Mahindra XUV500 VS Suzuki S-Cross
- 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
- Goes alright
- Steers well
- Plenty of space inside
- Missing advanced safety gear
- That grille
- No digital speedo
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's a test for you. When was the last time you saw a Suzuki S-Cross? Now let me tell you you've probably seen one more recently than you think, because not only does Suzuki still sell them (I was certain they had quietly dropped it), but it actually sells almost a thousand new ones every year.
The S-Cross is a strange beast, even forgetting the vestigial SX4 badge. Like the Swift/Baleno conundrum, it kind of, sort of sits in the same space as the Vitara, except like that other pair, it kind of doesn't.
It has been a while since I drove the S-Cross - all the way back to its local launch, so it was an interesting prospect to dive in and see what's changed in (checks notes) six years.
|Engine Type||1.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium 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.
I won't be rushing out to buy an S-Cross any time soon because there are lots of other cars ahead of it. I had thought that this was a bit of a "for the fans" car but the sales figures, while comparatively modest, proved me wrong.
With a good warranty, capped servicing and tons of space, it's obviously a compelling proposition. Add to that a good driving experience and low running costs, it stacks up well. But it's missing a lot of modern safety gear and is looking a bit old even if it doesn't feel it.
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.
One of the reasons you probably think you haven't seen one of these is that, big half-a-BMW-grille aside, it's a bit anonymous. Which is perfectly fine if that's what you're after, but it's pretty functional rather than pretty. Suzuki styling is weird like that - funky chunky like the Ignis and Vitara and Swift, or terminally dull like the Baleno and S-Cross. It's kind of a shame it's so dreary because it's not, in fact, a dreary car. The chrome grille is way too much, a six-year-old screaming "Look at me!" at a dinner party.
The cabin is pretty standard Suzuki, meaning nothing too exciting or arresting. The materials are fine, the seats are a bit high (and a bit firm) and it does feel a bit yesteryear, but so did the Vitara when it first came out.
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.
This is where the S-Cross starts to get interesting. It's huge inside. The 430-litre boot (almost tripling to 1269 litres with the seats down), with underfloor storage and bins either side is massive for a car with this footprint.
Front-seat passengers score a pair each of cupholder and bottle holders, repeated in the rear. The front cupholders are a bit annoying because they're square and not as deep as you might want.
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 have a choice of two mechanically identical S-Cross, the Turbo and the Turbo Premium. The two cars are separated by just $1500. Up here in the dizzy heights of $29,990 for the latter car, you get 17-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, cruise control, sat nav, keyless entry and start, fake leather seats, LED headlights, auto wipers, powered wing mirrors and a space-saver spare.
The six speaker stereo controls are part of the tiny 6.0-inch touchscreen in the dash, which is the same system in every Suzuki, with or without the sat nav. It also has Apple CarPlay and is better than anything Toyota foists upon the owners of its vehicles.
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?
Under the bonnet - or more accurately - behind that giant grille lurks Suzuki's rather good 1.4-litre turbo, also found in the Vitara. Outputs are modest at 103kW and 220Nm, but the car weighs two-tenths of not very much at 1170kg, which is a bit of a Suzuki strength.
You can tow 1200kg braked and 400kg unbraked if you're that way inclined.
Suzuki claims the 1.4 - without stop-start or other trickery - will deliver 5.9L/100km. Our time with the S-Cross was almost exclusively urban and it managed a very creditable 7.1L/100km, close to my colleague Richard Berry's 7.3L/100km in 2019. Not bad, but it does drink premium from its 47-litre tank.
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.
My memories of the first S-Cross I drove aren't all that distinct, which means it either wasn't very good or it was just okay. I'm leaning towards just okay, but it was slow with its 1.6-litre engine and whining CVT. It handled okay but the main selling point was the interior space.
I'm very pleased to report that, like the Vitara, the addition of the turbo has made it a much nicer thing to drive. With substantially more power and torque with very little extra weight, it feels far more modern.
And like its slightly bigger stablemate, the lightweight chassis strikes a really good compromise between ride and handling. It's always going to roll but the grippy Continentals keep things tidy in the corners and the light steering makes its around-town demeanour most agreeable. I had the car during Sydney's very wet week in late July and was impressed by how it handled the conditions.
Quiet and well-composed on the faster stuff, the strong winds didn't push the high-sided S-Cross out the lane, either. One irritation is that the little central screen in the dashboard doesn't have a digital speed readout which means deciphering the tightly-packed speedo.
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.
In 2013, this was enough to score five ANCAP stars and that rating still stands despite zero updates on the safety gear but big changes to the ANCAP criteria.
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.
Out of the gate Suzuki offers you a five year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is quite generous. If you use the car for business (eg courier or ride-sharing), that does reduce to five years/160,000km.
Servicing is also capped for the first five years. The wrinkle there is that while the time between services is pretty standard at 12 months, not many people fall under the 10,000km interval. The first five services avereage out to $295. The fifth service is capped with pricing stepped up to 100,000km, topping out at a whopping $639 for a single service, which does not bode well for high mileage drivers, so keep that in mind.