even in the rare instances where 4x4 is offered as an option, the off-take is so minuscule that it’s just not worth the engineering effort. Basically customers want a car that looks like an SUV. Which begs the question, is the Scorpio still relevant?

Big daddy looks, erm, big!

There's no mistaking the Scorpio-N for anything else
There's no mistaking the Scorpio-N for anything elseShot by Abhishek Benny

There’s no mistaking the new Scorpio for anything but a Scorpio. It’s massive. Standing 1857mm tall, it towers over your reporter, even though your reporter stands taller than most Indians at 5 foot 9 inches. The Scorpio is 4662mm long, 1917mm wide, runs a 2750mm wheelbase and has a 187mm ground clearance. And it retains traditional Scorpio elements in that bluff and high nose, upright and relatively formal stance, and also the muscle all around. The double barrel headlamps are a nod to the past, though these are now full LEDs on the top end variant while the new Mahindra logo is flanked by thick vertical chrome slats. Notice the DRLs in the bumpers and the way the fog lamp has been integrated into it — Mahindra are calling it the Scorpion’s sting and it’s an element you will also find towards the rear profile where the chrome lining at the bottom of the window line curves upwards at the D-pillar and ends in a flick just before the C-pillar. The 18-inch wheels nicely fill out the wheel arches, though strangely you can only get 17-inchers if you opt for the manual transmission. The running board is nicely integrated into the design and is blacked out to reduce visual mass while the muscle in the wheel arches and the curves in the shoulder line mean the profile is not slab-sided and featureless. I also like the fact that the new Scorpio retains meaty pull-type door handles, which is so in keeping with the SUV theme.

Over at the rear the design of the vertically-oriented tail lamps immediately brings to mind Scandinavian SUVs at one end and the Wagon R at the other! That said, I must point out that the Scorpio traditionally had vertical stacked tail lamps so this is very much a part of the styling DNA, as is the side-hinged (as opposed to top-hinged) tail gate. Unlike in the past where the Scorpio had a steep, nearly-perpendicular, rear end the new one has a gentle curvature — but that also means the third row is rather upright.

Space inside the new Mahindra Scorpio

Open the tail gate and you will notice a latch to open it from the inside, a cleay that the side facing third row was part of the initial plan but later cancelled in the interests of safety. This will also be a reason for a certain set of customers to continue buying the old Scorpio, now rebadged the Classic, so that their gunmen can continue to be carted around in the jump seats with weapons held upright.

As for the new Scorpio, the forward-facing third row gets proper three-point seat belts and access is easy thanks to wide rear doors and the 60:40 split middle row that folds and tumbles out of the way with a single lever. That said, space in the third row is good only for kids, your 5-foot-9-inch reporter struggled with both knee and head room, and there are no air-con vents to keep you cool.

Move to the middle row and you will find plenty of space, not just knee and head but also shoulder room, good enough for three to sit abreast. The transmission tunnel is also surprisingly small, this despite having to accommodate the prop shaft sending power to the rear axle, and a sign of the high strength steel used in the body construction (and hence no requirement for a big tunnel to help with body rigidity). The seat position is great, ergonomics excellent and because you sit so high up the view is also fantastic with plenty of glass area. Middle row passengers get their own blower but no temperature control and a single USB-C charger. You can also get captain seats in the middle, which will definitely be even more comfortable, and help with access to the third row.

Up front in the new Mahindra Scorpio

Mahindra claim this is the only SUV in this class that you walk in and out of, and I have no reason to dispute that. For my height ingress-egress is excellent, but for those of a shorter stature there’s the foot board and grab handles integrated into the A-pillar to aid access. The latter, if you remember, was our big criticism with the Thar, and Mahindra’s engineers are definitely listening to us.

Analogue dials for the win!
Analogue dials for the win!Shot by Abhishek Benny

The front seats reminds you of the old Scorpio with the 854mm seating point delivering a commanding king-of-the-world driving position. Ergonomics and seat comfort are excellent, Mahindra claims a 6 per cent improvement in forward visibility, and despite the steering only having rake (and not reach) adjust the driving position is brilliant. Do you remember the old Scorpio being narrow, so much so that your elbow would smash into the power window switches on the door? That’s banished. There’s so much space all around, plenty of room to stretch out in, no protrusions to distress your funny bone, and the sunroof only adds to the airiness — though this is not a panoramic sunroof, a deliberate differentiator from the XUV700. Maintaining that differentiation is probably why you don’t get a full digital cockpit though the analogue dials are so well designed I did not miss the digital cluster. Between the dials you get a full colour 7-inch TFT screen that that also displays the navigation, so there’s no dearth of information.

There are traces of the old Scorpio-N in  the interior design
There are traces of the old Scorpio-N in the interior designShot by Abhishek Benny

The steering wheel is borrowed from the 700 as are the stalks, much of the switchgear and even the Adrenox operating system, but the design of the dash is completely different and reminiscent of the old Scorpio, especially with how shallow it is. The 12-speaker Sony 3D sound system is also lifted from the XUV 700 and sounds fabulous. You get an 8-inch touch screen infotainment (down from 10.25 inches on the 700) with Alexa integration, Wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (the latter not activated on our test cars). And in terms of connectivity you have over 70 features including remote start and cooling, plus you have a whole bunch of in-built apps including Zomato and one that keeps track of your stock portfolio. The top end Z8 L variant we are testing also gets electric height adjust for the driver’s seat but no seat coolers and the seats themselves are clad in leatherette which your reporter is not a fan of.

In terms of safety the Scorpio gets 6-airbags, front and rear parking cameras (not a very good resolution though), ESP with vehicle dynamics control and roll over mitigation, hill hold and hill start assist, tyre pressure monitoring, drowsiness detection, electronic brake pre-fill and brake disc wiping. Braking is handled by discs on all four wheels though there is no electronic parking brake, the Scorpio retaining the mechanical hand brake which your reporter is a big fan of.

Performance and braking of the new Mahindra Scorpio

In the lead up to the launch we speculated that the Scorpio would have detuned versions of the XUV 700’s engines but we were wrong. The 2-litre turbo-petrol is in the full-on 200bhp state of tune along with 380Nm of torque with the 6-speed automatic (370Nm with the 6-speed manual). The 2.2-litre diesel makes 173bhp of power and 400Nm of torque with the automatic (and 370Nm with the manual). While these engines are carried over, the big difference is how they are mounted, unlike the East-West orientation and FWD in the XUV 700 the Scorpio’s is North-South with RWD.

This is a complete departure from the old Scorpio in terms of performance
This is a complete departure from the old Scorpio in terms of performanceShot by Abhishek Benny

We start off our test with the petrol and the first thing that strikes you is the silence. There’s an amazing hush inside the cabin and at idle the engine is completely inaudible, Mahindra claim 39 decibels is the in-cabin idle noise for the petrol and 43 decibels for the diesel. Add to that a complete lack of vibrations, and the Scorpio feels nothing like what you remember of the Scorpios of the past. Put your foot down and the petrol Scorpio really gets going, again in a manner you wouldn’t dream of in the the old Scorpio. The aerodynamics, weight and powertrain layout mean it is not as quick as the XUV 700 and will not crack 100kmph in under 10 seconds, but our estimated 11 second time is pretty quick for what is a body-on-frame SUV. And it gets there effortlessly. Neither the SUV nor the driver has to expend much effort to get a move on and even by the standards of monocoque mid-size SUVs this new Scorpio is properly fast.

With a bit more torque the diesel too is quick, but unlike the XUV 700 where the petrol and diesel acceleration times are on par, the diesel Scorpio will be nearly a second slower to 100kmph than the petrol. That said, the diesel engine with its low-down grunt better suits the character of the Scorpio and in terms of refinement it is nearly as good with the only real difference being some vibrations coming through from the pedals and floor pan. The diesel also has another plus point and that is the better fuel economy compared to what is a thirsty petrol.

The 6-speed automatic is smooth, as we’ve experienced in both the Thar and XUV700, though the shift speeds aren’t as quick as the 700. We’d also have liked paddle shifters for manual control over the automatic. That said the character of the gearbox is well suited to this SUV.

As for the braking the four-wheel disc brakes represent a massive improvement on the single biggest dynamic flaw of the old Scorpio. Braking stability is top-notch, braking distances are on par with monocoque SUVs, and even over wet bumpy roads the Scorpio always stays planted and composed. The only flaw we can point out is that the brake feel is way too sharp and for the first hour, until your right foot gets used to the brakes, you will make passengers uncomfortable by braking unnecessarily hard.

Handling of the new Mahindra Scorpio N

Corners and the Scorpio were never friends. In fact they started off hating each other and over subsequent generations that grew into grudging respect. But friends they were not, and with past experience in mind I began the climb up the hills of Lonavala with caution. The rains have rendered the roads slippery, typical lax maintenance means plenty of broken patches plus there’s gravel on many bends. All of it demands caution and makes you wonder why, of all the roads in India, would Mahindra choose one of the most demanding driving routes in our very own backyard for the national media launch of a body-on-frame SUV.

I find the answer in three corners. This Scorpio handles! Mahindra’s head of product development, R Velusamy, spent the better part of an hour during the launch presentation going through the engineering nitty-gritties, how the torsional and bending rigidity has improved on the D-segment benchmark, how the centre of gravity (at 706mm) is not as important as the low (463mm) roll arm height. And honestly all this transforms the Scorpio on the road. Through spitting rain and fog the Scorpio flows through the corners with ease, speed and confidence. You obviously cannot hustle it like an XUV 700 and understeer does set in earlier, but body roll is never exaggerated and you never feel like you’re going to fall down the mountain. Pile into a corner very hot and ESP cuts in before you do something stupid — like trying to slide the rear on the power through a tight hairpin — but drive it at eight-tenths and this new Scorpio is absolutely lovely. And I have to stress that eight-tenths in the new Scorpio is fast enough to keep pace with mid-size SUVs. The commanding driving position gives you a great view ahead, you can place the Scorpio with perfect accuracy, and the torsional rigidity allows for greater suspension travel (225mm on the front axle) without compromising on the body control.

Ride comfort on new Mahindra Scorpio N

Again, here’s another area that completely astonishes you. The old Scorpio, in fact all body-on-frame SUVs, have an unsettled ride; it jiggles and shakes over broken roads and over sharp bumps you get a solid kick from the rear. The new Scorpio nearly eliminates all of it.

The suspension uses front double wishbones and a 5-link arrangement at the rear including a Watt’s linkage. The latter retains the axle centre line during cornering preventing flex and movement when you are pushing it hard. By reducing the weight of the frame (213kg, 10 per cent lighter), body (293kg, 13 per cent lighter) and unsprung masses (down by 35 per cent) the suspension works better and over regular roads it feels almost as good as some of the nicer monocoque SUV. The ride comfort is really excellent, clearly a step up on other body-on-frame SUVs, and that means you can drive it hard and fast over broken roads without getting thrown all over the place. This not only keeps your passengers happy but also keeps the SUV planted giving the driver more confidence and a sense of safety over demanding terrain.

On some broken sections we did notice a bit of that ladder-frame jiggle, a lateral movement typical of that frame layout, but it is hardly uncomfortable or alarming. The side-to-side head nod that rear passengers of the old Scorpio were subject to has been banished. The dampers use Frequency Dependent Damping that, similar to the FSD on the XUV700, gets softer for better bump absorption over undulating roads and gets stiffer over smoother roads to prevent pitch, weave and wallow and deliver on the all-important high-speed stability. Additionally the dampers also get MTV-CL technology (Multi Tune Valve with Concentric Land) that maintains the damping force even at high piston velocities (like when travelling over bumpy roads) and that ensures the dampers don’t get soft and continue to deliver consistent damping over all kinds of roads and speeds.

Throw it into a bumpy corner and it won’t get kicked over the bumps and land in the direction of oncoming traffic. The suspension breathes over undulations and it really does deliver surprisingly good road manners. To be fair, the XUV700 does deliver a more absorbent and planted ride with sharper handling but the Scorpio scores with its rugged underpinnings that can take a solid beating when the going gets really rough. Over village roads and broken patches the Scorpio can carry on at much higher speeds while feeling more robust, planted and unshakable.

Ease of driving the Mahindra Scorpio N

Legacy body-on-frame SUVs weren’t the best to drive in the city and that’s something that kept buyers away; nobody wants to wrestle a big, hulking SUV in day-to-day traffic. The new Scorpio, while looking big and hulking, is nothing of the sort to drive. The immediate reaction when you get going is how light the steering is, so light that you can twirl the steering wheel with one finger. And it makes driving in the city an absolute breeze. Manoeuvring this 4.6-metre long SUV is surprisingly easy, takes no effort really, and the commanding driving position allows you to place it with pin-point accuracy. This itself make city driving so much easier and then there’s the fact that the sheer size of the Scorpio ensures you don’t have to battle with other road users. You get right of way. I’ve always maintained that a white Scorpio is the fastest thing you can drive in the city; this new Scorpio makes things even better, even easier.

I do have to point out though that, while great for the city, the steering weight is way too light for driving at speeds and when scything through bends. A little more weight at speed would deliver so much more confidence to the driver, to exploit what is a hugely impressive dynamic package.

Off-roading the new Mahindra Scorpio

The Scorpio-N doing what it's meant to do!
The Scorpio-N doing what it's meant to do!Shot by Abhishek Benny

Later in the afternoon we swap to the diesel automatic and hit the trails. As with the XUV700, the 4x4 will only be available on the diesel, which probably has something to do with Mahindra mapping their own ECU for the diesel powertrain. Unlike the XUV, the Scorpio has proper 4x4 hardware with shift-on-the-fly 4x4 along with terrain modes and proper 4-Low. The latter is not electronic trickery with an extremely short first gear, but proper low-ratio which nearly doubles the torque going to all four wheels to pull the Scorpio through sticky situations. And yet — despite the rain, slush, and what looked like quite an aggressive axle articulation track — I did not have to engage 4-Low even once. I also must point out that the Scorpios we drove all had regular road-biased MRF Wanderer tyres and were not modified in any respect.

It remains to be seen what percentage of Scorpios will be bought with 4x4. In fact with the facelift on the third generation Mahindra didn’t even bother with 4x4, but credit where credit’s due — no half measures have been restored to. The hardware is one part of the story, the even more impressive part are the terrain modes that significantly and noticeably alter the mapping of not just the powertrain and ESP but even the steering. Four modes are available, accessed by a rotary knob on the centre console, and include Normal; Grass, Gravel and Snow; Mud and Ruts; and Sand. And it works so well that terrain that looks difficult on the outside is easily tackled even by drivers with zero off-roading experience. Trust the spotter and feather the throttle to keep going — there’s no drama, no wheelspin, no struggle. The Scorpio also benefits from the 400Nm of torque that muscles over the steeper obstacles; again there’s no need for any run up or building up of momentum to get over the hump.

The skew towards on-road dynamics means the Scorpio doesn’t have the same ground clearance as the Thar nor those aggressive approach and departure angles. But the electronics and the added power means she will do nearly 80 per cent of whatever the Thar can do. In fact in the desert I suspect the Scorpio will go straight up far steeper dunes than the Thar can manage, while subjecting the powertrain to less load and consequently less chance of over heating. With mud-terrain tyres, a lift kit, and off-road bumpers the new Scorpio will be a beast off-road — the growing tribe of 4x4 modification shops will be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of working on a Scorpio.

And before I end this section I must draw you attention back to the ride comfort. Over rutted tracks to get to the obstacles the Scorpio rides with an astonishing pliancy without jumping, hopping or bucking — things that are part and parcel of ladder-frame SUVs. Our benchmark on this front used to be the Endeavour and the Scorpio betters it by a noticeable margin. You can use all of the power to drive over tracks at significant speed, and not worry about the rear kicking up and passengers getting thrown around. Lowering the roll arm height also ensures that despite its 1.9-metre height the Scorpio doesn’t feel top heavy so you never feel nervous despite sitting so high up. Plus there’s no steering kickback thanks to the new electronic power assist that filters out all the road imperfections.

Verdict on the new Mahindra Scorpio

The Scorpio-N is a truly impressive product
The Scorpio-N is a truly impressive productShot by Abhishek Benny

Usually we’d have to qualify our opinions while we wait for pricing to be announced, but we do have the prices and for under Rs 20 lakh — Rs 19.46 lakh to be precise for the Z8 L — the Scorpio represents terrific value. Even more impressive is the starting price of just under Rs 12 lakh for the Z2 and that’s with the 200bhp petrol engine, plus there’s a whole bunch of variants in between. What hasn’t been announced is the 4x4 automatic price but we expect that to come in at just under Rs 23 lakh which, again, is terrific value.

Forget the prices for a bit though, because what Mahindra have done with this new Scorpio is turned expectations on its head. The traditional issues with a ladder frame, the dynamic limitations, the cumbersome driving experience, the bouncy ride, all the sins of the past have been banished. In fact the new Scorpio retains the ruggedness of body on frame construction with all the comforts of a monocoque — making it even more relevant to this day and age. Mahindra’s ambition to straddle the vast swathe from mid-size all the way to D-segment SUVs is hardly misplaced and long waiting lists are bound to follow this new Scorpio.

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