Mahindra XUV500 VS LDV D90
- 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
- Makes more sense as a diesel
- People-mover practicality
- Terrible software
- Cheap interior
- A bit unwieldy to drive
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|
It’s pretty hard to miss the LDV D90.
Mainly because it is gigantic; it's one of the biggest SUVs you can buy. In fact, I’d say what’s drawn you to this review is maybe you’ve seen one of these behemoths trucking past, and you’re wondering what the LDV badge is all about and how this relatively unknown SUV stands up against popular rivals and other notable newcomers.
To get one confusing thing out of the way, LDV once stood for Leyland DAF Vans, a now-defunct British company which has been brought back to life by none other than China’s SAIC Motor – yes, the same one which also resurrected MG.
So, is this MG big brother worth looking into? We took the recently released diesel version of the D90 on test for a week to seek some answers…
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
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.
Looking for a cheap, powerful diesel SUV with huge cabin space and a humane third row for adults? The D90 is a really sound offering, especially considering the price of entry for this top-spec diesel which should resonate with Aussies a bit better than the petrol version.
It has plenty of issues that could be ironed out, but they’re all so small and not sale-breaking it’s almost annoying how much better the D90 could be with just a little work. Rivals should be looking over their shoulder for what comes next.
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.
Some colleagues I’ve spoken to like the way the D90 looks. To me, it looks like someone gene-spliced a Hyundai Tucson with a SsangYong Rexton in a lab, then grew it in a stew of peptides and this was the result.
What can’t really be communicated in images is how truly massive the D90 is. At over five metres long, two metres wide and almost two metres tall, the D90 is certifiably huge. Given that’s the case then, it’s admittedly almost admirable that only the side profile makes this thing look a little goofy.
I think LDV has done a pretty good job on the front, and the rear is simple but well resolved for a vehicle that rides on a ladder chassis (just take a look at the Pajero Sport for how ladder-chassis rear designs can get… controversial…).
The wheels, garnishes, and LED headlights are all tastefully applied. It’s not ugly… just confronting… size-wise.
Inside shares some familiar characteristics with sister-brand MG. Look from a distance and it’s all quite nice, get in too close and you’ll see where the corners have been cut.
The first thing I don’t like about the interior is the materials. Apart from the wheel they are all pretty cheap and nasty. It’s a sea of hollow plastics and mixed trims. The faux-wood pattern, which is clearly just a print on a plastic resin is particularly gnarly. Reminds me of some Japanese cars from 20 years ago. It might work for the Chinese audience, but that’s not where the market is in Australia.
On the other hand, you could say “well, what do you expect at this price?” and that is true. Everything is here and works, just don’t expect the D90 to be playing alongside the established players when it comes to fit, finish, or material quality.
The huge screen works to finish the dash, but that darned software is so ugly you’ll wish it didn’t. At least all the major touch-points are ergonomically accessible.
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 D90 is as massive on the inside as it is on the outside. I’m talking better space than a minivan, and nothing says that more than the humane third row. At 182cm tall, I not only fit in the rearmost two seats, but I can do so in as much comfort as any other row. It’s staggering. There’s actual airspace for my knees and head back there.
The second row is massive and on rails too, so you can extend the amount of room available to third-rowers – and there’s so much room in the second row, you’ll have space even with the seats moved forward.
My only criticism here is that the giant rear door is far enough forward to make clambering into the third row a little tricky. Once you’re there though there are really no complaints.
The boot is even usable with the third row deployed, with a claimed 343L of space. That should be hatchback-sized, but the measurement is a little deceptive as the space is tall but shallow, meaning it will only allow you to place smaller bags (a few, if you can stack them) with the remaining space.
The boot is otherwise cavernous with a wild 1350L available with the third row stowed flat, or 2382L with the second row stowed. In this configuration, with the front passenger seat slid forward to its furthest position, I was even able to get a 2.4-metre-long benchtop in the back. Truly impressive.
Second-row occupants get their own climate control module, USB ports and even a full-sized household power outlet, with more legroom than you could possibly need. My only complaint was that the seat trim seemed a little flat and cheap.
Front occupants get large cupholders in the centre console, a deep armrest box (with no connectivity in it, just a randomly placed DPF cycle switch), pockets in the doors, and an awkward binnacle under the climate controls that houses the single available USB port. My phone didn’t fit in there.
No complaints about leg and headroom in the front either, though, with plenty of adjustability to boot. The driver’s seat offers a commanding view of the road, although it can be a little unsettling to be so far off the ground in corners… more on that in the driving section.
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.
On paper, the seven-seat D90 is immediately quite appealing. At $47,990, it is literally a lot of car for the money. This latest iteration, the bi-turbo diesel, is only available in Executive trim at this price, but you can pinch pennies further by choosing one of the lesser petrol turbo variants.
Regardless, and much like its MG sister brand, LDV is good at making sure that essential spec boxes are ticked.
This includes screens galore as is popular in the Chinese market, including a massive 12-inch multimedia screen and 8.0-inch digital dash.
A screen is only as good as the software that runs on it though, and let me tell you, the D90’s software is not good. A quick flick through the weirdly small menu reveals barebones functionality, terrible resolution and response time, as well as possibly the worst execution of Apple CarPlay I’ve ever seen.
I mean, it doesn’t even use all of that screen real estate! Not only that, but in a recent overhaul to CarPlay, Apple released software to utilise wider displays – so the car’s own software must simply be incapable of supporting it. Inputs also proved laggy, and I had to repeat myself on multiple occasions to get any use out of Siri. Unlike every other car I’ve used, the software in the D90 wouldn’t return to the radio after you hang up or stop talking to Siri. Frustrating.
I’d rather have a far smaller display that actually worked well. The semi-digital dash was functional, although barely did anything that a small dot-matrix display isn’t capable of and had one screen which for my entire week said ‘loading’. I’m still not sure what it was meant to do…
At least it supports Apple CarPlay at all, which is more than could have been said for segment hero, the Toyota LandCruiser.
The D90 does tick some necessary items that are quite good. LED headlights are standard, as are leather seats with eight-way power adjust for the driver, a heated multi-function steering wheel, 19-inch alloy wheels (which still somehow look small on this huge thing), three-zone climate control, eight-speaker audio system, electric tailgate, keyless entry with push-start ignition, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, tyre-pressure monitoring, as well as a fairly substantial safety suite which we’ll explore later in this review.
Great on paper then, the bi-turbo diesel engine is a boon, as is the fact that the D90 rides on a ladder chassis with an electronically-controlled low-range terrain mode for the transmission, too.
You’d expect to pay more – even from Korean and Japanese rivals for this much specification. No matter which way you cut it, the D90 is good value.
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 diesel also gets its own transmission, an eight-speed torque converter automatic with computer-controlled ‘Terrain Selection 4WD’.
This gives the D90 diesel a max towing capacity of 3100kg braked (or 750kg unbraked) with a max payload of 730kg.
The D90 diesel is said to consume 9.1L/100km of diesel on the combined cycle, but ours didn’t score near that with a figure of 12.9L/100km after a week of what I’d consider “combined” testing.
The D90 a big unit, so that number doesn’t seem outrageous, it’s just nowhere near the claim… All D90s have 75-litre fuel tanks.
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 D90 is easier to drive than it looks… to a degree…
It lacks some polish of its more established rivals, which results in a drive experience that isn’t bad, but occasionally frustrating.
The ride somehow manages to be soft and harsh at the same time. It undulates over larger bumps, while transmitting the worst parts of smaller, sharper ones to the cabin. It speaks to a lack of calibration between the suspension and dampers.
That having been said, the D90 masks its ladder chassis underpinnings well, with little of that typical body-on-frame jiggle that some rivals still struggle with.
The drivetrain is good, but a little unruly. As you’d imagine from the figures, there’s more than enough power on tap, but the transmission tends to have a mind of its own.
It will occasionally lurch between gears, pick the wrong gear, and off-the-line will sometimes be delayed before shunting the D90’s bulk forward with a sudden mountain of torque. It doesn’t sound particularly good either, with the diesel surging through the rev range with industrial crudeness.
By the time the D90 has reached cruising speed though, there’s really not much to complain about, with the D90 milling along with plenty of power in reserve for overtaking. The view of the road is commanding, but you really feel the D90’s high centre of gravity in the corners and under heavy braking. The physics of such a large object are undeniable.
I have to say, LDV has done a fantastic job of the D90’s steering, with a quick, light feel that betrays the SUV’s size. It manages to stray on the right side of lightness though, not being so disconnected that you lose a feeling of where the wheels are pointing. No mean feat in something this shape.
Overall then, the D90 isn’t bad to drive and has some genuinely great characteristics, it just also has a litany of small issues that get in the way of it being truly competitive with segment leaders.
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 LDV D90 carries a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating as of 2017, and has a fairly comprehensive active safety suite.
Included on the diesel is auto emergency braking (AEB) with front collision warning, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, driver-attention alert, traffic-sign recognition, and adaptive cruise control.
Not bad for the price, and nice that there’s nothing optional. Expected items include electronic traction, stability, and brake controls, as well as six airbags.
The curtain airbags do extend to the third row, and there’s the bonus of a reversing camera and a tyre-pressure-monitoring system.
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.
LDV covers the D90 with a five-year/130,000km warranty, which is not bad… but falls behind sister brand MG, which offers seven years/unlimited kilometres. At the very least it would be nice to have the unlimited kilometre promise.
Roadside assist is included for the duration of that warranty, but there’s no capped price servicing offered through LDV. The brand gave us indicative pricing of $513.74, $667.15, and $652.64 for the first three annual services. An initial six-monthly 5000km checkup is free.
All D90s need to be serviced once every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first.