Mahindra delivering oodles of bang for your buck
There's a new kid on the SUV block, but this time it's not the traditional mainstream provider.
Say "gidday" to the Mahindra XUV 500.
Designed and developed entirely in-house at the Mahindra research facility at Chennai in India, the all-wheel-drive seven-seater may struggle to make its mark initially, but we'd be hugely surprised if it doesn't rapidly find its disciples.
This is a lot of vehicle for a price that you could be forgiven for thinking was a misprint. But no, $36,990 is all it costs.
At first glance the XUV 500 looks a bit like a SsangYong Rexton, but once you get up close and personal to this vehicle you appreciate that beneath its quirkiness is something quite considerable.
It's worth having a quick peek at Mahindra's back story to give this vehicle some perspective.
Brothers J C and K C Mahindra set themselves up as a steel trading company in 1945 but soon expanded into manufacturing and selling motor vehicles.
First they were producing Willys Jeeps under licence but then embarked on producing their own vehicles and tractors. The company's global expansion has included setting up production offshore, and in 2011 it acquired South Korea's SsangYong Motor Company.
In the early 1960s, Mahindra began manufacturing tractors for the Indian market and it now rates as the top tractor company in the world (by volume) with annual sales totalling more than 200,000 tractors in 40 countries.
Other major car manufacturers have production lines in the sub-continent (Ford is one of them) but the Mahindra represents a first real presence of an indigenous Indian vehicle selling here.
Now it has a presence in New Zealand and Harvey Round Motors is the local dealership, offering the XUV 500, and the Pik-Up and Genio utes.
Power comes from a four-cylinder 2.2-litre turbo diesel which automatically delivers the drive to all four wheels whenever it's needed. You can also lock in the AWD function when things get difficult underfoot.
There's an engine stop-start function you can activate, which will switch the engine off when you stop at an intersection and take your foot off the clutch. To start it up again, simply engage the clutch and you're motoring.
The vehicle has achieved a four-star safety rating and comes with dual front, side and curtain airbags along with ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) and an electronic stability programme (ESP).
ther internal bits and pieces include a six-inch touch screen which lets you navigate a number of functions including Tyre-Tronic to see how the tyre pressures are going as well as fuel use and sorting out the audio settings. The tilt and reach adjusting steering wheel also houses the audio and cruise control functions.
The 17-inch alloy rims of our test vehicle were shod with Bridgestone Dueller tyres and, while the road noise is a bit intrusive at higher speeds, they give the Mahindra a good footprint.
The XUV is only available with a six-speed manual transmission - at this stage at least - but that doesn't deserve to deflect buyer interest. It's a fluid enough gearbox and gives a much broader range of options when picking up on a torque band (330Nm) that peaks from 1600-2800rpm.
On the outside, the XUV 500 gets roof rails, front and rear fog lights, and quirky vertical rather than horizontal door handles. The headlights have an auto function as well as cornering lights and the indicators are also carried in the wing mirrors.
Then to the inside. The charcoal leather cladding the seats gives it some class, and that charcoal theme carries over to the plastic finish across the dashboard and centre console. But the chocolate-coloured carpet and on some of that interior surround probably needs revisiting.
A couple of other "highly commendeds" are the coolbox in the centre console and the glovebox which can also house a laptop. Smart thinking, that.
The XUV 500 is a seven-seater and some will find the third row a useful addition. However, this Mahindra is not especially long, so a third row cuts into the storage space at the back end. The upside, though, is that with only two rows in use there is ample space. And if you want more, both the third and middle row fold down to provide a flat floor.
Here's a brand that won't be expecting to take the market by storm from the get-go, but given time the Mahindra will gather momentum. It looks good and, as with nearly all vehicles in this segment, is probably rarely going to get its feet dirty.
Forget its quirkiness and the odd foible in design such as the interior colour scheme. It's the price and what you get for it that makes this more than a pretender.
Mahindra XUV 500Price: $36,990
Engine: 2.2-litre mHAWK 140 turbo diesel
Power: 103kW at 3750rpm, 330Nm from 1600-2800rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual AWD
Suspension: MacPherson strut (front), multi-link (rear)
Brakes: Discs front/rear
Safety: ABS, EBD, ESP
How big: 4585mm long, 1890mm wide, 1985mm tall, 2700mm wheelbase
Wheels: 17-in 235/65 Bridgestone Duellers
Fuel: 70 litres diesel.