A good car at a good price or a good car and it’s a good price? We find out what separates Mahindra’s new Scorpio from an intriguing competitor set.
Never heard of Mahindra? Well, you haven’t been living under a rock. The Indian car and tractor manufacturing giant is a mostly unknown name in Australia unless you’ve been operating farm machinery. But if this car maker’s current revolution is a success, you may well beseeing its badge on plenty of urban Aussie driveways.
Mahindra isn’t new to car manufacturing. It has been slowly selling the rather basic but competitively priced Pik-Up ute here which only recently has the option for a six-speed auto. That sort of development pace is glacial in the auto world, but the brand is quickly reinventing itself right now with a new brand identity and the first two (much more polished) models to fall under that look are this Scorpio and the coming XUV700.
The main differentiating factor between these two three-row SUVs is that the Scorpio is a proper 4×4 on ladder chassis. It has a low-range transfer box and mechanical rear diff, plus real-world useable clearance and short overhangs which means it doesn’t get hooked up on tricky dips. The XUV700 is not going to keep up with that off the road but will be a touch more polished over speed bumps and other obstacles on the school run – but that’s not to say the Scorpio lacks polish from its on-road manners which we’ll touch on in a minute.
As far as competitors, the Scorpio (which drops the ‘N’ from the end of the name here due to a clash with Mitsubishi’s defunct Scorpion trademark) is classed as a large SUV despite being a little shorter at 4662mm than the likes of the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, Ford Everest, and Toyota Landcruiser Prado. But due to its tall 1857mm height it technically (in cubic metres) is sized as a large SUV. A little less metal gives Mahindra wiggle room on pricing which easily undercuts all rivals in this segment, the two-model Scorpio Z8 and Z8L line-up priced at $41,990 and $44,990 driveaway.
Let’s get down to brass tacks on equipment and why the price is cut down that little bit more: there’s no AEB or lane-keeping systems in the Scorpio, for now. We expect they will come in 2025 with a facelifted model that goes to ANCAP for testing.
As it is, the Scorpio scored a full five stars in Global NCAP testing in 2022 for adult occupancy and three stars for child occupant protection. That was with two airbags whereas the Australian version has six (including curtain airbags). The lack of a three-pointed seatbelt for the middle seat limited the child occupant rating but that’s not an issue given there isn’t a middle seat in our version. In current specification the Scorpio would score lowly in ANCAP due to a lack of active safety systems, but structurally it is proven to be a very safe car.
The introduction of AEB and other systems will have to see a price rise, so right now those who are not fused will be getting a sharp deal. It will be interesting to see if this is much of an impediment on sales once they kick off (imminently).
Elsewhere equipment specification is high: 18-inch alloys with a full-size spare, bi-LED headlights, LED DRLs and fog lights, and slick sequential indicators. Inside is ‘coffee-colour’ leather on both models and an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and USB-A and USB-C charging ports. That’s standard on all models, while the top-spec Z8L adds wireless phone charging, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, electric driver seat adjustment, a larger 7.0-inch screen in the driver’s cluster over the 4.2-inch unit, and a thumping 12-speaker Sony sound system including sub-woofer.
The cabin feels well put together, with large plastic areas disguised around more detailed trim elements. The switch gear doesn’t look or feel chintzy, and the touchscreen works well. The reversing camera could be higher res, but it has guides and the Z8L adds a front camera which is handy. The second benefits from a similar look and feel as the front while the third row does not get any charging ports.
In the very back, the third row is pretty cramped for adults but kids will get by. The gripes are that with all rows up the boot space is miniscule and the tailgate swings open on a vertical hinge rather than lift up. A bit of a potential pain in tight car parks. But the third-row tumbles up to make a much better boot space, and with what looks like two torx screws on each floor bracket they could be easily removed if not required. That would really open up the boot space.
Motivating the Scorpio to move is a 2.2-litre ‘mHawk’ diesel turbo engine producing 129kW and 400Nm through an Aisin six-speed automatic transmission. It’s mated in both models to a rear-wheel driven mechanical differential with a four-wheel-drive transfer box and front electronic differential. Four-high can be engaged at speeds up to 80km/h while four-low requires the vehicle to be stationary and in neutral. Mahindra calls it four wheel drive traction system ‘4XPLOR’ and it has Sand, Mud, Snow and Normal modes. Select one of these on the move and will also automatically go into four-high if you aren’t already.
As far as calibration the traction modes do change vehicle behaviour. Sand turns off traction control (very good), while Mud reduced throttle response for better traction on a slippery grass slope we tested on. The mechanical rear differential is great for added grip and will engage by itself when not in four-wheel drive, and when it ‘bites in’ you’ll feel the kick.
Ground clearance of 227mm is competitive against ute-based off-roaders like the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and likewise, the Scorpio is built on a ladder frame chassis. This gives it good clearance to the chassis rails and it is a very capable off-roader. We didn’t really need four-low for any of the obstacles we encountered and replacing the standard tyres for all terrains would open even more possibilities. Hill descent control is solid as well and its speed is changed by using the cruise control button (up and down) to a slow crawl.
Grunt is delivered smoothly through the six-speed auto which has a good set of ratios and in all honesty is all the gears you really need. Peak torque comes on from 1750rpm and there’s not a gulf of lag off the mark despite mild-looking figures of 129kW and 400Nm. Towing capacity is rated to 2500kg braked and there’s trailer sway control, but we didn’t test this.
Transitioning onto sealed roads the Scorpio does not behave agriculturally like the old Pik-Up. This third-generation platform is all-new and Mahindra has obviously gone to lengths to make sure the Scorpio is a comfortable SUV around town. At the rear is a five-link suspension setup with Watts linkage, which is no wonder why the Mahindra has good bodyroll support yet capable off-road articulation. The front is a double wishbone arrangement and the nose points into corners with assurance, albeit light steering.
Ride refinement is quite good for a ladder-on-frame construction and this is helped by the frequency selective dampers (FSD) which, in basic terms, change the strength of their damping response depending on the frequency of bumps you travel over. This was well demonstrated when we jumped in for a hot lap around a rough paddock – not usual at an SUV launch but nonetheless a revelation at how good the ride holds up when pushed beyond normal limits.
The steering rack is electrically assisted with a 110A motor that’s almost overpowered, providing light steering which is less responsive at slow speed (around town some drivers do like this) but has better firmness when hooking up a corner at cruising speed. Off-road we felt like the wheels were easy to place, and the front camera is a help with object detection.
Importantly noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) are not obtrusive and this is a car you can road trip the family in and it won’t be a chore. In fact, there’s really good space in the front and middle rows and we’d consider removing the rear seats if not required. This would free up a big boot space and with 525kg of payload (which would increase if the last row was removed) and a boot-mounted 12v outlet there are some good off-grid options.
All of this is leaning toward touring and off-roading, and that’s because the Scorpio is a very solid 4×4, so naturally it’s viewed as such. But it’s a good car to drive around town too, and so it stands unique to any smaller SUVs like the Hyundai Tucson and Toyota Rav4, or even the Subaru Forester which doesn’t have a real low-range box. Large SUV competitors, for which sales of the Scorpio will be judged, are mostly equal in off-road ability and some are not as nice to cruise in town with but features like AEB are ubiquitous in them all. Either way, the value of the Mahindra can’t be overlooked by any buyer wanting an affordable off-road SUV.