Mahindra XUV300 Road Test Review: Can it challenge Ecosport & Creta?

Mahindra & Mahindra is a smart automotive player. Over eight years ago, they bought a majority stake in Ssangyong, the Korean based automobile player for about Rs 2,100 crore. In 2016, Mahindra was able to turn the ailing Korean giant profitable for the first time in half a decade and as of day, M&M holds almost 75% stake in the Ssangyong.

The long term strategy is also (finally) reaping benefits for them in India. The Alturas, a rebadged Ssangyong Rexton came in a few months back and now this, the much awaited XUV300, or the made-for-India Ssangyong Tivoli.

I like the way it looks. Like a small SUV should be. Its wide (wider than the Creta, pinch yourself!), has an imposing front stance and no matter how much people refer to it as Mahindra’s Brezza, the on road presence is massive. A lot has been spoken about the way it looks for the past few months and I will not spend too much time talking about it here. What I do want to mention are the twin stage DRLs or day-time running lights up front that make you want to give it a second, or even a third glance. And then there are the classy 17-inch diamond cut alloy wheels that not only look stunning but also fill up the wheel arches rather well. The side profile also showcases the blacked out pillars, roof rails and muscular arches above the wheels. You also get extra bits of cladding around the doors.

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The rear is something that takes time getting used to. The Tivoli (on which this is based) is about 4.2 meters in length but in order to comply for the small car norms, Mahindra had to shave off the rear while maintaining the same wheelbase of 2600mm which is segment leading by the way. Along with cutting off that essential length, the XUV300 was also given a different rear design. It does bring out the best in terms of width of the car and the LED lights look great once it gets dark. The one you see here is the top spec W8 model with a contrasting white roof and a white spoiler. The XUV300 also sits quite high off the ground and this along with the wheels being positioned at either ends gives it a proper butch stance. Its a job well done in terms of design.

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The cabin is an interesting part of the XUV300. It remains almost similar to that of the Tivoli and when I first saw these in the images, I was impressed. However, at the media drive, I wasn’t all smiles once seated inside. Agree the doors open very wide, ingress is easy and there is lot of space on offer but the shortcoming here is the overall feel of materials and plastics. The upper part of the fascia for example has lot of hard plastics and this will be disappointing for anyone putting about 12 lacs on-road. Mahindra could have added some soft touch materials at places. Likewise, the central fascia, with all those buttons places in the glossy black housing look a bit dated now. Apart from these shortcomings though, the XUV300’s cabin will pamper you.

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As I said above, its a wide car so shoulder space up front is impressive. Ditto for headroom for a 6 feet tall person like me. There are classy bits like the finish for the steering controls and power window switches which look very premium. The leather seats feel rich and up front, this car is feature loaded. From dual zone air-con to a feature rich infotainment system, you also get a sunroof, arm-rest with massive storage space, smart entry with push button start, rear camera with modes, cruise control et al. The door pads are also generous in terms of storage space though the front cup holders could be deeper and wider. Do check the video above to see a detailed video on the touch screen infotainment system, smart watch connectivity and functions offered by the driver information display.

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Getting into the back is slightly more cumbersome than the front seats. However, once again, thanks to the width, the rear seats feel spacious. There is also enough knee room left if I sit behind the driver’s seat that has been adjusted for my height. Ditto for the seat comfort and ‘feel’, large door pads, an arm-rest and overall visibility. That said, I am very surprised Mahindra left out rear air-con vents which is a let down given the huge cabin size of the vehicle. Even the half priced Santro offers this feature now. Likewise, no charging outlet here which will be a pain point for kids while out on weekend drives. Head room is just about perfect for a 6 feet tall person and I am glad Mahindra is offering adjustable head rests for all three back seat passengers.

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The boot space now – as expected, due to the impressive passenger space, boot takes a hit. Official figures will only be out on the 14th of February and though the boot lip is high, there is just about enough space for two suitcases and a couple of small shoulder bags. A small price to pay for a big sub 4m SUV you see. The rear seats though get a 60:40 split and can be folded down. When you do this, you can lift the boot base up by a few inches, thereby making a long flat luggage space on the inside.

One of the highlights of the XUV300 is its engine. Though the XUV300 will be offered with a choice of both fuel types, we got to sample only the diesel one during the drive. This is the same 1.5-litre turbo charged diesel engine that powers the Marazzo and though puts out 6 bhp less here, the power to weight ratio remains impressive. At 115 bhp / 300 Nm, the XUV300 diesel fares better than all its rivals and comes mated to a 6 speed manual gearbox. Sadly, no automatic on offer, even with the petrol option. Sigh.

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I am a fan of this engine and was mighty impressed with the Marazzo during the drive last year. Thankfully, the enjoyment levels only go up North in this compact SUV. I will start with the NVH levels first – fire up the engine and though the clatter filters into the cabin, vibrations are kept at bay. Slot into first and you appreciate the gear shift quality and within minutes, the torque from the engine gets a smile on your face. You can potter in traffic at low revs all day long and yet pick up momentum without a fuss. Mid range is ballistic and even with a load of passengers and air-con running, the XUV300 flies through traffic. For reference, the Brezza offers 200 Nm of torque, EcoSport 205 and Nexon 260.

The engine does not run out of breath even at higher revs. That said, the 2nd and 3rd gears are short for my liking. Pedal to metal, the 1st will get you to 40 km/h, 2nd to 69 and 3rd to 105. Corresponding revs will be 4750, 4700 and 4500. Mahindra has not revealed the official fuel economy figures yet but during our drive, we got an easy 15-16 kmpl. My grouse is that the driver info display does not show figures lower than 12 kmpl. Mahindra has done this with the XUV500 too, with the lower limit locked at 9kmpl. I wonder why!

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Power is nothing without control. The XUV300 is a perfect example – not only does this go FAST, it handles well in the process. It has the much talked about Smart Steer which offers you three modes for the steering. Depending on the mode, the steering ‘feel’ and ‘weight’ changes. But truth be told, its more of an electronic gimmick than anything else and I preferred to be left in the Comfort mode. This makes piloting the XUV300 an easy affair. That said, if you want to have that extra control at triple digit speeds or while ‘flying’ through corners like Gaurav Gill does, the Sport mode works better. But most users will love the light steering in Comfort mode. Next, the suspension. It gives you the much needed control when you are going faster than required. While low speed ride is on the stiffer thanks to the 17 inch wheels and you crash into sharp undulations and potholes, as you go faster, this SUV behaves so much better.

I drove a lot off the road in Goa, as visible in some pictures here – this dark green color wears a layer of fine dust! And I was mighty impressed with the way it soaked up bad roads at higher speeds. The ESP also keeps you safe and you end up pushing a lot more knowing this safety aid has your back. Pity this does not come with AWD – would have made for a fantastic package. The brakes, thanks to discs all around, work very well and dropping the anchors makes the XUV slow down as expected.

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I did a lot of high speed runs on the isolated roads of Verna Industrial Area – not only does the XUV get to 100 and beyond fast, it doesn’t make you feel so till you look at the clocks. This is a trait found in larger and expensive cars – the maturity levels at highway speeds are excellent. It does not feel nervous or require constant driver inputs. In my opinion, the XUV300 will be a very good mile muncher. It behaves more like a mid size SUV than a compact one. Good job in terms of dynamics.

Its feature packed too. I have mentioned this before but will want to reiterate this. Mahindra is upping the game with 7 Airbags and I have a strong feeling, this will come with a minimum of 4 star safety rating. Seat belt reminders for all four seats and front parking sensors are a big step forward too. So are the disc brakes all around and a proper Electronic Stability Control. And then there are the heated outside mirrors, auto dimming inside mirror, auto headlamps / wipers, leather seats, dual zone climate control, TPMS (tyre pressure monitoring system), eco sense function, smart watch connectivity, rear camera, sunroof, cruise control, smart key etc. Mahindra is really spoiling customers here! At the same though, I will repeat – omission of rear vents and charging outlet is a big NO.

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What’s my verdict. I am impressed. As a current XUV500 owner, this one comes across as a young, dynamic and spirited sibling. It is clearly a premium compact SUV and deserves to enjoy a premium in terms of pricing too. And why not? It looks good, rides well and drives even better. Heck, it won’t be wrong to say that the XUV300 will even steal away customers from Nissan and Hyundai showrooms. Those looking at an entry level Kicks or Creta will be tempted to look at the mid level or higher spec version of the XUV300. Killing two birds with one stone? Just keep the pricing sensible Mahindra. Watch this space for more on 14th February.