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2016 Mahindra XUV500 detailed

High points from the biennial Delhi motor show include a well set-up SUV that now has an ambitious auto option.

Mahindra could soon become a much bigger player in Australia's medium SUV market. So far the giant Indian company's SUV sales have been hobbled by a lack of dealers, small line-up and the absence of an automatic transmission for its otherwise quite impressive seven-seat XUV500.

However, that has been fixed with the latest version of the "cheetah-inspired" model, due in Australia in May, which features a new six-speed Aisin automatic from Japan and a load of good gear that could trouble rivals.

There's a new grille in a redesigned nose and a neater tail, too, a big change from the earlier version that looked as if a pair of bull's horns had been painted across it.

Also standard are cornering headlights, uprated suspension, new 17-inch alloy wheels and auto lights and wipers.

The dash gets a 7.0-inch touchscreen, new multimedia setup with GPS, Bluetooth audio and iPod connectivity, hands-free calling and voice recognition.

Acceleration is strong and it's best to keep an eye on the speedo.

Mahindra says other bits of "cheetah" can be seen in the black accents around the headlights, replicating the lithe cat's cheek markings, and the curved and vertical door handles, resembling a claw.

The 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel (103kW/330Nm) is shared with the manual model.

CarsGuide put in a few laps of Mahindra's test track at its vast new and largely automated Chakan plant, 100km from Mumbai, India — which has the capacity to build 500,000 vehicles a year.

We rather liked the slightly quirky new transmission on the track as well as on some of India's new expressways, where it ran along easily at 100km/h turning over at about 1700rpm. It's a smooth operator, making upshifts from about 1500rpm — unless you have a heavy foot, in which case the tacho will run to nearly 4000rpm before selecting the next ratio.

Enthusiasts can also literally switch to manual shift: a thumb button on the gear lever knob does the job. The lever itself has a neat sports-style gate.

Acceleration is strong and it's best to keep an eye on the speedo, which, like the rev counter, is in a sunken cowl in the dash, where the red needle is hard to see.

It cruised comfortably at about 140km/h on Indian expressways, not that Australian drivers will such speeds legally.

There's a lot of head and legroom but the rear pop-up seats are really for juniors.

However, the 2.5 tonne, tallish (1.78m) SUV is not so cheetah-like in the handling department, where it understeers through fast corners and has no small amount of steering kickback.

The suspension, Macpherson struts in front and a decent rear multi-link setup, has been retuned — still comfortably firm, it is no longer brittle. The diesel is not the world's quietest but it's not too intrusive and it's reasonably thrifty, claiming 6.7L/100km.

Accommodation front and rear is more than generous, even with three adults in the second row. There's a lot of head and legroom but the rear pop-up seats are really for juniors and if they're in the up position there's next to no cargo space.

The new Mahindra XUV500 gets a black leather-trimmed interior with an all-plastic dash. Fit and finish have been improved and the touchscreen's many functions work a treat.

Mahindra builds seven variants of the XUV500. Australia currently gets the second-from-top W8 models but the top W10 version is also a possible import.

The manual models are still priced at $29,900 drive-away for the 2WD and $32,900 for the AWD. Pricing for the auto versions has not been finalised but Mahindra says they'll be "under $35,000", which would make them about the best value in class in terms of standard equipment and an attractive proposition.

How do you think the new XUV500 measures up in the competitive midsize SUV market? Tell us in the comments below.

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