The 2023 Mahindra XUV700 is arguably the most accomplished SUV yet from the Indian auto giant. We’ve put it through some rigorous testing at Mahindra’s purpose-built proving ground.
- Good engine and transmission combination
- Commendable ride and handling
- Nicely presented interior
- White ‘leather’ interior (the only trim available) won’t suit all buyers
- Global NCAP safety testing not as strict as local ANCAP regime
- Some key safety technologies missing
Indian car giant, Mahindra, is making a play for the affordable end of the medium SUV segment, its new XUV700 promising to enter the battle for middle Australia with a budget-friendly, well-specified, seven-seat SUV.
It’s not the first time Mahindra has made a play for the segment, the underwhelming XUV500 first lobbing locally back in 2012.
But, banish any thoughts of the lacklustre performance and wallowing driving dynamics that epitomised the XUV500. They’re part of the old Mahindra, one the Indian carmaker hopes to consign to history with the launch of its all-new XUV700.
The 2023 Mahindra XUV700 (pronounced ‘seven double-oh’ – in India, anything ending in ‘oh’ is considered auspicious) launches locally later this month (15 June). Drive had an early taste of the brand’s new family SUV, putting the XUV700 through its paces at Mahindra’s state-of-the-art SUV proving track just outside Chennai, in India. We visited the facility as a guest of Mahindra.
The Mahindra SUV Proving Ground is a 454-acre manifestation of the company’s intent to be a serious player in the SUV market. Opened in 2021, contained within its perimeter is a diverse range of circuits, layouts and road conditions designed to replicate real-world conditions. It’s the perfect test-bed to sample the company’s new family SUV, the XUV700.
The seeds of the XUV700 were sown back in 2014. Facing renewed and stiff competition in its domestic market from a host of imported rivals, Mahindra executives, by their own admission, knew its product simply had to improve.
As work for a replacement for the XUV500 began, engineers benchmarked what would eventually become the ‘seven double-oh’ against rivals from South Korea and the Czech Republic.
The brief from the top was to combine lightness with rigidity, which in turn would have a positive impact on ride and handling. Every facet of the new SUV was under scrutiny – from the number of spot-welds (more than doubled); the amount, structure and thickness of the sealant between the layers of sheet metal (dramatically increased); to the basic structure of the monocoque (totally redesigned to incorporate a lighter and more rigid ‘circular ring structure’).
The end result is a mid-sized seven-seat SUV at once significantly bigger than its predecessor while maintaining kerb weight. It’s also an entirely more resolved SUV, one that can be considered alongside more established seven-seat players like Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outlander, and Nissan X-Trail.
Australia will initially get two highly specified variants of the Mahindra XUV700, the AX7 and AX7L.
Both models are powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine making 149kW and 380Nm. A six-speed automatic transmission from Japanese company Aisin sends drive to the front wheels.
Australia misses out on the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel, all-wheel-drive variant available in other markets, although Mahindra says it remains under future consideration for local showrooms.
Unlike the new Mahindra Scorpio launched in Australia in April, which is not fitted with any advanced safety technologies, the XUV700 will come with a wide, although not complete, suite of advanced driver assistance systems. The Scorpio will get ADAS with the model’s next update.
Autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, traffic sign recognition, and six airbags covering all three rows will be standard on Australian-delivered models.
But a blind-spot monitor – which is available on similarly priced base versions of the Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5 and other competitors – is only available on the top-of-the-range AX7L in New Zealand, in the form of a camera displaying images in the digital instrument cluster.
There is no mention of rear cross-traffic technology on any model, which alerts drivers of approaching obstacles as the vehicle is reversing out of a driveway or parking space.
Curiously, only the range-topping AX7L is fitted with an additional knee airbag, bringing the total airbag count to seven.
However, there is no centre airbag between the front seats – a feature that has been used by many carmakers to pass independent safety tests needed to achieve a five-star ANCAP safety rating.
Currently, the XUV700 wears a five-star Global NCAP safety rating. Global NCAP has been specifically developed for emerging markets like India and Africa with a testing regime not as stringent as Euro NCAP or our own ANCAP. There are currently no plans to submit the XUV700 to ANCAP for local crash-testing.
While final specifications for Australian XUV700s are still to be confirmed, Drive was presented with a New Zealand dealer brochure for the new mid-size SUV, suggesting locally delivered variants will be similarly equipped.
Buyers have a choice of five colours in New Zealand – Everest White, Midnight Black, Dazzling Silver, Red Rage and Electric Blue – a palette likely to be mirrored in Australia.
White synthetic leather-look seat trim has been confirmed for Australia, the only colour to be made available locally.
2023 Mahindra XUV700 AX7 expected features, based on NZ model:
- 18-inch alloy wheels
- Dusk-sensing LED headlights with auto high beam
- LED daytime-running lights
- Push-button start
- Rain-sensing wipers
- Panoramic sunroof
- Synthetic leather-look seat trim in white
- Six-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with memory function
- 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system
- Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
- Six-speaker audio system
- Dual-zone climate control
- Leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shifter
- Rear-view camera
- Autonomous emergency braking
- Lane-departure warning
- Lane-keeping assist
- Adaptive cruise control
- Tyre-pressure monitoring
- Forward collision warning
- Six airbags
2023 Mahindra XUV700 AX7L expected features, based on NZ model (over AX7)
- Wireless smartphone charging
- 12-speaker Sony sound system
- Adaptive cruise control with stop&go function
- 360-degree surround-view camera
- Blind-spot view camera
- Knee airbag (for a total count of seven airbags)
- Electric smart door handles
- Electronic park brake
- Illuminated vanity mirror
Mahindra Australia is still to confirm pricing for the XUV700, although the smart money would place it in the circa-$40,000 bracket, and potentially just under for the base model. Expect confirmation at the local launch later this month.
If correct, that pricing places it squarely in the fray against seven-seaters from Honda, Mitsubishi and Nissan, as well as a host of five-seat options from mainstream manufacturers at the more affordable end of the segment.
If Mahindra wants the XUV700 to be competitive against the established order, it will need to impress on more than just price.
Certainly, first impressions are good. Externally, the XUV700 follows the medium SUV playbook with nice proportions, a bold face and grille flanked by LED headlights and daytime running lights, pronounced creases along its flanks and across the tailgate framed by aggressive-looking tail-light assemblies.
While no specific details were offered, Italian styling house Pininfarina (76 per cent owned by Mahindra since 2015) had a hand in the XUV700’s styling.
It cuts an imposing figure in the metal, appearing larger and longer than its 4695mm length, 1890mm width and 1755mm height would suggest. Compared to the XUV500 it replaces, the XUV700 is 100m longer in length, 30mm shorter in height, while retaining the same width. The end result are proportions altogether more pleasing to the eye than the slightly frumpy look of the outgoing XUV500, no bad thing.
It’s inside where the XUV700 really starts to throw around the ‘wow’ factor. The first thing that hits you are the swathes of white faux leather, which look terrific spread across three rows of seating and across the dash and door cards. Mahindra Australia has confirmed this will be the only interior trim available on Australian-delivered models.
As good as it looks, we can’t help but feel not all buyers will be enamoured with the idea of a white ‘leather’ interior, particularly those with young families where grubby fingers make dirty work of lighter-coloured materials. A darker option wouldn’t go astray in appealing to a larger cross-section of buyers.
The second big visual impact comes from the twin 10.25-inch screens housed inside a single widescreen panel running across the dash. It looks a million bucks and wouldn’t appear out of place in an SUV hailing from Germany and costing twice, or even three times, as much.
The 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen hosts Mahindra’s new infotainment set-up, while the second 10.25-inch screen houses the XUV700’s digital instrument cluster.
It’s an impressive-looking set-up, with sharp graphics and fonts while also being nicely responsive to inputs. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard – wireless in the case of our test cars in India, although there has been no confirmation Australian-delivered vehicles will feature wireless smartphone integration.
While the infotainment touchscreen array looks a million bucks, going by the spec sheet of New Zealand market models, it’s a little short on useful features. There’s no satellite navigation, for instance, while radio bandwidths remain an unknown. Assume FM at the very least with AM and DAB+ possible. We’ll have to wait for the local launch for final specifications.
Incongruously, one app that caught our eye in the touchscreen was the ‘Fun in XUV700’ tile which opens up, of all things, a lap timer. Not sure how much use that will get in a family SUV. I’d prefer inbuilt sat-nav over gimmicky apps.
A six-speaker sound system is standard in the AX7, while the more upscale AX7L benefits from a premium 12-speaker Sony sound system. We sampled the Sony system and came away impressed with the sound clarity on offer.
The second row is a shining light with a roominess belying the XUV700’s size. The seats are very comfortable for long-distance touring too.
With my time behind the wheel limited to a day at Mahindra’s proving ground, I spent several hours in the second row being shuttled from the hotel to Mahindra’s facilities and subsequently a three-hour journey to another city. While the seats themselves don’t slide fore and aft, the seatbacks can be tilted back for a more relaxed time as a passenger. The standard-fit panoramic roof lifts the ambience in the cabin.
The third row is as you’d expect from a mid-sized SUV. Getting in and out is relatively simple, the second-row seats tilting and tumbling forward to create a decent opening requiring a modicum of contortion. I’ve sampled worse in more mainstream brands.
Once ensconced, though, the limitations of the third row soon become apparent with cramped seating and a distinct lack of leg- and knee-room. It’s best saved for occasional use. The XUV700 is no different in this regard to most other seven-seater medium SUVs.
Under the bonnet, a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol paired with an Aisin-sourced six-speed torque converter automatic transmission does the heavy lifting. Outputs are rated at 149kW and 380Nm which, while not exactly earth-shattering, do provide a good level of performance.
Peak torque comes on song low in the rev band at 1750rpm and stays there all the way through 3000rpm resulting in good acceleration, whether from standstill or while on the move. The XUV700 doesn’t feel sluggish by any stretch, but neither does it feel overly rapid. Instead, straight-line performance sits in the middle ground, acceptable for around town but with enough in reserve to serve as a comfortable and unstressed highway cruiser.
I maxed out at 185km/h on Mahindra’s 4km-long high-speed banked oval and the XUV700 felt planted, unstressed, capable, and at ease with those higher speeds.
The six-speed automatic transmission proved intuitive enough, without any glaring shortcomings despite being a cog or two short of what we’ve become accustomed to in today’s automotive landscape.
The ride and handling proved a surprise. Mahindra outlined the steps it had taken to ensure the XUV700 was a match for its benchmark rivals. Some 650 rates of damping were tested before settling on the final iteration, incorporating Koni’s latest frequency selective dampers all round, said to offer a good blend between compliance and roadholding ability.
In tandem with the work undertaken structurally by Mahindra’s engineers, the suspension set-up – MacPherson struts up front and independent multi-link at rear – exceeded my expectations (based on previous Mahindras I’d spent time in) and by a long way. It certainly felt well-resolved, no matter the road conditions thrown at it.
The Mahindra SUV Proving Ground features a variety of different surfaces – from polished concrete, ‘Belgian cobblestones’, ceramic tiles and basalt tiles to wet asphalt, checkerboard, herringbone, corrugation, and potholes – the selection of surfaces, designed to mirror real-world driving conditions, highlighted how much work has gone into improving ride comfort.
Body roll is acceptable for a medium SUV, while the various road surfaces we sampled did little to unsettle the mid-sizer, which absorbed most of the conditions with a surety belying the space Mahindra will occupy at the more affordable end of the segment. It felt planted and solid under wheel, with little of the tell-tale wallowing or jitteriness sometimes endemic over coarser and rougher surfaces.
Similarly, sections of the circuit designed to mirror real-world handling conditions, with a mixture of flowing bends, hairpin turns and regular 90-degree corners, again highlighted the XUV700’s well-sorted suspension package. And several blasts through a slalom course at 50km/h didn’t show up any glaring inadequacies in terms of sudden direction changes, the XUV700 handling the test on a par with other mid-size SUVs I’ve tested in this manner.
The steering errs on the side of light, ideal for urban driving. Tellingly, as the speeds increased up to my 185km/h v-max (I felt I could have pushed on, but the sight of an approaching 44-degree banked turn looming large through the windscreen won out), the steering felt solid and reassuring in hand.
Road noise over a variety of tested surfaces also proved acceptable, not out of step with the majority of medium SUVs currently on sale in Australia.
Fuel consumption will have to wait for when we get the XUV700 onto local roads and in local conditions, our day at the proving ground not a true indicator of real-world fuel use. For its part, Mahindra claims the XUV700 will use 8.3L per 100km. There was no information provided as to a minimum octane rating. The fuel tank measures in at 60L.
Although our testing was invaluable in providing an insight into just how far Mahindra has come in engineering terms in a relatively short space of time, we’ll reserve scoring and final judgement for when we’ve driven the XUV700 in Australia, in local conditions. We’ll also know pricing and final specification, a crucial component of where we ultimately rate the Mahindra XUV700.
There’s no question, though, first impressions are good, the XUV700 a well-resolved, tightly screwed together medium SUV which, if Mahindra Australia gets the pricing right, should rattle a few cages in the medium SUV segment. It’s easily, and by far, the best Mahindra we’ve driven; a manifestation of just how serious the Indian automotive giant is with its global aspirations.
Now, the real test, in Australian conditions, awaits.