Mahindra XUV500 VS Honda CR-V
- 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
- Great practicality
- Good value
- Walk away locking
- Advanced safety kit only on top-spec
- Sunroof limits rear headroom
- CVT drones on
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|
Honda's CR-V is one of the original compact SUVs, and when it appeared in Australia in 1997 its only real rival was the Toyota RAV4, so it didn't leave us with much choice. It was a case of that one or the other one.
Now that's all changed, and there are currently more than 20 different mid-sized SUVs under $60k on sale in this market.
All that could change with the arrival of the fifth generation CR-V. We went along to the Australian launch to see if the CX-5 has anything to be afraid of, and found out a lot more in the process, including that it might be worth waiting before you buy one.
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular 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.
In the mid-sized SUV world the X-Trail is known for being super practical, the Mazda CX-5 for its looks and the way it drives, and now the new CR-V slides into the gap between them. Great value, practical and good to drive, the sweet spot in the range is absolutely the VTi-S; well equipped, with the option of AWD. Keep your eyes peeled though for when Honda updates the base grades with advanced safety kit. We'll let you know when it does.
Is the CR-V going to steal you away from the Mazda CX-5? Tell us what you think in the comments 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.
This fifth-generation CR-V looks like it found a gym and reappeared as a beefed-up version of the last model. The dimensions don't lie – the new CR-V is 11mm longer at 4585mm end-to-end, it’s 6mm taller at 1679mm for the FWD and 4mm more in the 1689mm AWD.
At 1820mm across, it's 35mm wider and the wheelbase is 40mm longer. Ground clearance is also up by 28mm in the FWD at 198mm, and 38mm in the AWD, with its 208mm.
Just look at the pictures, there are those swept back headlights, that huge black and chrome grille, adorned with an oversized Honda badge, the muscular front wheel guards, which seem to push up and make the bonnet bulge.
From the back the CR-V looks wide and planted, but busy with all those creases and angles. While the profile isn't as sleek as others, such as the CX-5, it’s designed for practicality.
You might not have noticed, but the A-pillars either side of the windscreen are super thin to improve visibility.
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.
While the new CR-V misses out on a sleek profile, it gains in practicality. Tall, wide doors which open at almost 90 degrees to the side of the car make getting kids (and yourself) in and out a lot easier.
The tailgate opens high enough for me at 191cm to just walk under, and the low load lip means you don't have to hammer throw your shopping over the bumper into the boot.
Cargo space is 522 litres in the five seater and 472 litres in the seven-seat CR-V, an LED light which can be flicked on and off is great for when you're fumbling for gear in the dark.
That auto tailgate can sense if there are fingers in the way and will stop just as it touches them but before it crushes them – I know I tested it myself, with my own fingers, and all of them are still on my hand.
The increase in wheelbase means more legroom in the second row and I can sit behind my driving position with about 10cm of space - that's verging on limo territory.
The third row in the seven-seat VTi-L is cramped for me, and my knees are tucked under my chin, but your kids will love it - unless they're giants.
Climbing into the third row isn't too much of a challenge – the footpath-side seat slides and flips forward to open up a little pathway through to the back.
Each row has two cupholders (yup, even in the VTi-L's back seats) there are small bottle holders in the rear doors and bigger ones up front.
The centre console storage bin is excellent – you can configure it several ways.
The lock and go function is excellent, too – walk two metres away from the car for more than two seconds and it will lock itself. You only have to touch the handle to unlock it again.
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.
Prices have gone up… and down, depending on which grade of CR-V we're talking about. The entry-level VTi lists for $30,690 (a $900 increase), the front-wheel drive (FWD) VTi-S above it is $33,290 (a $1000 jump) while the all-wheel drive is $35,490 (up $200). The VTi-L has dropped by $300 to $38,990 and the top-of-the-range VTi-LX is down $1500 at $44,290.
Honda says it's added between $2600-$4350 of value across the range with this new model, which sounds awfully nice of them, and going by the healthy standard features list, and in comparison to its rivals such as the Mazda CX-5, Nissan X-Trail, and Toyota RAV4, the value for money is good.
Standard on the base-spec VTi is a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, multi-angle reversing camera, Bluetooth connectivity, an eight-speaker sound system, dual-zone climate control, 17-inch alloy wheels, push-button ignition and proximity unlocking.
Stepping up to the VTi-S adds front and rear parking sensors, power tailgate and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The VTi-L is the FWD seven-seater and gets all of the VTi-S's features and adds a panoramic sunroof, auto wipers, and heated front seats with the driver's being power adjustable.
King of the range is the VTi-LX, which picks up all the VTi-L's gear and adds leather-appointed seats, LED headlights, tinted windows and an advanced safety equipment package which includes AEB.
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?
Simple. One engine for the whole range. It's a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol which makes 140kW/240Nm. That's not a great deal of grunt, but it’s more than the same engine makes in the Honda Civic, and at no point did it feel like it needed more oomph during our hilly drive.
The automatic transmission is a CVT. They're prone to making the engine drone loudly without producing much in the way of acceleration. Honda's CVT is one of the best I’ve encountered, though.
Do you need an AWD CR-V? Well, the CR-V is not an off-roader, the on-demand AWD is really for a bit of extra traction and stability in the wet or on dirt and gravel. My advice is to get it if you can afford it and not worry about the fuel bills. The CVT is so good at being economical the difference is almost zilch. Read on to find just how much zilch.
Despite my gripes with CVTs, they are super fuel efficient. In the FWD VTi Honda says it'll consume 91RON at a rate of 7.0L/100km (we recorded 8.9L/100km) then step up to 7.3L/100km in the VTi-S FWD, then 7.4L/100km in the AWD version. The seven seat VTi-L is also officially 7.3L/100km (we recorded 8.3L/100km) and the AWD VTi-LX is 7.4L/100km.
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.
We drove three of the four grades of CR-V at its Australian launch – the base spec VTi, and the VTi-L seven seater, which are FWD, and the AWD only VTi-LX.
Honestly, there is next to no perceptible difference in the way any of them drives, apart from the AWD being more sure-footed on gravel roads.
That engine is a good thing. It's small, but delivers a decent output. Our drive route included hilly country, and it didn't feel underpowered, at all.
The CVT drones on and is joined by quite a bit of road noise from the tyres filtering into the cabin, but the ride is comfortable and the handling impressive for an SUV in this price range.
Visibility is excellent around those super thin A-pillars, but the curvy bonnet limits vision in car parks.
Front seating is comfortable, but the chairs feel too large, and lack bolstering to hold you in place in corners. The back seats are flatter and harder.
All models have excellent brake response, thanks to and electronic brake booster system. And steering is quick compared to the old model, with fewer turns of the wheel required to turn the same distance.
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.
Okay, first up, the new CR-V isn't fitted with Takata airbags, which are the ones at the centre of the current worldwide recall.
The new CR-V has not been given an ANCAP rating yet, but the previous model did score the maximum five-stars.
What you should know, too, is that only the top-of-the-range VTi-LX grade comes with advanced safety equipment such as AEB, lane departure warning, lane keeping assistance, and adaptive cruise control.
Honda told us at the launch that the advanced safety tech would soon be available on all grades, but could not tell us when. So, you might like to wait until it arrives on more grades.
You'll find two ISOFIX points and three top tether mounts for child seats across the second row, and all grades of CR-V have a full sized spare wheel.
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.