You know how it is goes about having low expectations, and then seeing them demolished by over-performance? Just look at the English team during the last World Cup in Russia. “It” did not “come home”, but the English players were celebrated by their country’s usually over-critical football media. Now, most of us in the automotive writing trade usually do not have huge expectations from cars. After you have been doing this as long as I have, you pretty much know what you are going to get. A BMW 3 Series will go around corners like a man possessed, a Volvo will not just be safe but also come loaded with technology, Hyundais won’t be the best cars to drive but will be brilliant value and Marutis will always be cheap and cheerful.
Which brings us to Mahindra and the new XUV300. What do you think of when you think of a Mahindra? That they are utilitarian and loved by middle-ranking politicians, certainly. I have been driving Mahindras since early-build Scorpios, and while they were no doubt a tremendous achievement for an Indian company, they were never exactly what you would call refined, or the kind of vehicle that would appeal to an erudite, upper-class audience. I’m not saying that they didn’t, but those folks were never the key market for Mahindras. This is precisely where the new XUV300 will face a challenge, because it is a *really* good vehicle, and on the face of it, it should attract the erudite, upper-crust sort of person that you see in some of Mahindra’s TV adverts. This is a car that completely demolishes expectations, to be sure.
While the XUV300 is a re-badged Ssangyong – the Tivoli – Mahindra’s engineering folks have changed it quite a bit, most notably cutting 20 cm off the car’s length. No matter how easy that might sound, chopping that much off a car’s length isn’t like taking a meat cleaver to a rack of ribs, and this means that other things have to be changed as well, so while the XUV300 is based on the Ssangyong Tivoli, it isn’t really a Ssangyong Tivoli from the outside, at least. The reason the XUV’s length has been chopped down is to make it comply with India’s bizarre sub-four meter excise structure. As a result, it loses any semblance of a rear overhang, and that does look a bit strange and also makes the loading lip a tad high. That aside, there really isn’t much to criticize.
The XUV300 comes superbly equipped with all sorts of toys, at least in the higher-spec models, including a new ‘Eco-Sense’ application that allows you to monitor all sorts of things, including your driving style, from your smartphone. Frankly, I’m quite happy with Apple CarPlay, so I didn’t really try the technology onboard on my first drive, but it will keep geeks preoccupied and when I get it for a longer period of time, I hope to fiddle around a bit more. Rear seat comfort is fairly decent, and even a 5’11” person like me felt rather comfortable at the back; remember that this isn’t a huge car, so if the front seat is pushed all the way back, you will feel a tad cramped, but it’s a bit better than its competition, thanks to its longer wheelbase (which it shares with the Tivoli).
The big surprise is the way this car drives. The XUV300 will come with two engine options – a 1.5-litre diesel with 115 bhp and a 1.2-litre petrol with 109 bhp, both mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. The diesel motor is the same unit that does service on the Marazzo, but it feels much more at home in this smaller and lighter vehicle. Also, 115 bhp is significantly more than you get on one of this subcompact SUV’s main competitors, the Hyundai Creta, and it shows. There is never any struggle for power, and while I still believe six gears is one too many for the Indian urban environment, there can be no complaints about power delivery.
What really impressed me was the way the XUV cornered, the twisty roads of south Goa being a great place to experience its handling capabilities. It really does push you to go harder and harder into corners, and feels comfortable doing so. Sure, there is a bit of understeer, but nothing out of the ordinary. It actually feels comfortable and nice to drive, and when you compare it against its main competition, it is actually a better experience.
That brings us back to where we began. The XUV300, on paper, should bring a whole new type of buyer into Mahindra showrooms, but will it? That is not so much a function of the vehicle – because the vehicle is excellent – as much as it is a function of marketing and branding. I genuinely hope they can get that part right, because the car deserves it.
ON THE INSIDE
Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, 7-inch touchscreen, voice recognition, EcoSense, multi-function steering, leather seats, electric sunroof, cruise control, tyre-pressure monitoring, dual zone A/C
1,197cc 3-CYL Turbo Petrol
1,497cc 4-CYL Turbo Diesel
Rs 7.9 TO 11.95 Lakh Ex-Showroom
WHAT WE LIKE
Performance, features, ride quality
WHAT WE DON’T
Performance – 4.5/5
Design – 3.5/5
Handling – 3.5/5
Interior – 4/5