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JOHANNESBURG, Gauteng – In the not-too-distant past, we enjoyed the use of a Mahindra XUV500 W8 AT for a full 12 months and came to appreciate it as a solid SUV with good, seven-seater carrying ability. That long-term test also revealed the XUV500 as a surprisingly proficient off-roader, notwithstanding the front-wheel drive on that particular model.

And now it's time for a second upgrade of the XUV500 range that debuted here back in 2012. Interestingly, a lower-specced (W6) automatic derivative has been added to the line-up, while an entry-level W4 has also been introduced for just under R300 000.

The new flagship featured here is dubbed the W10. It boasts a six-speed auto transmission, an electrically adjustable driver’s seat, a new sunroof, a stop/start button and keyless entry. This comes in addition to the host of features found on variants lower down the range, such as tyre-pressure monitoring, a rear view camera, a voice command function, six airbags, cruise control, cornering lights and climate control.

Styling changes include the repositioning of the daytime running lights above the headlamps, rather than swooping down between lenses. Furthermore, the grille loses its “tiger claws” and gains some (presently popular) short horizontal lines.

The rear lights were always fairly fussy, but now have added elements on the tailgate that arguably improve the overall appearance. Some extra chrome elements also make an appearance. Inside, the leather seats are still a touch hard while the front passenger seat is again mounted a little too high. Still, this remains a spacious vehicle with seating for seven.

And under the bonnet? Well, while some overseas markets have switched to electronically variable turbine blades (resulting in a small boost in power and torque), Mahindra South Africa has decided to stick with the current pneumatically operated system for now. This is by no means a negative, since the powertrain already offers acceptable performance coupled with outstanding fuel economy for such a large vehicle.

Indeed, the engine remains a highlight of the package, combining a certain smoothness with economy and dollops of low-down torque. The six-speed automatic transmission comes courtesy of Aisin and is easy-going with a neat manual change option via a small shift button on the right of the gear lever. In addition, the suspension isn't at all harsh and steering top notch, rendering the XUV a comfortable long distance cruiser.

With a warranty spanning five years or 150 000 km along with a service plan of the same time and distance, the XUV500 remains an underrated (and well priced) choice in the seven-seater segment. It'll be interesting to see whether potential buyers take to the updated styling.

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