Mahindra XUV500 VS Ford Escape
- 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
- Sporty styling
- Plenty of standard features across range
- Grunty 2.0-litre petrol engine
- Overly direct steering
- Unsettled body control
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|
Ford is hoping its new-generation Escape will tempt you away from buying one of the current family favourites, such as a Toyota RAV4 or a Mazda CX-5.
Ready to meet the new Escape range? Let's go.
|Engine Type||2.0L 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 Escape is one of the best-looking medium SUVs on the market, and more practical than its sleek lines would suggest. The 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine makes it one of the most powerful among its rivals, although not the best to drive thanks to overly sharp steering – which may in turn unsettle the body at times if you're not expecting such directness. While the standard features list is hardly missing anything even in the entry grade, the Escape range could do with a lower priced grade to make the model more accessible. Maybe something like the smaller-engined 1.5-litre turbo as in the previous Escape Ambiente.
The sweet spot in the range is the entry grade Escape. Yes, you miss out on the digital instrument cluster and heated seats, but you're getting most of the upper grades' equipment at a lower price.
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.
Ooooh, Mumma, this is a good-looking SUV. In the video above I mention how the Escape could maybe even pass for an Aston Martin's DBX SUV (you might have to squint) in the styling of the grille and headlights, and even in profile. Well, Ford did own Aston from 1991 to 2007.
The previous Escape was boxy and full of angular shapes and sharp creases. This new one looks sleek and smooth. Yup, it doesn't have the tough appearance of the old one and has less of an upright, traditional SUV profile, but with its low, long bonnet and set-back cabin the Escape looks slippery and fast.
The new Escape is longer than the old one, too, by about 100mm with the entry grade being 4614mm end-to-end and the ST-Line stretching 4629mm and Vignale 4626mm.
The height has also been reduced from a maximum of 1749mm to 1680mm including the roof rails, and it's wider as well at 2178mm with the mirrors folded out.
So wider, lower, longer and sleeker. You're wondering what it's like to drive now aren't you? We'll get there.
There are some big differences in the way each grade looks, starting with the grilles – the entry Escape and top of the range Vignale have the same shaped grille but with different mesh inserts, while the ST-Line has a different grille design and a black honeycomb screen.
While the entry Escape has a roof-top spoiler, privacy glass and dual exhaust (although it doesn't quite come out of those chrome tailpipes), the ST-Line is fitted with a sports body kit which includes the front and rear bumpers, the side skirts, the large rear wing, a different style alloy wheel to the entry grade, plus proper dual pipes.
The Vignale is the posh one and gets plenty of shiny chrome looking trimmings to the grille and the window surrounds, and it's the only grade which has 19-inch alloys as standard and not 18-inch rims.
Inside, the grades vary as you'd expect, although even the entry Escape has a premium looking cabin with high-quality feeling materials and I'm a fan of the textured pattern on the door trims across the range.
The entry Escape has cloth seats, as does the ST-Line – although they have sporty red stitching. The hybrid has partial leather seats while the Vignale has what Ford calls 'leather accented', which means it's mainly leather but not completely so the legal department has advised them to go with 'accented'.
There are 10 paint colours to choose from (depending on the grade) including Agate Black, Blue Panther, Diffused Silver, Sedona Orange and White Platinum.
All grades comes with an eight-inch media display which looks small compared to those in new rivals and while the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster in the ST-Line and Vignale is stunning, the rest of the cabin didn't wow me with the modern tech and styling many new cars do.
Still the Escape scores well for design, thanks mainly to its gorgeous exterior. But how practical is it? You're about to find out.
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.
The Escape scores well for practicality.
Rear leg and headroom is excellent. Even at 191cm tall I can sit behind my driving position with plenty or room to move thanks to the 'scooped-out' design of the front seat backs.
That second row rolls on rails and locks into place and this means boot space can be contracted and expanded between 412 litres and 526 litres. This is a rarity in the medium-SUV segment. You can see in the video that I was able to stack all of the CarsGuide luggage in the boot.
Cabin storage is great up front with super-sized door pockets, three cupholders and a big centre console box, while those in the rear have two cupholders, but tiny door pockets.
For phones, tablets and other devices all grades come with four USB ports (two type-A and two type-C). There's also a wireless phone charger up front on all grades and two 12V power outlets.
As a parent who fastens a child into their car seat at least twice a day, I found it frustrating that the Escape's rear doors didn't open anywhere near as wide as a Mazda CX-5's to allow me more space.
I did like the low load lip on the boot and the gesture tailgate on the Vignale was convenient, if slow.
All grades come with brilliantly practical proximity unlocking, too, which is normally only offered on the higher levels in rivals.
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.
The Escape is expensive compared to its rivals – let me show you.
There are three grades in the Escape line-up. The entry grade is simply called the Escape and lists from $35,990 before on-road costs, then above that is the ST-Line from $37,990, and then the Vignale tops out the range from $46,590. The entry grade only comes in front-wheel drive but if you're looking for an all-wheel drive then add $3000 to the prices of the ST-Line and Vignale.
In 2021 a plug-in hybrid variant will be offered in the ST-Line grade and will cost $52,940. It too will be front-wheel drive only.
The most affordable new Escape is between $2000 and 5000 more expensive than the entry grades of rivals such as the Toyota RAV4 and Mazda CX-5. Given it does offer substantially more power and torque than either, and is well equipped, one could argue it verges on their mid-level grades (GXL and Maxx Sport). The all-wheel drive Vignale, however, costs about the same as the top-of-the-range RAV4 and CX-5 in all-wheel drive, bringing parity back to the Escape line-up.
The value in terms of equipment isn't bad. Coming standard on the entry Escape are 18-inch alloy wheels, privacy glass, silver roof rails, an eight-inch display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a wireless phone charger, sat nav, an embedded modem, dual-zone climate control, push-button start, six-speaker stereo with digital radio, and a reversing camera. There's also a smart key which lets you unlock and lock the doors just by touching the door handle.
The ST-Line has a performance feel to it and adds a menacing-looking black grille, 18-inch alloys, sports suspension, black roof rails, a large rear spoiler and dual exhaust tips. Inside there are sports seats with red stitching, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, a fully digital instrument cluster and metallic pedals.
The Vignale adds matrix LED headlights, leather heated front and rear seats, a Bang and Olufsen stereo, head-up display, a power driver's seat, auto parking and a gesture activated tailgate.
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?
The Escape comes with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine making 183W of power and 387Nm of torque, which is more powerful than any engine in the RAV4, CX-5 or everything else in the class for the same money.
This is the only engine on offer for the Escape, apart from the 2.5-litre petrol engine in the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) which will be available in 2021. The power output for the hybrid is 167kW.
The hybrid is front-wheel drive only and so is the entry grade Escape, while the petrol-only ST-Line and Vignale can be had in front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive configurations.
The petrol Escapes have an eight-speed automatic transmission while the PHEV features a continuously variable transmission, commonly known as a CVT auto. It's there to help save petrol... which neatly brings us to consumption.
Ford says the all-wheel drive and front-wheel drive Escapes with the 2.0-litre petrol engine should use 8.6L/100km after a combination of open and urban roads. In my own testing I found the difference between the two to also be almost negligible, too, with the FWD's mileage being 9.4L/100km and the AWD's being 9.7L/100km. These were both taken from the trip computer and the test course was identical for both, taking in motorways and urban roads.
The plug-in hybrid is the true fuel super saver with Ford saying it can achieve 1.5L/100km. The hybrid was not available to the Australia motoring media to test, but you can absolutely expect the fuel economy to be outstanding.
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.
The plugin-in hybrid wasn't available to drive at the Australian launch of the Escape, but I tested all grades with the petrol engine. The entry level Escape and ST-Line I drove were front-wheel drive and the Vignale was all-wheel drive.
There are good things to report, but also a few-could-be-better points, too.
First the good. That 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine is truly responsive, with almost zero turbo lag and stacks of oomph and you'll be hard pressed to find another SUV in the size and price bracket that has this much grunt.
Plenty of SUVs out there can feel breathless when it comes to overtaking or needing to move quickly, and if anything there were times in all the Escapes I drove where it was more a case of 'whooah' slow down there. Sport mode was for the most part unnecessary.
The transmission is a regular eight-speed automatic, which was good for acceleration, whereas the CVTs found in some other SUVs can have a lacklustre effect on getting you moving, while dual-clutch autos aren't known for their smoothness at low speeds.
That said, the automatic in the Escape seemed to 'clunk' at low speeds sometimes as I accelerated away in traffic.
Steering is one of the parts which could be better. I found the steering in all three of the Escapes I drove to be overly direct and quick, meaning the wheel only needed to be turned slightly for a fairly sudden change in direction. That, in turn, would unsettle the car causing a 'wobble'. It's not unsafe, but passengers might turn green in the back.
But the more I drove the Escape the more I adjusted to its sporty characteristics and the ride was comfortable.
The all-wheel drive Escape felt more planted and stable to drive, particularly in the wet where I found the front-wheel drives spun their wheels under acceleration due to all that torque, with a hint of understeer at times.
Visibility was great, the reversing camera was clear and the auto parking feature on the Vignale worked well apart from that one time it tired do a perpendicular park in a parallel spot.
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.
The Escape was given the maximum five-star ANCAP rating in 2020, but this was under 2019 standards from the otherwise-identical European Kuga-badged version tested that year. This shouldn't put you off, as all grades come with an outstanding level of standard safety tech such as AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane keeping assistance, adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning with cross traffic alert and traffic sign recognition.
Front and rear parking sensors are also standard across the range, so is a reversing camera and auto headlights.
For child seats there are two ISOFIX points and three top tether mounts across the second row.
A space-saver spare wheel is under the boot floor.
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.