Co-developed with SsangYong, the new Mahindra XUV300 represents a watershed moment for this robust Indian brand...
If Mahindra’s steadily growing market footprint in the South African landscape has to date relied on adjectives such as “rugged” and “reliable”, with the arrival on the scene of the brand’s freshest offering, this Indian brand is looking to unlock another significant attribute: refinement.
Majority shareholders in SsangYong Motor since 2010, Mahindra’s all-new XUV300 is built on the same X100 monocoque platform as the Korean brand’s Tivoli small crossover, although it has been heavily adapted to suit the Indian market’s unique requirements.
More European in its styling than stablemates such as the KUV100 and TUV300, the XUV’s blunt rear-end, in particular, is a result of Mahindra positioning its crossover neatly within its home market’s sub-four-metre regulation, the XUV300 measuring 3 995 mm long (shorter than the Tivoli). Other modifications compared with its Korean twin include a revised suspension (including a raised ride height) and a reconsidered engine line-up.
Make what you will of the claim both the Tivoli and XUV300 spent time during their development phases in the wind tunnel of Italian coachbuilder Pininfarina – or the fact that Mahindra likens the vertically mounted LED daytime-running lights on its offering to the tear lines of a cheetah – the XUV300 received universal praise from the CAR team for its well-considered exterior packaging. In top-of-the-range W8 specification, this includes 17-inch alloy wheels, chrome-look scuff plates front and rear, a boot-mounted spoiler, colour-coded mirrors and door handles, and “fashion rails” (not to be confused with actual load-bearing roof rails).
There’s more good news inside, where a standard sunroof and light-coloured faux-leather upholstery (although ultimately less practical than the black cloth items found elsewhere in the range) lend the cabin a light and airy feel. While hard plastics abound, perceived levels of fit and finish are impressive, while the XUV’s cabin includes myriad storage options.
A slight stretch over a relatively wide door sill finds a welcome tall default driving position providing good visibility out of the cabin. The absence of reach adjustment (only rake is offered) on the steering column was not flagged as a major concern by the CAR team.
An area that did draw criticism, however, is the relatively small luggage compartment (160 litres by our measurements), no doubt a concession of shortening the XUV300’s profile. Fortunately, a 60:40-split rear backrest reveals 992 litres of utility space. With these seats in place, both rear passenger leg- and headroom are competitive for the segment.
Where Mahindra could well steal a march on its competition and, indeed, invite foot traffic through its dealership doors is with the standard specification offered on the XUV300. On W8 derivatives (petrol and this diesel), this includes keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, auto headlamps and wipers, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors (including a camera) and a tyre-pressure-monitoring system together with mobile phone-mirroring software and satellite navigation, both operated via a touchscreen infotaiment system and multifunction steering wheel. Standard safety equipment on the W8 includes Isofix child-seat anchorage points and a total of seven airbags (including a driver’s knee bag).
Available with either a 1,2-litre turbopetrol or 1,5-litre turbodiesel, it’s the latter Mahindra-built unit (an Engine of the Year winner in India) that is one of the highlights of the new XUV300 package. Mated exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission, this engine features electrically controlled, variable-geometry turbocharging to deliver 86 kW and a healthy 300 N.m of torque between 1 500 and 2 500 r/min. While the drop-off in performance once the needle passes the 3 500 r/min mark is notable, the XUV300 is an eager performer, especially round town.
Aided by a keen (if not particularly feelsome) steering system and sharp turning circle, the newest Mahindra offers a plucky character that feels well up to the task of fulfilling the mandate of an urban-based modern small crossover. Three steering modes are available, allowing the driver to adjust (through comfort, normal and sport) the system’s weighting according to conditions.
While the diesel-powered XUV300 is more than capable of maintaining national speed limits, it’s a goal best achieved through manual control instead of using the somewhat frenetic cruise control. Consumption at steady speeds is excellent, as confirmed by our impressively low 5,3 L/100 km consumption over the course of our standardised fuel route.
Raised ground clearance (to 180 mm) and adapted to suit Indian driving conditions, the XUV is yet another Mahindra that is more than capable of coping with most South African road surfaces, including gravel. Body roll is kept relatively well in check, even fitted with the upgraded 17-inch alloys of the W8 specification (16-inch steel items on W6 models) and only severe road imperfections have any impact on the otherwise impressively pliant ride quality.
Another area where the XUV sets new standards for its maker is in stopping ability. Where the TUV300 and recently tested (February 2019) KUV100 were let down by their braking performance, the newest Mahindra with its ABS-assisted discs-at-all-corners braking system proved more proficient at tackling this all-important task, registering the brand’s first-ever “good” rating in our books.
Was the 2003 introduction of the Hyundai Getz a watershed moment for its Korean maker? Hyundai certainly already had a presence in the South African market. The arrival of this neatly packaged, relatively well-priced and – importantly for this segment – characterful Getz merely proved a catalyst for a new audience to visit its local dealerships. The fact the Getz would go on to prove its worth in terms of reliability and popularity only cemented its maker’s standing in our market.
Mahindra will rightly claim plaudits for its role in the development of the Tivoli/XUV300 twins and it’s difficult not to acknowledge that input and expertise from SsangYong played a pivotal role in achieving the leap in both perceived quality and overall refinement experienced with the XUV300.
We’re convinced this newcomer will be Mahindra’s “Getz moment”. While this test unit still ultimately loses out to the established Ford EcoSport and Renault Captur in our customary three-way match-up, closer attention should be paid to the fact it achieved a commendable 75/100 score. As a value proposition with strong underpinnings, a segment-challenging turbodiesel engine and urban-bound plucky dynamics, your first visit to a Mahindra dealership might just happen sooner than you expected.
ROAD TEST SCORE
See Full Mahindra XUV300 price and specs here