The equipment king of the compact SUV class
My first association with the Mahindra XUV300 compact SUV, which I gather shares a lot of its genes with a Ssang Yong, lasted little more than 24 hours when the left front window was shattered by a granite chip launched by a roadside trimmer. Another XUV300 painted in a fetching shade of red was delivered a few weeks later for me to resume my association with India’s blossoming brand that is rapidly developing a name for providing well-equipped vehicles at a good price and with good spec.
Although it’s a relative baby in Mahindra’s range, there’s absolutely no getting away from the fact that this represents the sweet spot as it provides a blend of style, decent dynamics and value in a well-finished SUV that deserves to be compared with more traditional rivals without the need to make excuses for its country of origin. Whichever you look at it, India is rapidly becoming an automotive powerhouse and recent products emanating from a number of brands operating in the sub-continent reflect this fact.
As ever, the delivery process of any press car for me includes a close inspection of paintwork, as much to single out any previous damage as to suss out how well the paint has been applied. So, count this process as surprise number one as the paint on this Mahindra proved to be extremely glossy. Further, panel gaps were tight all around and the doors closed with lovely precision.
And on to surprise number two. The ambience and general feel of the cabin was really rather dandy notwithstanding that soft-touch finishes proved to be scarce. What Mahindra has done is to disguise hard-wearing trim by endowing it with a matt finish and sufficient graining to ameliorate the plastic origins. For me, and I know I stand out on a limb here, what set the interior apart was the fact that it was decked out in off-white leather seating with panel trims that contrasted very nicely with the black surfacing used in upper reaches and on the floor in the shape of decent quality carpeting.
Motive power, all 86kW/300Nm of it, is delivered courtesy of a 1.5 turbo diesel. In fact, the performance of this diminutive oil burner proved to be a huge surprise. Coupled to a six-speed manual box that’s beautifully slick provided the clutch pedal is fully depressed, and driving through the front wheels, the beefy torque output that’s on full song by 1 500 rpm allows for a high sixth gear that saw me inadvertently cruising at near 150km/h on the motorway. Who’d ever expect to have to keep an eye on the speedo with a mere 1.5 motor under the bonnet? It’s not just the cruise that appeals though as in-gear acceleration is punchy and always on tap with virtually no detectable lag. As for fuel thirst, the XUV 300 recorded an overall consumption of 6.7l/100km which is truly excellent.
This top-of-the-range W8 rides on 215/55R17 rubber wrapped around smart alloy wheels. It’s soon apparent that the suspension is set on the firm side, but those deepish tyre sidewalls ensure there’s always a pleasant level of pliancy on hand. Indeed, the chassis engineers have achieved a good balance between comfort and control while ensuring that body roll inherent in SUVs is contained. And refinement in terms of deflection of road and wind-induced disturbances is good for the class.
Steering feel and responsiveness is variable according to whether Sport, Normal or Comfort mode is selected. For me, Normal felt the least artificial. Braking is effected by discs all round and while stopping power is indisputable, the level of assistance at low speeds is a tad too high which demands careful pedal modulation to avoid jerky stops.
Heading back inside, that cool-looking cabin has another surprise up its sleeve in the shape of passenger space. A relatively long wheelbase has liberated excellent rear space for two adults in terms of head and knee room with no compromise required from those up front.
If the ambience of the cabin is really rather fetching, the equipment levels on offer simply add to the feel-good factor. On board are the usual electric windows and mirrors plus central locking, but add to this dual-zone climate control, a leather-wrapped wheel with full array of controls, multiple connectivity, cruise control, rear camera, front/rear parking sensors, a tilt and slide sunroof, a full-size spare wheel, excellent oddments space, keyless start, an auto-dipping mirror, centre armrests front and rear, damped grab handles, driver seat height and lumbar adjustment and projector lights to name the more important contenders.
On the subject of lights, a dead-of-night run to the airport on deserted motorway allowed extensive use of the main beam which produced an astonishing level of illumination in terms of range and lateral spread. And this safety factor is backed up by no fewer than seven airbags, ISOFIX mountings, a braking system endowed with a full array of electronic assistance, ESP with roll mitigation, hill hold assist and tyre pressure monitoring. Finally, those who like entertainment gizmos will enjoy the centrally mounted infotainment unit that comes with full navigation, Android Auto and Apple Car Play, camera playback and even an app to connect with smartwatches.
For sure, this Mahindra proved to be one of the surprises of the year, especially in terms of the fit and finish and equipment levels on offer. Its dynamic performance also came as a surprise even if the lively diesel motor is a bit gruff when pressed. Whereas price was once a primary driver for this brand, the XUV300 in top-level W8 trim is understandably not a price leader but still represents good value when the huge array of equipment is considered.