Mahindra XUV500 Driven
The first major update makes the XUV contemporary both on the inside and out
Words: Benjamin Gracias
Photography: Gaurav S Thombre
Monocoque construction is no big deal these days, neither was it a big deal in 2011 except for the fact that the Mahindra XUV500 was the first car from the Indian giants to ditch the traditional ladder frame chassis that underpinned everything.
It has made in it’s over 65 years of existence. Had to overstate how big a deal that was! It was indigenously developed (in fact it was the first and still is the only indigenously developed monocoque-construction SUV), it had features galore, was priced perfectly and boasted styling that had 50,000 prospective customers queuing up in the first year itself. It also, in the hands of a distinguished gentleman going by the name of Gaurav Gill, remains unbeaten in Indian rallying, winning the national championship two years on the trot.
Come 2015 and the Mahindra XUV500 gets its first major update. The fussy embellishments are done away with, bringing forth a clean, dare I say, more mature design. The front-end was a hotch-potch of criss-cross lines and abrupt angles. The new one is uncluttered with a redesigned bumper with the fog lamps now positioned higher up. The grille is an all-black affair with chrome embellishments to keep things interesting. In fact, from afar, it does remind you of a certain Japanese full-size SUV. The headlamps are neatly compartmentalised by an S-curved pilot lamp. You get the de rigueur projector lamp with cornering lamps that light up after the steering is turned by a pre-set degree. The bonnet is deeply creased for added muscle. The tail lamp lenses are clean and devoid of the tribal motifs on earlier versions. And there remains enough of the shiny stuff to keep the chrome brigade happy. It’s still in-yer-face but it’s more mature and will appeal to a wider audience.
Inside, as expected, there is now the black and beige colour scheme. The driver’s seat is electrically adjustable (6-ways) and at night there’s contemporary blue ambient lighting bathing the cabin. Sporty touches (on consultation with Mr Gill?) abound in the form of chrome and brushed aluminium accents, including the pedals. The centre console is well laid out with a neat array of buttons and with the new colour scheme looks more urbane and contemporary. The infotainment system now features a 7-inch touchscreen with optimised controls. A rear view camera has been added to the existing features list with guiding markers and park assist that identifies available parking spaces and displays them on the screen. Most of the features can now be controlled via the Mahindra Blue Sense App on your smartphone that we will thoroughly review when we spend more time with the Mahindra XUV500. A sunroof has always been a huge draw for customers and surprisingly has been out of reach for the sub-15 lakh SUV market despite being offered in sedans and even hatchbacks. The Mahindra XUV500 is the first to cash in on this trend offering a large sunroof on the higher variants.
Driving impressions then. Push the (new) starter button conveniently located at the bottom of the console to fire up the 2.2-litre mHawk engine. Much to the relief of Mr Gill’s competitors in the Indian Rally Championship, power and torque remains unchanged at 140bhp and 330nm, what has been re-worked are the gear ratios and the taller final drive is claimed to deliver a better top end. our short initial drive was limited to Mahindra’s test track at their Chakan facility (near Pune) and we found the motor to be lively with most of the turbo lag being done away with. Torque now peaks at 1700rpm and there’s enough grunt even at 1500rpm allowing the SUV to pull away strongly in higher gears. Along with the improved driveability the clutch has improved with a lighter and more progressive actuation. The 6-speed gearbox requires less effort but in terms of precision, there is scope for improvement.
The other key area where the Mahindra XUV500 has been worked upon is suspension setup. The independent MacPherson strut front and multi link rear benefits from optimised spring rates and dampers, more compliant rubber bushes and improved anti-dive characteristics. We drove the SUV over bumps, did a simulated rough road drive (I was accompanied by Ouseph ‘off Road’ Chacko after all!) before finishing it off with a high speed run around the loops at the end of the track. This endeavour brought forth the XUV’s much better low speed bump absorption and stable high-speed manners. The steering is a bit on the slower side but is not totally lifeless. Which is a good thing when you are piloting a near two-ton SUV at triple digit speed. The other good thing are the brakes which have a sharp progressive bite from the beginning of its travel and do an effective job of shedding speed, being aided by ninth generation Bosch ABS and eSP system. even at times when we overcooked it on the loops, ESP intervention was fairly non-intrusive.
The Mahindra XUV500 gets optional part-time all-wheel-drive that is natively front-wheel-driven and only diverts torque to the rear wheels when slip is detected. It now also has regenerative braking, not like in Formula 1 in which the stored energy is used as a means of propulsion, but as a secondary way of charging the battery. This means once the battery is fully charged, the alternator is disconnected from the engine resulting in reduced load. Along with the taller final drive this claims to improve efficiency from the earlier 15.1kmpl to a claimed 16kmpl.
The Mahindra XUV500 makes no bones of the fact that it was built as a highway cruiser rather than an off-roader (for which there is the Thar, and Scorpio) and with the monocoque body, it does the job rather well. now what awaits is the 2015 rally season (at the hands of Mr Gill) and a rematch with the Duster AWD (in our hands).