The latest SUV from Mahindra, the XUV 300, is solid evidence of just how far the brand and its products have evolved. But can it cut for Mahindra a slice of the pie created by the Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza?

What do you get when you fuse brand attributes like rugged reliability, toughness and strength with things like creature comforts, technology and design? You end up with a winning product that offers enough of an aspirational lifestyle element without giving off the message that you have gone soft to purists. The result? You widen the appeal of the product. In a sense, you (rather your product and the brand) evolve. In an almost Darwinian way where you keep evolving as a species till you become one of the fittest. I suspect this theory could very well be applied to the new Mahindra XUV 300.

Mahindra and Mahindra is the country’s largest and oldest SUV manufacturer. In fact, the company has been at it since before anybody came up with the idea or the term SUV! From the old Roplas to the Commander, Armada and more recently the Scorpio, Bolero and Thar the company has always produced strong rugged vehicles that you could just take anywhere. What they lacked by way of refinement and sophistication was made up for with brute force. The strategy worked for the longest time ever and continues to work well enough.

At some point however the company also realised that India was ripening for a day when SUVs, we didn’t call them that then, would become a brilliant lifestyle proposition. So stabs at turning SUVs into something lifestyle-y started. There was the youthful MM540 Classic and there was the more family-oriented Armada before it turned into the rural Bolero. The Armada’s nemesis actually turned out to be Mahindra’s own Scorpio, which became a genuine lifestyle product for those who needed practicality with a dose of ruggedness and adventure. The XUV 500 when it burst on to the scene with its cheetah inspired styling was like Mahindra had taken a quantum leap in design and quality. But then it was followed by the lacklustre KUV 100 and TUV 300. But now that we have the XUV 300, perhaps it’s time to suggest that what we have here is the fittest, and therefore the most evolved of the lot.

The XUV 300 could actually be mistaken for its rival, the Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza from a distance because the silhouettes are strikingly similar. Great thing too, because if your situational awareness on roads is even at a lowly ten per cent, you’d still know that there are plenty of these Marutis around, which means there’s a sizeable bunch asking and wanting these compact sub-4m SUVs. This assumption is vindicated by the fact that Mahindra notched up over 13,000 bookings in just one month after the SUV’s commercial launch. Back to its looks, there’s a certain style to the face of this compact SUV even if some deem it somewhat blingy, with those drooping moustache like LED daytime running lamps, and the rear is positively cute. I especially like the bright tear drops that light up at the rear of the car after dark. If you have had reservations about Mahindra’s design prowess based on the shape and form of its previous compacts – the KUV 100 and the boxy TUV 300, the XUV 300 will help dispel all those because it’s a genuinely good looking vehicle. Especially in a two-toned colour scheme with the white roof. Really does stand out this thing.

What immediately stands out on the inside is quality. It’s easily the best I’ve seen on any Mahindra product till date, except the G4 Alturas which I haven’t seen yet. I know, shame on me! But back to the interiors, they really do make you feel like you can spend time here. I have spent quite a bit of time with the Vitara Brezza and I can tell you this is better, which is saying a lot because the Maruti is pretty good in its own right. You also get a ton of extra kit, which includes dual zone climate control and that blasted sunroof that you can’t use through three-quarters of the year. There’s no dearth of space either and four people can sit comfortably with a teenager propped between the rear two passengers. The only issue is the lack of luggage room. One medium sized suitcase and a small bag and that’s about it.

Once you’ve packed in your light luggage, you get going and the 1.5-litre turbo diesel shines through almost immediately. It is refined and in spite of initial turbo lag, pulls strongly. In fact if you keep it revving above 1500-1600rpm you’ll find that the diesel XUV 300 is pretty lively. The gear shifts, though not as precise as the ones on the Vitara Brezza, are slick and coupled with a light clutch action makes driving easy. Dynamics are quite lively and enjoyable even though I dare say that lively handling is probably not going to be on the mind of XUV 300’s target customer. What will be on their minds however will be the SUV’s ride quality. If you’re driving or are riding shotgun you’ll find things fairly comfortable with the compact Mahindra managing to iron out most things but if you shift to the back then things become a little firmer and you get a better sense of the road via your bum. Part of this is because of the XUV’s largish 17- inchers and a slightly firm set to the suspension but you must remember, as with almost all SUV in this inexplicable sub-4m class, the rear passengers sit on the rear axle. A compromise that you’ll have to live with unless you spend more and move up to the next higher segment.

And now it’s time to whittle down to a verdict on this brand new product from M&M. Honestly, when I first got the opportunity to drive this I didn’t expect this level of refinement and quality. That the interiors were better than those of the Maruti Suzuki were a revelation as was the number of features on offer. There are two areas where the XUV 300 falls short of the best seller. One, range because the 42 litre fuel tank is smaller than the Vitara Brezza’s 48 litres, and the latter is more frugal too when it comes to fuel. Second, the Maruti Suzuki does feel more solid with a more confident grip on the tarmac below it, especially when the highways start to become undulating. Those two things aside for the first time the Vitara Brezza has a genuine competitor, a rival who’s well thought out and well produced. Given Mahindra’s beginnings with Jeep clones, if this isn’t an evolution of a species, I don’t know what is.

Mahindra XUV 300 W8 Turbo Diesel

Price (ex-showroom) - Rs 10.8 lakh (Rs 11.99 lakh for the Option Pack)
Engine Type - 1497cc, 4-cylinder, turbocharged diesel
Maximum Power - 115hp @ 3750rpm
Maximum Torque - 300Nm @ 1500-2500rpm
Transmission - 6-speed manual

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