Mahindra XUV500 VS Hyundai Venue
- 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 looks
- Good to drive
- Roomy for its size
- Engine buzzy under load
- Dodgy tyres and steel wheels
- Plastic steering wheel
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|
I'm sure someone else came up with the phrase micro SUV, because I'm not that original, but they're an intriguing idea. Far too tiny to even offer all-wheel drive as an option let alone a sensible engineering challenge, they're rapidly eating into the sales of lights cars.
Suzuki's Ignis strikes me as the first one to drop but Hyundai's Venue became the most high profile. And soon after its launch we learnt it would not only eat into Hyundai's ancient light car offering, the Accent, it would effectively take it out.
Any hitman will tell you the key to a successful assignment is getting a return for your efforts. I imagine these are the sorts of conversations these people have with their employers. While the Accent is cheap as chips, the Venue, even in the basic Go version, is not. A tick over twenty grand is not what you'd call entry-level...
|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.
The Venue Go is probably the near future of entry-level cars. As the light car market continues to shrink in favour of SUVs (makes note to return to this statement annually to see how long it takes to be laughably wrong), cars like this will become commonplace.
The Venue Go's depth of engineering, half-decent equipment level and pretty reasonable dynamics mean that price aside, the bog-spec car is actually alright.
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.
The Venue is a nice piece of design. In Elite form, which I drove a hundred years ago in 2019, it was bristling with cool detailing. The Go, being the taster for the rest of the range, is comparatively stripped back. The 15-inch steelies - while excellent for bashing around town with the expendable hubcaps - do look a bit ridiculous, but if you're not bothered, there's nothing wrong with them.
I quite like the black grille and the otherwise unadorned bodywork, though, and the basic chunky design survives and stands up nicely. Does it look like you've cheaped out? Apart from the wheels, no.
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.
Let's start with the bad stuff. The back seats, while enough to fit two adults for short journeys (as long as the front seats passengers aren't too tall) are pretty sparsely equipped. No armrest, cupholders, air vents, nothing. Just the seats. The doors have bottle holders, to join the front pair for a total of four. Headroom is good, though.
Moving up front, you get two cupholders and a spot for your phone under the centre stack and some space for little bits and bobs.
The boot is an impressive 355 litres, clobbering just about everything in this class and many in the next size up. Hyundai's own Kona (one-size-up), has a 363-litre boot. The false floor in the boot means you can hide stuff under the boot floor, separate your goods or take it out completely for a bit more height.
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.
Starting at $20,190 for the six-speed manual, adding an automatic transmission to the Venue Go lifts the price to $22,210. That's a decent wedge for a tiny car, especially when the larger i30 isn't that much more expensive. Leaves a bit of clear air for the next-size-up Kona, though.
Shipping in from South Korea, the Venue Go is kitted up with 15-inch steel wheels, a four-speaker stereo, air-conditioning, reversing camera, cruise control, automatic headlights with auto high beam, power door mirrors, power windows and a space-saver spare.
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?
A rocket it isn't, with Hyundai's 1.6-litre naturally aspirated four cylinder, with 90kW/151Nm to pull the 1225kg of kerb weight along. Hyundai's in-house six-speed auto supplies the power to the front wheels.
Similar to French rival Peugeot's 'Grip Control', the Venue has a range of settings for low grip situations as well as three on-road modes that seem to be a volume control for the engine.
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.
This will either make you laugh or scratch you head. Driving the Venue Go reminded me of our (now written-off) Volkswagen Up, a car you can't buy anymore for reasons that are too silly to recount.
Adherents of that car will tell you that it is one of the most over-engineered small cars ever made. It had a great ride and handling compromise, characterful engine and made you smile.
While the Venue's buzzy 1.6 may not match the VW's 1.0-litre triple (or its colossal service costs), everything else about the way the Go drives is very Uppity. If that makes sense.
The plastic steering wheel may not feel all that nice in your hand, but it responds well to your inputs, despite doughy 185/65 tyres on steel wheels, hilariously cartoonish in 2020. This kind of response is unexpected as is the excellent ride for such a small car.
For city-dwellers, the only times these tyres will trouble you will be on greasy roads or if you head out of town on a long trip.
The Venue is perfectly fine when it's one or two up, but start loading in people and the engine starts to complain. Ignore the Sport mode, it just makes the engine buzz unpleasantly and doesn't offer anything the normal mode does. Eco is also a waste of time. Just don't touch that dial and all will be well.
The light steering is always going to be great for parking but is oddly communicative when you're shooting about the back streets. Again, the tyres don't do the change of direction any favours, but it's not a hot hatch, is it? And tyres are easily replaced, the suspension not so much.
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.
There are also three top-tether anchor points and two ISOFIX points.
The Venue scored four out of a possible five ANCAP stars in December 2019, the fifth star eluding it due to the type of AEB.
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.
You need to service the Venue every 12 months or 15,000km and all Hyundais carry a lifetime service plan, so you know how much a service is going to cost you for the life of the vehicle.
The first five years costs $1575, for an average of $315 a year, which isn't bad at all.