Beat the heat |Mahindra XUV400 to Mahabaleshwar

The scorching Indian summer is taking a toll on us all. We’re off to Mahabaleshwar to recharge our batteries, while refraining from recharging the XUV400’s battery.
Retreating to the hills with the Mahindra XUV400 EL Pro
Retreating to the hills with the Mahindra XUV400 EL ProAvdhoot A Kolhe

Ever heard of the phrase “retreating to the hills”? While it sounds like something dacoits do after pillaging a town, it has a slightly less sinister origin. During colonial times, British officers stationed in the major presidencies around India desperately sought respite from the scorching summer heat. They found refuge in the lush green hills scattered all over our beautiful country and established hill stations. The north got Shimla, the south got Ooty, and the erstwhile Bombay Presidency got Mahabaleshwar. The British might have left but the need to escape the heat is stronger than ever. With our home base of Pune experiencing an intense heat wave, I found myself retreating to my closest hill, Mahabaleshwar.

This was the ideal location for two primary reasons. Firstly, Mahabaleshwar is famous for its strawberries and, more importantly, in the summer, its strawberry ice cream. Secondly, using the new all-electric Mahindra XUV400 EL Pro I had for the week, I could easily make the 250-kilometre trek there and back without spending a dime on fuel. I charged up the 39.4kWh battery pack to 100 percent at the office and set off bright and early in the hopes of beating the morning rush hour. Unfortunately, Pune seems hell-bent on giving Mumbai a run for its money when it comes to being the city that never sleeps. Not ten minutes after leaving our office, I was stuck in a traffic jam.

Mahindra XUV400 EL Pro thrives in the urban jungle
Mahindra XUV400 EL Pro thrives in the urban jungleAvdhoot A Kolhe

It’s a similar story in most major cities in India; the road network is simply unable to keep up with the number of new vehicles that hit the road each year. A few years ago, I would vehemently fight anyone who said automatics were superior to manuals. However, these days, more often than not, I find myself reaching for the keys of our two-pedaled cars. And if they happen to be electrified, well, that’s just the cherry on top. The XUV400 is hard to top when it comes to fighting traffic. With its tall SUV stance and excellent visibility, it is a breeze to place in city traffic using the one-pedal mode, while its responsive powertrain makes it absolutely effortless to dart in and out of traffic. What’s even more impressive is how well it deals with our pothole-ridden roads. A couple of times I found myself wincing for a pothole but the XUV400’s suspension didn’t seem to notice.

After a good hour of dodging swarms of bikers and bus drivers who seemed to have left home after an argument with their wives, I was finally on the highway, hoping to make up some time. Fun mode was fine in the city but it limited the top speed to around 90kmph, just a tad slower than I was planning on going. Switching to fast mode hits you like a bolt of lightning, and the XUV400’s character changes completely. You have to recalibrate your right foot to deal with the crisper throttle response, and even the steering weighs up nicely. Overtakes occur in a flash, and if you’re not careful, you can easily find yourself well over the speed limit without even noticing, thanks to the superb insulation of the cabin.

With a claimed range of 456km, road trips are no big deal for the Mahindra XUV400 EL Pro
With a claimed range of 456km, road trips are no big deal for the Mahindra XUV400 EL ProAvdhoot A Kolhe

For 2024, Mahindra has thoroughly redesigned the cabin of the XUV400, abandoning the all-black look for a more premium dual-tone theme. The dashboard now features a dark top half and a lighter bottom half, while gloss black trim and copper accents add a touch of sophistication. Notably, the XUV400 boasts the most spacious cabin in its class, providing plenty of room for the entire family. However, since this was a selfish solo getaway, my attention was mostly focused on the driving experience.

The definition of a driver’s car has evolved a fair bit. Not too long ago, enthusiasts turned to hot hatches and sporty sedans to get their thrills and put up with stiff rides and having to creep over our skyscraping speed breakers. However, like myself, many of those enthusiasts have grown up and now seek sporty qualities in more practical vehicles. The XUV400 strikes a great balance of everyday usability and weekend thrills. Take the steering wheel, for instance. On the one hand, it is sophisticated, with easy-to-reach buttons that cycle through various functions on the dual 10.25-inch screens and operate the cruise control. Yet it’s beautifully finished in leather, has pronounced thumb grips, a flat bottom and a tactile quality. Furthermore, for an electrically assisted system, it actually offers a good amount of feel and weight.

With 147.5bhp and 310Nm of torque on tap, the XUV400 is seriously rapid
With 147.5bhp and 310Nm of torque on tap, the XUV400 is seriously rapidAvdhoot A Kolhe

It has good bones, the XUV400. Let’s not forget that it shares much of its platform with the Super XUV300 that Gaurav Gill is still hammering around rally stages. The sight of him attacking a wet tarmac stage in it is not one I will forget in a hurry. But I think even he would be surprised by the XUV400’s straight-line performance. With 147.5bhp and 310Nm of torque on tap, it is seriously rapid. This is, after all, the fastest electric SUV in its class, with a 0 to 100kmph time of just 8.3 seconds and a top speed of 150kmph. After breezing through the highway section, it was finally time to exploit that performance on the winding roads that take you up to Mahabaleshwar.

Turning off at Wai, the road narrows from six lanes to two; however, these two lanes are completely shielded from the harsh afternoon light by dense tree cover. The ambient temperature almost immediately drops by a couple of degrees, prompting me to actually turn up the temperature on the dual-zone climate control. As we begin to climb up the ghat section, I engage fearless mode, unleashing the XUV400’s full potential. The steering weighs up even further and the throttle becomes like a hair trigger. The XUV thrives on these kinds of roads, darting from apex to apex with genuine enthusiasm. It’s amazing how a vehicle that is so adept at urban commuting can transform into a proper driver’s car given the right set of roads.

For 2024, Mahindra has thoroughly redesigned the cabin of the XUV400
For 2024, Mahindra has thoroughly redesigned the cabin of the XUV400Avdhoot A Kolhe

In the twisties, I prefer using the XUV’s one-pedal mode. This effectively slows the vehicle down sufficiently for most corners, allowing me to get into a nice flowing rhythm with the car. Crucially, it also puts energy back into the battery. After a fabulous four-hour drive, I had made it to Mahabaleshwar using just over half of the total range. Since a significant part of the drive back would be downhill, making it back to Pune without having to charge was not out of the question. Even on longer drives, the XUV400 is capable of fast charging at up to 50kW, so topping up at a rest stop is no hassle at all.

But here’s the real kicker: despite all the improvements that Mahindra has made to the XUV400, they’ve managed to cut prices by nearly ₹2 lakh. This means that the top-end EL Pro now costs just ₹17.49 lakh ex-showroom. During my time with it, the XUV400 has proven to be a seriously compelling option, even if you only have room for one car in your life. It silently commutes during the week, has room for the whole family, and can provide thrills on weekend getaways. What more could you want? Ice cream, that’s what.

Enjoying Mahabaleshwar's famous strawberry ice cream
Enjoying Mahabaleshwar's famous strawberry ice creamAvdhoot A Kolhe

I didn’t come all the way to Mahabaleshwar to leave without indulging in some of its most delectable desserts. While strawberries have become synonymous with Mahabaleshwar, I was surprised to learn that they aren’t indigenous to the region. The British brought them over from Australia, and over the years, Indian farmers have cultivated them into their own unique variety. But beyond its famed strawberries, this hill station offers stunning vistas practically everywhere you look. It’s not hard to see why the British declared this the summer capital of the Bombay Presidency. The temperate climate, besides being conducive to strawberry cultivation, also seems to have a positive effect on the locals.

Sunsets at Mahabaleswar, courtesy the Mahindra XUV400
Sunsets at Mahabaleswar, courtesy the Mahindra XUV400Avdhoot A Kolhe

Everyone I met was incredibly friendly and helpful, and it seemed they all knew each other. It was a stark contrast from the hot-tempered city folk, who always seem to be on the verge of boiling over during the summer. It’s refreshing to see that the small-town charm of Mahabaleshwar remains untouched by the throngs of tourists who visit each week. This seems to be a recurring theme at all the hill stations scattered across this beautiful country – minus the strawberries, of course. If the summer heat is getting to you, embrace your inner explorer and retreat to the hills. I promise you won’t regret it.

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