Mahindra XUV500 VS Toyota C-HR
- 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
- Fantastic looks
- Beautifully built
- Lovely to drive
- Slow CVT
- Silly rear doorhandles
- Dodgy touchscreen
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|
You can almost trace Toyota's renaissance back to a single day – the day the C-HR was revealed to the world as a production car. The company could have gotten away with jacking up a Yaris and calling it a compact SUV, but instead they went all out with a bolt-from-the-blue looker with some really interesting styling ideas inside and out.
I mean, yes, they have now jacked-up a Yaris and called it an SUV, but the C-HR was first and it's cooler, even despite the name meaning Coupe – High Rider. Absolute cringe-fest that, but one of the very few missteps in this changing of the guard for the Japanese giant.
Rolling on Toyota's excellent TNGA platform, the C-HR has settled nicely into its role as one of the bravest Toyotas in years (sold here in Australia, anyway). But with the arrival of the Yaris and Yaris Cross, it was time for a little tweak to the range.
|Engine Type||1.2L 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.
The two-tier C-HR range doesn't have a duffer in it and the great thing about it is that the base model is so good the temptation to spend up on the Koba is limited to cosmetic things (with one exception...). The GXL has lots of good safety gear and the only tangible missing thing is the Koba's reverse AEB and hybrid option. The hybrid uses half the petrol, so is worth considering as well as for the extra punch.
I find myself suggesting the C-HR without reservation to people I would never have recommended a Toyota to in the past – it's good value, beautifully-built and designed, great to drive and remarkably cheap to own and run.
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 C-HR still looks box-fresh three years after its launch. I still have to remind people that it's a Toyota, it's so much more interesting than anything the brand has built for a long time. Show them a Supra and they have to be helped back to their feet. The big bluff front end with the huge headlights still cuts through the visual noise on the road. I still don't like the weird, clunky doorhandles on the rear doors which are ungainly and impractical, sited quite high for small children. The rear view is as polarising as ever, but I fall on the "yes, well done," side of the ledger.
The cabin is also virtually unchanged, which is the right thing to do because it really is very cool. It's a tad colourless like so many cabins these days, but with a consistent, coherent design philosophy, right down to the neat imprint in the headlining of the ovoid shape that dominates the interior design theme. The C-HR was one of the first cars to go without those big clunky rocker switches so beloved of Toyota for so long and it all feels really good.
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.
Up front, a long, narrow bin is a good place for your bits and pieces while the two separate cupholders and bottle holders in the doors will free up your hands and knees from holding the beverages. The rear cupholders are in the doors because there isn't an armrest but also means there are no bottle holders.
The C-HR is surprisingly roomy in the back but it's also gloomy as the glass sweeps up to meet the roof. Legroom is not bad for me at 180cm when seated behind where I drive and the seat itself is comfortable. The front seats are excellent and look good even in the base model.
You can store 377 litres in the boot with the seats up and 1112 litres with them down, which is competitive if not outstanding in the segment.
You also have three top-tether anchors and two ISOFIX points for the very young folk.
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.
For some reason, Toyota thought the model designation "GXL" would fit the C-HR despite being far more at home on a Land Cruiser, which is a car with a very 1980s vibe versus the C-HR's 21st century zeitgeist feel. The main changes for the 2021 model year are added to the safety column, but GXL buyers pick up keyless entry and start.
Apart from that, things are more or less as they were before – you can still choose from 2WD ($30,915 plus on-roads) or AWD ($32,915). Remembering, of course, that this is the entry-level machine that used to be known as plain old C-HR and is now about $750 more than the MY20. The manual version is long gone, if you're wondering.
You get 17-inch alloys, a six-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, active cruise control, sat nav, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, front and rear parking sensors, auto high beam, folding heated electric mirrors, power windows and a space-saver spare.
Toyota hasn't taken the opportunity to again improve the touchscreen, which went up to 8.0-inches last year along with a big improvement in the media system software. It still looks washed-out and stretched but does have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The hardware really needs to be higher-resolution and the system itself really doesn't reflect Toyota's might in the industry. Better than it used to be, though and, with smartphone integration, less of a problem.
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 GXL is powered by the a 1.2-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol engine with just 85kW and 185Nm available to drag the 1440kg 2WD GXL around (heavier if it's AWD). Power goes through either the front or all four wheels via continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Toyota claims a 5.7L/100km official combined cycle figure of 6.6L/100km and requires premium unleaded to run at its best. In my week with the car which was mostly suburban running with a little freeway dalliance returned an indicated 8.3L/100km. That's not a terrible distance away from the combined cycle and given I work C-HRs hard when I have them, that's not bad.
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 only real complaint I have about the C-HR is the drivetrain. There's not anything wrong with it – far from it – it's just that everything else in the class has more power and torque and which helps haul their weight along – the C-HR's is considerable at more than 1400kg. My long-term loan Suzuki Vitara Turbo weighs 300kg less and has a stack more power and torque for about the same money.
Added to that, the C-HR's economy-focussed continuously variable transmission (my second least favourite transmission after "community") means progress is fairly leisurely and can get a bit loud when you put your foot down.
Which I do a fair bit. While the 1.2-litre engine is a really nice piece of technology and still unusual for a Toyota – it just doesn't have the horses and twist to pull the C-HR along as quickly as even Hyundai's 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated engine in the Kona, or the CVT-equipped Seltos. But that's okay – it's not a criticism, it's not like it's dangerously slow, it's just slower than most of its rivals and feels it. The Hybrid, which can only be specced with front-wheel drive and the Koba spec, is a little more peppy and the electric motor covers up some of the CVT's lax approach to acceleration.
It's also mildly frustrating because, hot damn, the chassis under the C-HR is really good. I'm going to mention TNGA again because it's such a good platform and I haven't driven a TNGA-based car that I didn't like. It's more than that, obviously – Toyota's engineers have built a driving experience around it that encourages yobbos like me to enjoy the way it corners while your passenger will enjoy the ride, which is excellent on all but the worst surfaces.
The C-HR is also pretty keen when it comes to cornering, with a nice progressive steering feel and weight. It's not particularly chatty, but again, it's a lot of fun and more fun than a few of its rivals. The roundabout raceway is a good laugh in this car.
The lack of go does come back to you on single carriageways when you want to overtake. While the C-HR cruises quietly and comfortably, a floored throttle for an overtake produces rather more bark than bite, so you'll find yourself settling comfortably behind whatever is slowing you down until you've got a long line of sight. Given the C-HR's likely citybound life, this is probably not going to be a big problem. If it is, again, the hybrid has a bit more go.
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 extra $700 or so over the MY19 C-HR has mostly gone into safety.
On board the GXL are seven airbags (including a driver's knee airbag), ABS, stability and traction controls, blind spot monitoring, high- and low-speed AEB with pedestrian detection (day and night) and cyclists (day only), forward collision warning, trailer sway control, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, lane trace assist (this keeps the car in the centre of the lane with gentle steering help), speed sign recognition (which can also change the cruise control speed if you want it to) and reverse cross traffic alert.
Added to that impressive lot is the intersection assist function, which warns you something is coming from the left or right at an intersection that you may not otherwise have clocked. That might seems a bit silly for the C-HR's stubby bonnet, but when your street is parked out and you can't see either way, it's extremely useful.
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.
Toyota offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty along with a further two years on the drivetrain if you service with Toyota.
Servicing with Toyota seems eminently sensible because for the first four years or four services (intervals are set at 12 months/15,000km) you won't pay more than $200 per service, which is a dead-set bargain.