Mahindra XUV500 VS MG HS
- 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
- Good looks
- Impressive value
- Full safety
- Drive experience still needs work
- Some ergonomic issues
- Sub-par software
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|
Here in Australia we really are spoiled for choice when it comes to the sheer number of manufacturers on offer.
While prices for the big players like Toyota, Mazda and even Hyundai seem to be ever-increasing, there's apparently no shortage of upcoming challengers like MG, LDV, and Haval to take advantage of the vacuum created at the lower end of the price scale.
Indeed, the results speak for themselves, with Chinese giant SAIC's two brands in our market, LDV and MG, continually putting stellar sales performances on the board. The question many curious consumers will be asking though, is a simple one. Are they better off paying less and driving away in a car like the MG HS today, or should they put their name down on an exceedingly long waiting list for the segment's most popular hero: the Toyota RAV4?
To find out, I've sampled the whole MG HS range for 2021. Read on to see what's what.
|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.
The HS is a curious mid-size SUV competitor, entering the Australian market not just as a proposition for budget-conscious buyers who can no longer afford or want to wait for a Toyota RAV4, but also as an unlikely tech leader with the plug-in hybrid.
The range offers big-ticket safety and spec items with attractive looks at an enormously appealing price. It's easy to see why the HS is proving a hit with customers. Just be aware that it's not without its compromises when it comes to handling, ergonomics, and lots of less obvious areas where it's easy to take the polish of its rivals for granted.
Our pick of the range, oddly enough, is the top-spec PHEV, as it is the most competitive with rivals and the highest scoring against our metrics, but there's also no denying the entry-level Core and Vibe are excellent value in a tough marketplace.
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.
If the price wasn't enough to get people into dealerships, the design certainly will be. It's tough to call the HS original, with some clear influence from popular rivals like Mazda in its flashy chrome-embossed grille and bright colour options.
If nothing else , the HS provides a swoopy and curvy solution where many of its Japanese and Korean rivals have turned to sharp angles and squared-off shapes in recent years. Most importantly for MG, as a fledging volume manufacturer, is that its designs are bright and youthful. It's a powerful cocktail made for sales when trendy looks are combined with accessible finance and appealing price-tags.
Inside the HS initially looks great. Things like its sporty three-spoke steering wheel have a European flair and the HS is certainly set to wow people with its array of big and bright LED screens and soft-touch surfaces, which extend from the dash into the doors. It looks and feels nice, refreshing even, compared to some of its tired rivals.
Look too closely, however, and the façade starts to fade. The seating position is the biggest give-away for me. It feels unnaturally high, and has you not only peering down on the steering wheel and instruments, it also alerts you to how narrow the windscreen actually is. Even the A-Pillar and rear-vision mirror eat into my line of sight with the driver's seat set in the lowest possible position.
The seat material itself also looks plush and chunky, and while it is soft it lacks the support you need when driving for long periods of time.
The screens, too, look nice from a distance, but when you start to interact with them, you'll hit some issues. The stock software is downright ordinary in both its layout and look, and the lacklustre processing power behind it makes it a bit of a laggy mess to use. It can take almost 30 seconds for the digital dash cluster in the PHEV to start up once you press the ignition switch, by which point you could be well out of your driveway and down the road.
So, is it all a bit too good to be true at the price? The look, materials and software all leave a lot to be desired, but if you're coming out of a car which is more than a few years old, there's nothing really sale-breaking here, and it ticks a lot of key boxes, just know the HS is not at the top of the game when it comes to design or ergonomics.
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 HS has a large cabin, but again, it's not without its issues, which reveal an automaker new to a mainstream-market position.
As already mentioned, that front seat is spacious enough for me at 182cm tall, although it was tough to find a driving position with the absurdly high seat base and surprisingly narrow windscreen. The seat material and position leave me with the impression of sitting on the car rather than in it, and this remained true from the base Core to the faux-leather-clad Essence PHEV.
Storage in the cabin is good, though, with large bottle holders and bins in the doors, which easily held our largest CarsGuide 500ml demo bottle, similarly sized dual-cupholders in the centre console with a removable divider, a slot that should suit all but the largest smartphones running parallel, and a decently sized centre-console armrest box. On higher grades, this is air conditioned, good for keeping foodstuffs or drinks cooler for longer.
There is also an odd flip-open tray under the function-shortcut buttons. There's no storage space in here, but it houses the 12V and USB ports.
There are no tactile controls for the climate functions, only a button, which takes you to the relevant screen in the multimedia suite. Controlling such functions through a touchscreen is never easy, especially when you're driving, and it's made worse through the slow and laggy software interface.
I consider the rear seat to be a major selling point for the HS. The amount of room on offer is excellent. I have leagues of space for my feet and knees behind my own seating position, and I'm 182cm tall. There is also ample headroom regardless of variant, even when the panoramic sunroof is in place.
Storage options for rear passengers include a large bottle holder in the door, and a drop-down armrest with two large but shallow bottle holders. Higher grades also score a flip-open tray here where objects can be stowed.
The more entry-level cars don't get power outlets or adjustable rear air vents on the back of the centre console, but by the time you get to the top-spec Essence there are two USB outlets and dual adjustable air vents.
Even the plush door trims continue, and the seat backs are able to recline slightly, making the rear outboards the best seats in the house.
Luggage capacity comes in at 451-litres (VDA) regardless of variant, even the top-spec plug-in hybrid. This lands around the middle of the segment. For reference it was able to consume our whole CarsGuide luggage set, but only without the retractable cover and it left no extra room to spare.
Under the floor in petrol variants there is a space-saver spare, but due to the presence of its large lithium battery pack, the PHEV makes do with a repair kit. It's also one of the few cars to feature an underfloor cutaway specifically for the included wall-socket charging cable, a clever inclusion.
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.
With prices starting as low as $29,990 drive-away it's easy to see why MGs have been flying off the shelves of late.
When it arrived in late 2020, the HS was MG's most important model, breaking the brand into the most mainstream of segments with a mid-size SUV. Prior to its arrival, MG had played in the cheap and cheerful space with its budget MG3 hatch and ZS small SUV, but the HS came packed from the get-go with a digitised cabin, a suite of active-safety features, and a European-style small-capacity turbocharged engine.
The range has expanded since then to cover even more affordable ground, now kicking off with the base model Core.
The Core wears the aforementioned $29,990 drive away price and comes with a relatively impressive suite of equipment. Standard stuff includes 17-inch alloy wheels, a 10.1-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, a semi-digital dash cluster, halogen headlights with LED DRLs, cloth and plastic interior trim, push-start ignition, and perhaps most impressively, the full active-safety suite, which we'll take a look at later. The Core can only be chosen as a front-wheel drive automatic, with a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
Next up is the lower mid-grade Vibe, which wears a drive-away price tag of $30,990. Available with the same engine choice and largely the same specs, the Vibe adds keyless entry, a leather steering wheel, leather-look seat trim, electrically auto-folding and heated wing mirrors, an air conditioned centre console box, and a set of roof rails.
The upper mid-grade Excite can be chosen in either front drive with the 1.5-litre engine at $34,990, or as a 2.0-litre all-wheel drive at $37,990. The Excite gains 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights with animated LED indicators, interior ambient lighting, built-in sat-nav, alloy pedals, an electric tailgate, and a Sport mode for the engine and transmission.
Finally, the top-spec HS is the Essence. The Essence can be chosen either as a 1.5-litre turbo front-wheel drive at $38,990, a 2.0-litre turbo all-wheel drive at $42,990 or as an interesting front-wheel-drive plug-in hybrid at $46,990.
The Essence gains power adjustable and heated front seats, a puddle light for the driver's door, sportier seat designs, a panoramic sunroof, and a 360-degree parking camera.
The plug-in adds a 12.3-inch digital dash cluster, as well as a completely different transmission to go with its hybrid system, which we'll also take a look at later.
The range is undeniably good value and coupled with the flashy look even on the base Core, it's not hard to see why MG has soared into the top 10 automakers in Australia. Even the top-spec PHEV manages to undercut the long-standing Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV by a decent margin.
When it comes to the raw numbers then, it seems as though MG's HS is off to a good start, especially when you consider a full array of safety equipment and a seven-year warranty.
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 MG HS is available with three drivetrain options across its four-variant range. The base two cars, the Core and the Vibe, can only be chosen with a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, producing 119kW/250Nm, which drives the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The Excite and top-spec Essence can also be chosen in this layout, or as an all-wheel drive with a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine producing 168kW/360Nm. This combination still has a dual-clutch automatic, but with only six speeds.
Meanwhile the halo variant of the HS range is the Essence plug-in hybrid. This car pairs the 1.5-litre turbo from the more affordable variants with a relatively powerful 90kW/230Nm electric motor, also on the front axle. These combine to drive the front wheels via a 10-speed traditional torque-converter automatic.
The electric motor is backed by a 16.6kWh lithium-ion battery pack, which can be charged at a maximum rate of 7.2kW via a European-standard Type 2 AC charging port located in a flap opposite the fuel filler.
The power figures on offer here are pretty good across the board, and the technology is contemporary and geared for low emissions. The dual-clutch automatic transmissions raise an eyebrow, but more on that in the driving section of this review.
For a mid-size SUV, the HS has impressive official/combined consumption figures.
The 1.5-litre turbocharged front-wheel-drive variants have a combined official figure of 7.3L/100km, against which the base Core I drove for a week returned a figure of 9.5L/100km. A little off the official number, but it's impressive to get below 10.0L/100km in the real world in an SUV this size.
The 2.0L all-wheel drive cars miss the mark by a little more, scoring a real-world figure of ?? L/100km in Richard Berry's week-long test, against an official 9.5L/100km.
Finally, the plug-in hybrid has an absurdly low fuel-consumption figure, thanks to its large battery and capable electric motor, but assumes the owner will drive it in ideal circumstances only. I was still impressed to find my test week in the PHEV returning a figure of 3.7L/100km, especially given I managed to run the battery completely dead for at least a day and a half of driving.
All HS engines require the use of mid-grade 95RON unleaded petrol.
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 HS is a bit of a mixed experience from behind the wheel. It's brave for a manufacturer as recently rebooted as MG to have a complex emissions-beating small-capacity turbocharged engine mated to a dual-clutch automatic. There's a lot in this combination that can go awry.
I said at the launch of this car that the transmission was pretty ordinary. It was reluctant, got caught in the wrong gear frequently, and was just an all-round unpleasant experience to drive. The brand informed us that there has been a significant software update to the transmission to coincide with the arrival of the other HS variants, and credit where credit is due, there has genuinely been a change.
The seven-speed dual clutch is now much more compliant, shifting more predictably through its gears, and when decision-making is asked of it in the corners it's now a smoother experience, where previously it would shudder and skip gears.
However, lingering issues still remain. It can be reluctant to take off from a full stop (a common dual-clutch trait) and it seems to particularly dislike steep inclines. Even my driveway would have it choking between first and second gear, with a distinct loss of power if it made the wrong decision.
The ride of the HS is comfort tuned, which is a breath of fresh air from many sportier mid-size SUVs. It deals with bumps, potholes, and undulations around town remarkably well, and the abundance of noise filtering from the engine bay keeps the cabin nice and quiet. It's easy to take the handling prowess of its Japanese and Korean rivals for granted, however.
The HS feels frumpy in the corners, with a tall centre of gravity and a ride that is particularly prone to body-roll. It's a topsy-turvy experience if your suburb is full of roundabouts for example, and hardly inspires confidence when cornering. Even little calibration things like the slow steering rack and pedals, which lack feel, show areas where this car could be improved.
I only had a brief time behind the wheel of a 2.0-litre turbo all-wheel-drive variant. Make sure to read Richard Berry's variant review for his thoughts, but that car had more of the same issues, but with a slightly better ride and handling thanks to improved traction and more weight.
The most interesting HS variant is the PHEV. This car is by far the best to drive thanks to its smooth, powerful, and instantaneous electric torque. Even when the engine is on in this car it's far smoother, as it trades away the messy dual-clutch automatic for a 10-speed torque converter, which slushes through the gears with ease.
The best way to drive it, though, is as a pure EV, where the HS PHEV shines. Not only can it drive entirely on electric power alone (as in, the engine won't turn on, even at speeds up to 80km/h), but the ride and handling are improved by the weight of its batteries, too.
While there's still significant room for improvement in the HS range, it's impressive how far the brand has come in the short time since this mid-size SUV arrived in Australia.
The fact that the PHEV by far the best to drive bodes well for the future of the brand.
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.
It is impressive that MG has managed to pack the entire active-safety suite into every HS, especially the base Core.
Branded 'MG Pilot' the suite's active features include freeway speed auto emergency braking (detects pedestrians and cyclists at up to 64km/h, vehicles at up to 150km/h), lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, auto high beams, traffic-sign recognition, and adaptive cruise control with traffic-jam assist.
Sure, some automakers might pack some extra features in like driver attention alert and rear AEB, but to have the whole suite on even the entry-level variant is impressive, nonetheless. Since this car's launch, software updates have even significantly improved the lane keep and forward collision warning sensitivity significantly (they are less extreme now).
Six airbags come standard on every HS alongside the expected brake, stability, and traction controls. The HS scored a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating to the 2019 standards, scoring decently across all categories, although the PHEV variant is different enough to miss out this time around.
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.
MG takes a leaf out of Kia's book by offering an impressive seven-year and unlimited-kilometre warranty on every HS variant aside from the PHEV.
Instead, the PHEV comes with an industry-standard five-year and unlimited-kilometre warranty, and separate eight-year and 160,000km lithium battery warranty. The brand justifies this by saying the hybrid game is “a different business” to its petrol range.
Capped-price servicing had not yet been locked in at the time of writing, but the brand promises us a schedule is on the way. We'd be surprised if it was expensive, but keep in mind brands like Kia have used higher service pricing in the past to cover a longer than average warranty.