Mahindra Scorpio Generations: Evolution of the species
Taking forward a legacy
Depending on whom you ask, the Mahindra Scorpio is either a pretend off-roader capable of only hauling families, or an icon of the brand that carries forward the Indian legacy of the original jeep (or the MM540, to put it more accurately). There is some truth to both assessments, but in reality the Scorpio is a fully paid up member of the Indian-SUV firmament, and one of only two home-grown SUVs that have truly blazed a trail while continuing to remain relevant a decade on. Back in 2002 the Scorpio launched into a market that had no Duster, no Creta, no nothing save for the Safari and the Indian love affair with the SUV had yet to kick off in right earnest. Little wonder it was an instant hit, actually replacing cars in garages of people looking for a tough, rugged but also refined and fun-to-drive SUV that was a world away from the breadbox MUVs on sale back then. It proved to be more than capable for weekend getaways while being a being a decent city run about too. What it also had was its fair shares of troubles – the joke was that all the Indian manufacturers used to leave the last ten per cent of their R&D to customers – but to their credit Mahindra constantly and continuously refined, improved and sorted out the Scorpio into something that is still relevant 15 years and four generations on. But does the fourth generation Scorpio carry over the genes of the very first? We brought all of them together to find out.
First Generation (2002 -2006)
The SUV that started it all but, as it turns out, finding an example of the first generation Scorpio is more difficult than you’d imagine. Everybody we knew with a Scorpio had upgraded to either a newer one or something else altogether. Eventually Amulya Dhanukar reminded us that his gen 1 Scorpio still does duty on his farm and had it brought over to OFF ROAD magazine’s favourite test/shoot location. Amulya’s blue SUV – the white Scoripo craze would come later – has done had well over 1.5 lakh kilometers, which is not a huge number considering Scorpios generally do that over two years. But it still ran pretty well and will probably continue to do so over the years to come. The tough as nails Scorpio was one of the most capable SUVs on sale back then with its macho styling, big 2.6-liter diesel engine – a turbo’d unit, not common-rail, and commanding road presence. Today you’d call the interiors drab with grey bits all around and just the basic necessities in terms of switchgear. The seats are flat but firmly padded. What you will find most old Scorpio’s (the ones in private hands, not taxis) are aftermarket wheels and heavy duty tyres and they improve the dynamics to a big extent though even at modest speeds you can hear the wind whistling over those big wing mirrors and tyres which can be rather tiring over long drives. Those wheels added to the macho-quotient of the Scorpio and I have to say even today it does look quite good. It’s the styling that was the major selling point of the SUV and though often tweaked over the years the Scorpio remains instantly recognisable.
A roller-coaster ride
What I also remember very clearly of that first Scorpio is the ride, and not for the right reasons. It could sting! And the front and rear end did not talk to each other. At the front were soft springs and shocks but the rear had leaf springs giving the Scorpio handling characteristics that could best be described at interesting. Driven with vigor and it would turn your knuckles white as it would bounce over any and everything throwing it all over the place. You really had to be on the ball though in all fairness the ladder-frame chassis was tough enough to cope with all the bouncing about. The steering while comfortably padded failed to report accurate road info and also hesitating for a split second before responding to your commands.
“Where it was scary though was the deceleration, or rather its inability to decelerate. The front disc, rear drum brakes took their time to grab on and stop all 2.5 tonnes of the Scorpio”
Unlike the dynamics the performance wasn’t bad at all. The in-line four made 109bhp, which may not sound like a lot in today’s context, but was a segment leader by some margin back then. Its strong 260 Nm of torque, coupled with the five speed manual transmission enabled the Scorpio to cover long distances effortlessly. The engine’s torque really gave the Scorpio good straight-line performance, despite the blocky body. Where it was scary though was the deceleration, or rather its inability to decelerate. The front disc, rear drum brakes took their time to grab on and stop all 2.5 tonnes of the Scorpio.
Second Generation (2006 -2014)
Seeing the hardcore fan following the first generation received, Mahindra reworked and almost completely re-engineered the Scorpio for its second and probably most popular itineration to date. Having realised that many Scorpios were being used as daily drivers the company focused on making the car easier to live with. Visually, the design was tweaked, with an all-new tail light cluster, the addition of a functional bonnet scoop, new bumpers and even sticker graphics. But the most important change came in the form of heavily reworked suspension. The leaf springs on the rear of the original car made way for multi-link coil overs, which significantly improved ride and no longer made the handling heart-stopping.
More power and torque
A year later after the facelift came another very important update, the original tractor-derived engine was replaced by 2.2-litre mHawk. With improved refinement, increased power and torque (120bhp, 290Nm), the engine gave the Scorpio added straight-line punch. Moreover it was 130 kilos lighter than the outgoing engine, which helped to improve efficiency as well as the agility of the Scorpio. They also added a host of new features like cruise control, tyre pressure monitors, auto headlamps and wipers and a man talking to you. Hidden behind the dash it would welcome you every morning “Welcome to the Scorpio, your car is a powerful vehicle, please drive it carefully,” said the Scorpio every time you started her up! I’m not joking! It would – actually still – tells you when it goes into reserve or a door is open or the handbrake is engaged while driving. And then a couple of years on they added a micro hybrid badge to the tailgate – which was basically start/stop.
The modernisation of the Scorpio meant it appealed to a much wider audience
You could get it with a forward-facing third row or jump seats. The ride did improve considerably though rear seat passengers still had their kidneys rearranged. It still rolled flamboyantly and couldn’t carry any decent speed round corners but didn’t scare the living daylights out of you. It also got a 4×4 variant. And the Scorpio name meant being able to get to where you want to go when weather or terrain ruled out travel by regular people movers. It’s primary purpose still holds true, to provide no-nonsense transport while being tough and reliable. We’ve all got great memories of the second generation Scorpio – the editor did 50,000km on his long-termer over a year, I’ve done many Mahindra Adventure events in them and they still continue to be keep guys like Sushant Kalekar, who owns this particular example, happy.
Third generation (2014 – 2017)
In 2014 the Scorpio received its first major chassis update, with an all-new platform. And it also got a rather in-your-face front end while retaining the familiar silhouette and proportions. Of course styling is subjective and I like the new headlamp cluster that gave the Scorpio a more contemporary look, going well with the dominant front grille and more modern styling touches. The body-on-frame platform was developed in-house and the modular platform formed the basis for other Mahindra vehicles with the flexibility built in to go extended wheelbase or shortened to fit a smaller vehicle. The platform sports a wider front and rear track, while also using anti roll bars for the first time. The focus was to provide a stiffer chassis and it actualy doubled over the earlier Scorpio. But it was a bit of a surprise to me that Mahindra didn’t go with a monocoque chassis, especially given the XUV 500’s success.
Improved handling with the chassis update
I do think the work on this ladder frame chassis has been done rather well. You can feel the added stiffness in the chassis when you drive them back-to-back. Body roll was cut down by a huge margin and you feel more in control. The pitch and roll of the old Scorpio has been drastically reduced and though it still very much feels like the tall boy it is to drive around a corner but you don’t get stress lines on your forehead. Even though the wheels went up from 16 to 17 inches the ride remained more or less the same at low speed, with the suspension soaking up low-speed bumps well. At higher speeds it felt more stable with better body control even under heavy braking. The engine, while retaining the same capacity and figures, was also heavily improved in terms of refinement. The results were far lesser vibrations and rattle seeping into the cabin.
The cabin was one of the biggest changes
While retaining and further improving on the airy feel, it had been properly reworked and endowed with more equipment and better quality. The trim was finished in lighter colours while the center console and dials got a more upmarket feel to them. The steering wheel is similar to the one seen on the XUV, along with some interior bits like the chrome-lined AC vents. On the top end, they added a touch screen infotainment and navigation system, previously seen on the XUV, but with its interface redone in blue and violet tones that look nicer. Overall fit and finish was definitely a step-up from the versions that came before it, making the cabin a nice place to be in. This generation also proved to be extremely popular with the Scorpio’s traditional audience, so much so that it clocked its highest ever volumes – 6500 units! – in the very last month it was on sale!
Fourth generation (2017 onwards)
Mahindra calls the recently launched Scorpio all-new, but in reality it is a mid-life facelift of the previous generation. Cosmetically it receives few changes to the front and rear along with newly designed alloy wheels. It’s a good thing that Mahindra has skipped making any major updates on the exteriors or even the interiors, and decided to focus on the drivetrain boosting performance along with drivability that has always been one of this old-school SUVs strengths. While continuing to use by the tried and tested 2.2-litre mHawk engine, it now makes 138bhp thanks to a new turbocharger and some reengineering on the fuel pump. Torque is also up to 320Nm, available from 1,500rpm upwards, pulling the Scorpio forward in a very strong and linear fashion. To add to the refinement and improve highway cruising you now get a 6-speed manual transmission that shifts rather well and is mated to a lighter, self-adjusting clutch.
Refinement along with overall fit and finish are the other areas where the new Scorpio has improved over its predecessors. The cabin is really rather quiet and very little engine noise makes its way below 2,500rpm. The seats and other plastic bits have a better feel to them. The ride quality and handling too have improved thanks to reworked suspension. But the fact of the matter remains that it is a tall, ladder-on-frame SUV that always have body-roll in corners and an unsettled ride over any kind of road.
The Mahindra Scorpio was path-breaking when launched
But then again, the Scorpio has never pretended to a car. It has always been a tireless and dependable workhorse. This is one of those SUVs that you can drive at the same speed whether there are roads or no roads. Nothing can take a beating like the Scorpio, and I mean nothing. It was path-breaking when launched and while the industry on the whole runs on reinvention the Scorpio stands out as an anomaly in continuing with the same formula. And, I think, that’s what make it relevant today. The fact that it is not a monocoque is the biggest strength of the Scorpio. For a customer looking for a macho, rugged, tough, dependable and fun-to-drive SUV it really has few rivals. In a sea of fresh-faced rivals the Scorpio, 15 years and 4 generations on, continues to stay relevant and that’s a mighty achievement.