Mahindra XUV500 VS Fiat 500X
- Cheap way into seven seats
- Petrol/auto combination a winner
- Hugely spacious third row
- Underwhelming safety
- Steering that requires plenty of guesswork
- Cheap-feeling interior
- Fun looks
- Good interior
- Great safety package
- Iffy transmission
- Oddball ride
Just in case attacking Australia's crowded SUV market with a virtually unheard of Indian brand wasn't a high enough hurdle to leap over, Mahindra had made its task even harder - think a Bollywood version of Mission Impossible - by launching its XUV500 SUV here with a diesel engine (which nobody wanted) and a manual gearbox (which few could even remember how to use).
Fortunately, it fixed one of those issues late in 2016, finally adding an automatic transmission to the line-up. And now, at long last, it's fixed the other.
For one, it's a ferociously cheap way into a new seven-seat SUV. For another, it's pretty well equipped, even from the base level. There's a long warranty, an equally long roadside assistance offering, and there's capped-price servicing, too.
So, should the mainstream SUV players be looking over their shoulders?
Spoiler alert: no.
|Engine Type||2.2L turbo|
Fiat's indomitable 500 is one of the great survivors - not even VW's recently deceased New Beetle could keep riding the nostalgia wave, partly because it made itself just that little bit out-of-touch by not being a car anyone can buy. The 500 avoided that, particularly in its home market, and is still going strong.
Fiat added the 500X compact SUV a few years ago and at first I thought it was a daft idea. It's a polarising car, partly because some people complain it's capitalising on the 500's history. Well, duh. It's worked out well for Mini, so why not?
I've driven one every year for the last couple so I was keen to see what's up and whether it's still one of the weirdest cars on the road.
|Engine Type||1.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
This petrol-powered and well-priced XUV500 W6 might mark Mahindra's most convincing effort at cracking Australia's congested SUV market, but we're still not completely convinced.
That said, it's certainly cheap, the ownership credentials stack up and it's a very comfortable way to transport seven people.
Will this Mahindra's low price and upgraded spec win your SUV vote? Tell us in the comments below.
The 500X is a fun-looking alternative to the various options available from everyone else and is - overall - better to drive than its Renegade twin.
It packs a very good safety package which you can't ignore but does lose points on the warranty and servicing regime. But it's also built to take four adults in comfort, which not every car in the segment can boast.
Would you choose the Fiat 500X over one its better-known competitors? Tell us in the comments section below.
There's no getting away from the fact the XUV500 is not the sleekest, prettiest SUV in the pack. But it's not ugly, either. More that it looks like it's doing its best with a design philosophy hatched a generation or two ago.
Its best angle by far is when viewed straight on, where the piano-black grille, dual bonnet bulges and complicated (read: a little weird) headlight clusters all add some road presence to Mahindra's only SUV.
A side-on viewing, however, is less satisfying, where a combination of strangely placed and super-sharp body creases (including one over the rear wheelarch, which adds a Harbour Bridge-style crescent to the otherwise-straight window line) and serious rear overhang give the XUV500 an inescapable awkwardness.
Inside, expect a vast collection of rock-hard (though nicely patterned) plastics, with the ambiance rescued somewhat by the clean-looking and vertical central control unit, which is home to the media screen and air-con controls.
Ready for some hashtag real talk? There are better-looking and better-feeling seven-seat SUVs out there. But there aren't many that start at $25,990 drive-away. And I think that's Mahindra's point.
Look, I like the 500X, but I know why people don't. It's clearly a 500X in the way a Mini Countryman is a Mini. It looks like a 500, but get closer and you see the difference. It's chubby like a $10 weekend market Bhudda statue and has great big googly eyes like Mr Magoo. I find this endearing, my wife does not. The looks aren't the only thing she doesn't like.
The cabin is a bit more restrained and I quite like the band of colour stretching across the dash. The 500X is meant to be a bit more grown up than the 500, so there's a proper dash, more sensible design choices but it still has the big buttons, perfect for the meaty fingers of people who won't be buying this car.
Pretty damn practical, actually, regardless of whether you want to carry people or cargo. Carrying both at the same time, however, is tricky.
But let's start with people. There is a huge amount of room in the third row of the XUV500, a space with enough head and legroom to put plenty of its competition to shame.
Thanks to second-row seat backs that fold flat, before the the entire seat lifts up and pushes forward, climbing into seats six and seven isn't too big a drama, either.
We rarely say this about seven-seat cars, but at 175cm, I'd feel plenty comfortable back there on a longer drive. There are two air vents in the third row, too, along with bottle storage and side-seat storage for thin items.
The space in the middle row is ample as well, and you'll find three ISOFIX attachment points, one for each of the three seats. There's also a door pocket in each rear door and storage nets on the rear of the two front seats. A pull-down divider that separates the back seat is home to two cupholders, matching the two for front seat riders.
The only downside to all this people-lugging happiness is that, with the third row of seats in place, there is absolutely no room for luggage. Mahindra doesn't quote a litre storage figure when seven are seated (mostly because it would probably be embarrassing to write "one litre"), but trust us, you'll be lucky to squeeze a soft backpack in the boot with all seats in place.
Things improve considerably when you drop the third row of seats, though, which unlocks 702 litres of storage, and that number climbs to 1512 litres with the second and third row folded down.
At just 4.25 metres, the 500X isn't big, but makes the most of what it's got. The boot impresses at 350 litres and with the seats down, I think you could reasonably expect to triple that figure, though Fiat doesn't have an official number that I can find. For added Italian feel, you can tip the passenger seat forward to get really long things in, like a Billy bookshelf flat pack from Ikea.
Rear seat passengers sit high and upright meaning leg and kneeroom are maximised and with that tall roof, you won't scrape your head.
The doors each have a small bottle holder for a total of four and Fiat has got serious about cupholders - the 500X now has four.
Price and features
Make no mistake, this Mahindra kills the competition on price. The entry-level W6 version will cost you a lean $25,990, while the fruited-up W8 version will set you back $29,990. You can even have an AWD W8 for $32,990. The best part? All of those are drive-away prices.
Go for the W6, and you can expect 17-inch alloy wheels, cloth seats, air-con with vents (powered by a second compressor) in the second and third row, cornering headlights with DRLs, front and rear fog lights, cruise control, rear parking sensors and a 6.0-inch multimedia screen linked with a six-speaker stereo.
I drove the Pop Star, which is the second of the now-two model "regular" range, the other being the, er, Pop. I drove a Special Edition in 2018 and it's not clear if it is Special as there's also an Amalfi Special edition. Anyway.
The $30,990 (plus on-road costs) Pop Star has 17-inch alloys, six-speaker Beats-branded stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, active cruise control, sat nav, auto headlights and wipers, leather shifter and steering wheel and a space-saver spare.
The Beats-branded stereo speakers are supplied with noise from FCA's UConnect on a 7.0-inch touchscreen. The same system is in a Maserati, don't you know. Offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, UConnect loses points by shrinking the Apple interface into a lurid red frame. Android Auto properly fills the screen, for some reason which is ironic given Apple owns the Beats brand.
Engine & trans
There's a diesel engine currently available, but the clock is ticking - Mahindra expects it to be phased out within six months. But the big news here is the new petrol engine, a turbocharged 2.2-litre unit good for 103kW/320Nm. It's paired exclusively with an Aisin-developed six-speed automatic transmission, and will send it's power to the front or all four wheels.
Mahindra doesn't quote official performance figures, but those engine outputs hardly scream excitement, do they?
Fiat's rather excellent 1.4-litre turbo MultiAir does duty under the stubby bonnet, making 103kW and 230Nm. Rather less excellent is the six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which sends power through the front wheels only.
Fiat rather optimistically suggest you'll get a combined cycle figure of 5.7L/100km but try as I might, I couldn't do better than 11.2L/100km. What's worse, it demands 98RON fuel, so it's not the cheapest car to run. This figure us consistent with past weeks in the 500X and no, I wasn't thrashing it.
About as old school as rocking a pair of button-up tracksuit pants with a Run-DMC cassette stuffed into your Walkman.
On a straight and unchallenging road, there's stuff to like about the petrol-powered XUV500. The engine, while gruff under heavy acceleration, doesn't feel too wheezy when you're not asking a great deal of it, and nor is the cabin overly loud at suburban speeds. It's a comfortable space for driver and passengers, too, and the gearbox performed seamlessly on our short test drive.
But that's about where the good news ends. There's an unshakeable agricultural feel to the way this Mahindra SUV goes about its business, and nowhere is that more obvious than through the steering wheel, which has only a vague and difficult relationship with the the front tyres, making it seriously tricky to approach twisting roads with anything approaching confidence.
The steering is slow and cumbersome - light when you first begin turning the wheel, with a ton of weight appearing by surprise midway through the cornering process - and it has a tendency to fight back should the front wheels find a bump or corrugation in the road, too.
The body lolls about when challenged, too, and the tyres are quick to give up their grip on tighter corners. All of which would give it a certain retro charm if it wasn't so very new, and I must admit I was cackling maniacally on some of the more twisting roads.
But it's simply not a car I could live with.
Again, I shouldn't like the 500X but I really don't mind it. It's flawed, which might be why.
The dual-clutch transmission is dumber than a box of loose cogs, lurching from start and looking the other way when you expect it to shift. We know the engine is a good one and I think part of the reason it's so thirsty is the confused way the transmission goes about its business. I'd love to drive a manual to see what it's like.
The 500X initially feels worse than its Jeep Renegade sibling-under-the-skin, which is quite an achievement. Part of that is to do with the ride, which is very choppy below 60km/h. The first 500X I drove wallowed about but this one is a bit tauter, which would be good if you weren't punished with this bounciness.
The seats themselves comfortable and the interior is a good place to hang out. It's reasonably quiet, too, which is at odds with the old-school silliness of its conduct. It feels like Labrador let out of after day kept inside.
And that's where the car I shouldn't like is a car I do like - I really like that it feels like you're on Roman cobblestones, the type that make your knees hurt when you walk on them for a day. The steering wheel is too fat and is at a weird angle, but you kind of square up to it and drive the car like your life depends on it. You have to take it by the scruff, correct the shifts with the paddles and show it who's boss.
Obviously, that's not for everyone. If you drive it really gently, it's a very different experience, but that means going slowly everywhere, which is no fun at all and not at all Italian.
Expect dual front, front-side and curtain airbags (though the latter don't extend to the third row of seats), along with rear parking sensors and ESP. Stepping up to the W8 trim adds a reversing camera with dynamic guidelines. The XUV500 was awarded a four-star (out of five) ANCAP assessment when tested in 2012.
Out of the box, you get seven airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward collision warning, high and low speed AEB, active cruise control, rollover stability, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, blind spot sensor and rear cross traffic alert. That's not bad for a $30,000 car full stop, let alone a Fiat.
There are two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors for baby seats.
The 500X scored a five-star ANCAP rating in December 2016.
All XUV500s are covered by a five year/100,000km warranty (though the final two years apply only to the drivetrain), along with five years of complimentary roadside assistance.
The XUV500 is also covered by Mahindra's capped-price servicing program for the first three years of ownership, and will require servicing every six months or 10,000km.
Service intervals arrive once a year or 15,000km. There is no fixed or capped-price servicing program for the 500X.