Mahindra XUV500 VS Skoda KAROQ
- 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
- Charming to drive
- Great space utilisation
- Super flexible
- Optional safety gear
- Thirstier than expected
- Gets pricey with all the options
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|
The Skoda Karoq is a small SUV, but it has big advantages over some of its rivals.
It's compact, tech-heavy, and has seats that you can remove. How good is that? I mean, if you've ever thought to yourself: "Geez, those back seats are really in the way!", then you'll get my drift.
The Karoq has been on sale in Australia for about 12 months now, and is still available in just one spec. In that time, the smallest Skoda SUV has only amassed the same number of sales as Mitsubishi racks up for the ASX in a single week. Yes, you read that right.
But despite the fact its popularity has been quite limited to this point, there's one thing you need to know - it should be on your shopping list.
|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 Skoda Karoq is a very worthy alternative to the mainstream players in the market, if your budget can stretch to include some of those options - and you might want to include some, if you plan to have an SUV that keeps up with the Joneses.... but add the lot and it starts to look pretty expensive. We wouldn't be surprised if some of the option-only safety items are made standard at some point in order to keep up with other players in the space.
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.
It launched about a year ago here, and it still looks more modern than some its competitors. It isn't rugged like a Subaru XV, nor is it as aggressive as a Hyundai Kona. No, it's a bit more like a Nissan Qashqai - inoffensively attractive. That's if you consider it in the same part of the market as those cars.
Skoda pitches the Karoq as its mid-sized SUV - so it should actually be up against the likes of the Hyundai Tucson, Subaru Forester and Nissan X-Trail. Based on its dimensions, that's not really the case - it's 4382mm long, 1841mm wide and 1603mm tall - and that makes it smaller than any of the models in this paragraph, and indeed closer to the ones in the paragraph above. But on price, it's definitely in the upper bracket; we'll get to that soon.
It's a smart and very European design outside, arguably understated - even with optional 18-inch wheels as featured on our car. The LED headlights on our car are optional, but LED daytime running lights are standard. And how about that colour? How good is it to see green again? It's Emerald Green, officially, and it'll cost you $700.
Inside there are new options for the version we're driving, as opposed to the previous version, including the availability to option of the Virtual Cockpit 12.3-inch information display for the driver (which costs $700). Check out the interior images in the next section.
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 only other car that offers up this sort of practicality in such a compact footprint is the Honda HR-V. And we get why that mightn't appeal to you - the shape of that car is more hatchback (or hunchback, according to some!) than SUV.
So if you want that (slightly more) rugged look, the Karoq might be your next best option. It has a really clever interior, with three rear seats that can be slid, folded or even removed individually. That's right - you can essentially turn this in to a van, if you need to.
With the seats in their most passenger-friendly setting, you'll still have 479 litres of cargo capacity to play with. While if you slide them all the way forward, you'll see the boot expand to 588L. Fold them down, and that jumps to 1605L. Remove them and you've got a staggering 1810L available. All that, and you still get a space-saver spare wheel, too.
This is clearly a family-friendly boot, with enough room to store our umbrella pram quite easily. It also coped with three suitcases. It even managed to fit the largest case and the pram in together. Unprecedented!
In the cabin there is enough room for someone my size (six feet tall, or 182cm) to sit behind a driver of the same size. Knee room is a little tight, but headroom, toe room and shoulder room is surprisingly good.
The back seat includes dual map pockets, good door pockets and rear seat air-vents, too. And if you need cup holders in between the seats, you can fold down the centre seat backrest. A nice note for parents - there are three top-tether points, and ISOFIX attachments for the two outside rear seats. Plus there are standard tablet holders for rear seat occupants that buckle on to the front headrests.
Up front there are big door pockets and a few decent loose item storage pockets, but the cupholders are smaller than average. The controls all fall to hand logically, and the materials are mostly pretty good, though there is quite a bit of hard plastic throughout (easy to wipe down if you have youngsters, I guess).
The media screen in our test car is the optional one, a 9.2-inch display with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, sat nav, Bluetooth - all the stuff you'd want, excluding a volume knob. Instead you've got to use the 'button' elements on the screen, which is annoying (yes, there is a steering-wheel mounted scroller, but what if the passenger wants to turn something up or down?!).
It's a crisp and lovely display, it's easy to learn, and it links well with the (also optional) Virtual Cockpit screen in front of the driver. Both add to the 'almost an Audi' feeling you get in the Karoq, but at a price.
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.
You know what would be really great? If Skoda Australia put a Karoq on fleet that wasn't laden with optional equipment. We get it - the company is trying to showcase everything you can get in a Karoq.
But with a list price of $32,290 plus on-road costs, and an as-tested price of $41,590 (plus on-roads) for the model we're testing, it's a little difficult to judge it on its actual merits. I mean, there's almost 30 per cent additional cost on our test car.
First, we'll have a look at what you would get if you bought a standard car, then we'll go through what's optionally fitted to our test vehicle.
The Karoq's standard gear list includes: an 8.0-inch touchscreen media system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a reversing camera, USB input (only one, though...), Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, an eight-speaker sound system, dual-zone climate control air conditioning, keyless entry and push-button start, and adaptive cruise control.
The standard wheel setup is a 17-inch pack with a space-saver spare, and there are roof rails, LED daytime running lights and LED tail-lights (but not LED main beams), auto headlights and wipers, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors with auto-stop (to avoid back-up bumps). More on that in the safety section below.
The cabin is usually trimmed with fabric seats, but you still get a leather-lined steering wheel and gear selector, plus a reversible floor mat for the boot.
Now, the option packs. Our car has the Premium Tech & Travel Pack, which is a combined dealio with a $7900 price tag.
It includes adaptive LED headlights, front parking sensors, 18-inch alloy wheels, an electric tailgate, leather seat trim, electric driver's seat adjustment with memory settings, heated front seats, auto-dimming side mirrors with auto folding, stainless steel pedals, drive mode select, a 9.2-inch media screen with DAB digital radio and gesture control, wireless phone charging, a 10-speaker Canton sound system, semi-automated parking, and extra safety gear in the form of blind spot monitoring, 'Emergency Assist' which can pull the car over if it thinks you're unresponsive, and Traffic Jam assist that can take over most of the driving at speeds below 60km/h.
Sure, it's expensive, but you get a lot for the money. The other options on our car include the Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster, which is new, and costs $700. Plus metallic paint, at $700.
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?
This grade of Karoq is called the 110TSI, and it has a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine, and it produces 110kW of power (from 5000-6000rpm) and 250Nm of torque (from 1500-3500rpm). That's plenty for this size of car, and indeed more torque than plenty of the Karoq's rivals.
We've heard from Skoda that a Karoq 140TDI 4x4 diesel variant is coming in 2020, if that interests you.
Official combined cycle fuel consumption for the Karoq 110TSI is listed at 5.8 litres per 100 kilometres, and you might see that if you do a lot of country driving... but we didn't, so we didn't.
Instead, our test - which incorporated plenty of city running and a couple of highway stints - returned 9.6L/100km.
It's interesting to note that relatively high number (well, it is 65 per cent over the claim!) was despite the fact the Karoq's cylinder deactivation technology - which allows it to run on two cylinders under light loads - was in use quite a bit. There's an 'eco' display on the dash and an almost imperceptible rumble from the engine when its running in this mode.
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.
That's because it's built on the same platform as the likes of the Audi A3, Q2 and Q3, and the VW Golf and Tiguan, among others. And the overarching goodness of those models spreads across to the Karoq, because it's a really nice car to drive.
The ride is quite well sorted, with only a bit of sharp-edge thump because of those larger-than-standard alloy wheels. Around town over speed humps and roads riddled with pockmarks and lumps it was very nicely controlled and comfortable, while on the open road it felt like a bigger vehicle, with a really secure feel to it.
The steering is accurate and easy to judge, not too heavy when you're trying to park it, and not to light when you're on the open road.
And the drivetrain is mostly pretty good, too. There is some hesitation when you initially apply throttle, which is a common complaint for cars with dual-clutch automatic transmissions like this one. It does take some getting used to - and if you think you'll be able to just jump in and gun it away from the traffic lights without any lag, then you'll be disappointed because there is lag to contend with.
But I honestly found it fine, and accustomed my driving to suit. The benefits of that transmission are evident in other situations, because it offers really crisp and clever shifts at speeds from 10km/h to 110km/h.
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 standard safety spec of the Karoq is good, but not class-leading.
You get a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, auto emergency braking (AEB), driver fatigue monitoring, tyre pressure monitoring, multi-collision braking (to stop you careening into other road users in the event of an accident).
You'll need to option advanced safety gear like blind spot monitoring and lane keeping assistance. But while it lacks traditional rear cross-traffic alert, it does have Manoeuvre Assist, which can auto-brake the car when reversing if an obstacle is detected at speeds below 10km/h.
The Karoq has seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver's knee), and there are three top-tether and two ISOFIX child-seat anchor points.
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.
Skoda offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty for all of its models, which is bang-on par with the rest of the mainstream makers, but not as good as you'll get at Kia or Toyota, which offer seven years warranty (Kia as standard, Toyota if you service your car on time).
The brand offers the choice of pre-purchasing your maintenance, or paying as you go, with intervals set every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first. The PAYG option will set you back an average of $447 per visit, before additional items.
If you pre-pay, you can choose either a three-year pack ($790, or about $263 per year) or a five-year plan ($1650, or $330 per year). So pre-purchase. Do it. It's totally worth it. And you can roll it in to your finance plan, so you'll barely even notice it.