With buyers barrelling towards SUVs you’d think Mahindra, being an out-and-out SUV manufacturer, would have a field day. Except it has missed the compact SUV trend and making hay are the likes of the Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza, Ford EcoSport, Tata Nexon and Honda WR-V, soon to be joined by Hyundai, and maybe even Jeep with the Renegade. Of course I haven’t forgotten the Mahindra KUV 100 and TUV 300 but, it’s safe to say, neither have set the sales charts on fire. No, what Mahindra needs is an SUV that can clock 10,000 sales a month and this is what their hopes are pinned on — the Mahindra XUV 300.
Mahindra XUV 300 is based on the Ssangyong Tivoli
That it took so long is the surprising bit, but the good news is it’s finally happening. Tata Motors raided the Jaguar Land Rover parts bin for the Harrier and now Mahindra have leveraged the product development abilities of Ssangyong for the XUV 300. In its home market the Ssangyong Tivoli commands 35 per cent market share and I don’t need to tell you that South Korea isn’t an easy market to make hay in. The Mahindra XUV 300 uses the same X100 platform, obviously toughened up for Indian roads while the overall length has been trimmed to fit under four metres and take advantage of the lower excise duty for sub four meter vehicles — the rule that has fuelled this whole craze for compact SUVs.
“The XUV 300 is too important to take major styling risks with. The overall styling is cohesive and well resolved”
Oh, and Mahindra have gone and re-styled the nose and back side of the Tivoli. Google the Tivoli. Mahindra have definitely done a better job on the styling front with the XUV 300! And the good news is they’ve stuck with convention and not gone completely over the top (or left field) as they did with the KUV 100 and TUV 300. The XUV 300 is too important to take major styling risks with. The overall styling is cohesive and well resolved: the DRLs have a really nice visual signature, the floating roof on this top end variant looks cool, the silver-finish bash plates give it an SUV-ish persona, the big 17-inch wheels fill in the arches well, and it has a nice four-square stance with short overhangs (if a bit abrupt at the rear). If I have to rate it vis-a-vis the competition it’s only the Tata Nexon that nudges ahead; the XUV 300 has the measure of the rest.
Fully loaded interior
Step inside and the first reaction is that this is very unlike the Mahindras we are used to (Marazzo excluded, of course). The fit-finish is as good as the best in this class, the design is rather pleasing, the layout is logical and intuitive while the features are way more than you’d want. For instance you can pair your smartwatch to the infotainment and from the back seat control the air-con temperature, skip audio tracks, adjust the volume and check fuel efficiency, tyre pressures and what not. Or you could get yourself a longer cable and use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto from the back seat. Tricks for the driver? You can adjust the colour and intensity of the LED lighting of the speedo binnacle and — thank you Mahindra for this! — instead of that godawful buzzer warning you at 80 and 120kmph you can have the speedo flash its colours at you.
What else? You get a sunroof which is a first in this class, but the more relevant first-in-its-class feature are 7 airbags including knee bags. No crash safety ratings yet for the Mahindra XUV 300 but the similarly equipped Ssangyong Tivoli gets 3 stars in the Euro NCAP crash tests (4 with autonomous emergency braking which we do not get in India). If there’s one thing that I’d like it is cooled seats like the Verna, everything else is there. Oh, and an automatic transmission.
“The fit-finish is as good as the best in this class, the design is rather pleasing, the layout is logical and intuitive”
As for the all-important interior space, the XUV 300 is adequate on this front. With the front seat adjusted to my 5 feet 9 inch frame I could fit in the back without my knees hitting the seat back. Head room is also adequate though shoulder room (despite Mahindra’s claim of the XUV 300 having the widest tracks in its class) is rather tight for five. The space seems on par with the Brezza though the Nexon is more accommodating.
A new rally car in the making
Don’t ask me about Mahindra’s naming strategy and save for the fact that both have monocoque construction there isn’t anything relating the XUV 500 to the XUV 300. Except for one thing — after winning multiple national rally championships the XUV 500 will bow out this year in favour of the smaller, lighter and much more nimble XUV 300. More enthusiastic too, much more enthusiastic!
The XUV 300 is genuinely good to drive and over the interior roads of North Goa it is darty and very nimble, eager to change direction, soaking up the undulations with ease and feeling perfectly at home over the narrow roads. The ride and handling balance is very good and it doesn’t feel like a small car, displaying the polish and finesse you associate with larger vehicles of this type. This is quite the opposite of the early compact SUVs that felt like hatchbacks with raised suspension, the resulting increase in suspension droop ruining the polish and compliance of the donor car. There is no bounciness, no sharp shocks over bumps via the torsion beam rear. The XUV 300 feels properly balanced, the wheels at the extremities planting it smartly on the road and even though there is noticeable body roll when attacking corners the XUV 300 can carry good speeds through bends. The 215-section width rubber on 17-inch wheels no doubt helps with the cornering grip while the electrically-assisted steering isn’t overtly light and flighty though, like all EPS systems, you shouldn’t ask too much in the way of feel or feedback.
“The ride and handling balance is very good and it doesn’t feel like a small car, displaying the polish and finesse you associate with larger vehicles of this type”
The X100 is an all-wheel drive platform but with no demand for AWD in India, the XUV 300 is only front-wheel drive. Not that it affects the XUV’s handling or keeness to attack corners. The rallying community can hold their hands in the heads — with the XUV 300 Gaurav Gill will now be as untouchable on tarmac as he used to be on gravel.
As for dirt roads, the XUV 300 is very good. We found some gravel roads around our shoot location in Goa and the XUV enjoyed hammering down them, and in that sense it does have SUV genes. Switch of ESP (standard on the top-end variant) and you can throw the XUV 300 into quite lurid slides on dirt, (dramatically) living out your Gaurav Gill fantasies as I did. I must also mention the brakes, discs on all four corners, that have bite, good pedal feel and strong retardation. No compromises on safety.
Heart of the Marazzo
While the platform of the XUV 300 is derived from the Tivoli the motors have nothing to do with Ssangyong, being completely developed in house. There is a new 1.2-litre turbo-petrol which is based on the 3-cylinder engine from the KUV 100 but force fed to take the power up to 110bhp while torque is a healthy 200Nm. The powertrain we sampled on the drive in Goa was the diesel, taken from the Marazzo, and where on the big 7-seater it does tend to run out of steam in the lighter XUV 300 (can’t tell you by how much, Mahindra are weirdly cagey about the kerb weight) it moves. Moves with solid enthusiasm. Putting out 115bhp, the XUV 300 is the most powerful sub-4 metre SUV, happy to spin its wheels on hard launches, but more relevant is the 300Nm of torque available from 1500 to 2500rpm, that makes quick driving very relaxed and effortless. It is on this front, the ease with which it can get to and maintain speed, that it stands out from its rivals. It never feels breathless, you are never grumbling about a lack of power. And when you aren’t in the mood for a hustle you can stick it in sixth gear and it will comfortably cruise at triple digit speeds on the highway. For the XUV 300 it is such a good motor that Gaurav Gill’s rally car will be the 1.5 diesel, not the petrol.
“Quality levels are as you’d expect from the Japanese, dynamics are what you’d expect from a European car, and the equipment levels are as generous as what the Koreans offer”
On to a winner then?
I think so. The Marazzo was the first Mahindra I drove that felt properly engineered, not a compromise of this and that. The XUV 300 takes that a step further. Quality levels are as you’d expect from the Japanese, dynamics are what you’d expect from a European car, and the equipment levels are as generous as what the Koreans offer. And the styling doesn’t jolt your eyes from their sockets, in a good way that.
Sure the XUV 300 is not perfect. The Nexon has more space and a better ride, the WR-V too is more spacious, the (petrol) Ecosport will out accelerate it and the Brezza will be more efficient while Maruti’s network is far wider and of better quality. But as a package, the XUV 300 does tick all the boxes — they only need to work on making the Mahindra brand name appeal to the urban audience. And address the one big miss, the lack of an automatic transmission, especially considering there is so much demand for it in urban areas, the very market Mahindra needs to crack to get to the 10,000 sales mark. Ultimately the success of the XUV 300 depends on its pricing and if it undercuts the Brezza by a fair margin, it’ll be off to a flying start.