By on June 29, 2007

image562_1.jpgTest driving a vehicle on India’s rugged roads requires a different set of priorities. Put it this way: after two weeks and over 4000kms in the "all-new" Mahindra & Mahindra Scorpio, no part of my body was crying out for chiropractic manipulation. This proves two things. First, the Scorpio is an extremely comfortable long-distance cruiser over tortured tarmac. And second, I'm not getting signs of early arthritis; I’ve just been driving the wrong car.

The latest incarnation of Mahindra's home-grown utility vehicle is better looking machine than the previous gen. While M&M haven’t altered to the Scorpio’s basic shape or proportions, new details add some much-needed aggression. The Indigo Marina-style “tower lamps” adorning the Scorpio’s D-pillars are particularly dramatic (sadly, they’re simple reflectors rather than variable brake force indicators), while the Subaru-style hood scoop is a surprisingly effective (if only visually) addendum.

interior21.jpgInside, M&M opted for a two-tone look. Although the Scorpio’s fire-resistant beige and floral seating fabric may be a bit feminine for your average SUV driver, the combination of light colors accentuates the cavernous space within. Your eight and bit lakhs buys you all the mod cons: an MP3-compatible stereo with SD card and USB ports (an Indian first), two phone charging jacks, enough cupholders and cubbies for a major expedition, heated this, adjustable that, power so on.  

I certainly could have lived without the Scorpio’s “voice assist;” an electronic nanny that reminds you when the doors aren’t shut properly, your seat belt isn’t securely fastened or the fuel tank’s sucking on fumes. The Americans roundly rejected this endlessly annoying idea back in the ‘80’s; this is not the time or place to bring it back. At the very least, Mr. Mahindra should sample that chick from the TV adverts (so to speak).

The oil burner nestled in the Scorpio’s Jeep-like nose (roots!) remains unchanged– which is no bad thing. Mahindra’s 2.6-liter turbo-charged and intercooled common rail diesel is a reliable engine that develops 115bhp @ 3800rpm. More importantly (at least for a two-and-half-ton SUV), the mill stumps up 28.3kgm of torque between 1700-2200rpm. That’s enough twist to put 140kmph on the clock and help the Scorpio pass slower traffic with relative ease.

image701.jpgThat’s provided you can engage third gear. Every now and then, the Scorpio’s five-speed gearbox refused to surrender this cog. It didn't happen that often, but it happened often enough (to three drivers) to make overtaking a more nerve-racking experience that needs be. Equally worrying, the Indian SUV isn't exactly gainly above 100 to 110 kph. Karma lives between 70 and 90 kph, where both on-road composure and fuel efficiency are maximized.

Although Mahindra’s advertising claims 43 changes from old Scorpio to new, there’s only one really worth mentioning: the model’s new multi-link rear suspension. For that alone, the 'All-New' tag is fully justified.

The last gen Scorpio handled like an old-school American luxury car; the SUV’s suspension simply couldn’t cope with the immense physical loads generated through the turns. The new Scorpio handles more like an American SUV, albeit a more modern example.

image664.jpgThe roly-poly Scorpio wouldn’t be my first choice for the ghats around Chiplun on the NH17, but it’s a whole lot safer and more predictable in its responses than the old brick. During the routine "avoid getting crushed by a bus" swerves on Kerala’s narrow roads, I never felt I was in any danger of examining the road surface from the side window.

At Muzhipallingad, the Kerala tourism department graciously afforded us the opportunity to drive on the beach. A combination of 16” tubeless tires and plenty of low-down grunt kept us from getting bogged down. A brief swim in the Arabian Sea didn’t halt our progress. It did, however, leave an engine bay full of sand— which may account for the speedo (mechanical not swimwear) going wonky for a bit.

Afterwards, the Scorpio climbed the surrounding hills on some truly terrible roads with no major issues. The coil springs gobbled up broken surfaces without complaint, or, as I’ve mentioned, torturing our spines. Equally important, when we weren’t enjoying sea breezes, the Scorpio’s powerful aircon kept both front and rear passengers calm, cool and collected. 

image604.jpgOn the Western Express Highway, the Scorpio feels massive. As do the fuel bills. We achieved around 11 to 12km per liter of diesel. The Hyundai Terracan with its bigger (and better) engine delivers the same fuel economy. 

Still, the Mahindra and Mahindra Scorpio is a complete package: a refined cruiser, a capable mountain mule, and a competent highway cruiser. It’s no surprise BBC World Wheels named the Scorpio their car of the year back in ’03, or that M&M figures the diesel Scorpio will find willing customers in the United States. Provided they price it right, I feel comfortable with its chances.

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33 Comments on “Scorpio Review...”


  • avatar
    virages

    Cool International reviews! Nice to hear about cars outside the USA (I liked the Citroen C6 Review too).

    So the car was good for India, would this mean that it is worthy vehicle for european or american tastes?

  • avatar
    Carzzi

    Cool review! I remember driving a 1st-Gen Scorpio about 5 years ago on a trip to Bangalore, India. I believe the engine produced 90 hp and had a live axle. It was pretty grunty off the line, and felt quicker than many a domestic (Indian) offering at the time.

  • avatar

    This is the model that Global Vehicles and M&M plan to import to the US starting in mid-2008. What are your thoughts on how well it’ll sell here?

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    Two other reviews that might make for an interesting read on this site if anyone out there has driven them – one serious and the other might turn out to be a riot:

    The serious one – during my travels, I’ve seen a Korean SUV named a Ssangyong (there might ben an extra letter in there.) I haven’t driven one, but I’m curious if some of the non-American readers have spent some time in this.

    The other, and one that might make for a rather funny read has to be the Chinese Landwind. I remember reading reports that it achieved the worst possible score (possibly of all time) in the European crash testing agencies and when I saw pictures, I don’t think anyone would survive a hit with a shopping cart. It kind of makes the previous generation Ford F-150 look like a Volvo in those tests.

    Like the international tests – keep them coming! Oh, and to our Australian neighbors, please keep sending Holden reviews to remind us what we either can’t get in the States…or we get in a watered-down form.

  • avatar
    kazoomaloo

    Thumbs up for the Mahindra review… I’m glad they’re coming stateside soon. Time to get us some more diesel options besides just Volkswagens with their terrible quality ratings.

  • avatar
    bfg9k

    For the metric challenged (like me, I can only think in English units for cars) 28.3 kg-m = 204.7 lb-ft of torque. 12 km/L = 28 mpg.

    Nice review, the subcontinent has both interesting slang and vehicles.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    Based on information I found on the ‘net about Global Vehicles and it’s management team I think Mahindra is going about it’s US market entry in a bad way. If they are serious then they would be much better off establishing their own distribution company in the US instead of picking up the failed Romanian importer attempt now called Global Vehicles.

    That said, thanks for the interesting review. It certainly is more fun to read about than tired old cars like the Saab 9-5!

  • avatar
    NN

    Let’s see some crash-test results and see if it has the same fate as the recent Chinese Brilliance that was crashed (and failed miserably) in Germany. One set of photos like that and M&M’s chances are shot.

    It still looks too 3rd world, I think. It looks like most SUV’s I saw in China–especially the interior. That said, if it is really cheap, gets great mileage w/the diesel, and proves reliable, then it could find a market.

    This reminds me of the first Suzuki’s…but a bit worse. They should bring a pickup version with the diesel–I think that would do better. A really cheap interior and ugly looks are more forgiveable in a cheap pickup. I guess the 25% “Chicken tax” on imported pickups hurts that business plan, but I still think it would find more success.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    Very cool review.

    I wonder how well it’ll fare in US-spec crash tests, especially side impact. This isn’t a strong point for cars sold exclusively in Asia. Safety could be a big problem: we drive a lot faster than Indians, that’s for sure.

    Nice to see another Diesel entering the market, but the price better compensate for the lack of refinement inside and out.

  • avatar
    ash78

    I think it will do well in the US.

    The reason I say that is that Mahindra already has a pretty loyal following among the farm crowd (they apparently make great tractors). If they can appropriately leverage the brand toward that market, I think they’ll make inroads.

    IMO, the key will be making sure it’s not too frou-frou. I.e., it should reflect that same hard edge and ruggedness that their tractors portray. That’s just my $0.02 from a marketing standpoint.

  • avatar
    durailer

    Thanks for this. Wow…a 5-speed automatic? Really, GM has no excuse to keep flogging their 4-speeds.

    I think this ute could be a success in the US, if priced right. The interior is fugly, but the exterior has the proportions and quirkiness of the Scion, and the powertrain seems capable.

    Cheap utes are the roots of the segment, look at the original Jeep and 4runner, and those who don’t need them as a daily driver don’t wanna spend a lot on ‘em.

    It will be interesting to see if M&M can pull-off a Hyundai/Kia by offering value, constantly improving their products, and gaining buyer trust; or if they’ll end up like Daewoo and the ever-struggling Mitsubishi. A gutsy warranty will help.

  • avatar
    Nemphre

    Before I voted, I thought “Well… if it was priced at 5000, then maybe it could sell”. Then I saw the lowest price of 15k. If that’s seriously what they’re going to sell this thing for in the US, then they should forget about it. I have strong doubts about the quality and safety of these vehicles. Terrible fuel mileage isn’t going to fly either. How big is this compared to say… the previous generation of Scion xB?

  • avatar
    tankd0g

    If it’s cheap enough it’ll be popular with the off road crowd. It would have to be REALLY cheap though, since PEP Boys isn’t likely to have a single part for it.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    I think that it will have a tough time as a stand alone brand.

    I’m curious about the anticipated price point. The writer indicates that this thing is on the wrong side of US$20k in India (translated into American: 8 lakhs = 800,000 rupees, at approximately 40 rupees = US$1.) Federalize it to US standards, and the price point will likely increase.

    Sounds like you’re in Hyundai and Kia territory at that point. It takes years to establish a brand, and a lot of care to ensure that you don’t run it into the ground, and the US is a very tough market. There’s a reason why Daihatsu, Renault, Citroen, Peugeot, Rover and many others have failed here, while the Big 2.8 are in trouble — the dollars for the winners may be big, but it’s not an easy market to serve. It’s a long, tough slog, and they had better be committed to a good 10-20 years of hard work, a product focus that meets US demands, and good service (the latter of which has not generally been a strength of Indian companies) before they can expect to have a chance to succeed.

    And no, we really don’t want diesels. A few enthusiasts and diehards may like them, but your average American consumer is not particularly interested. The existing SUV sellers would have been selling them already in large quantities if the demand was there.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Every time I look at this vehicle, it reminds me of the old school Isuzu Trooper and Trooper II of the late 1980′s. To me at least, the Mahindra appears to be a truck based vehicle that is meant more for country roads and low speed driving than the interstates of the USA.

    Mahindra will do well in three primary areas.

    1) Rural customers that experience inclement weather which are already somewhat familiar with the Mahindra name.

    2) Families (especially female buyers) that live in the mountainous regions.

    3) The Indian-American community.

    I still question the length of the warranty. With Hyundai and Kia offering the strongest ones in this business, I’m not quite sure if most folks will opt for the Mahindra models over a Tucson/Santa Fe/Sorrento/Sportage. Even with the diesel. Certain Jeep models will also offer a very strong alternative, and they already have a 3.0 diesel in their proverbial pipeline.

    If Mahindra really wanted to make a big splash in the American market and register a six figure annual sales rate, they would double the warranty and offer more styling variants.

  • avatar
    Wolf

    The serious one – during my travels, I’ve seen a Korean SUV named a Ssangyong (there might ben an extra letter in there.) I haven’t driven one, but I’m curious if some of the non-American readers have spent some time in this.

    Well, there is a Ssanyong dealership a few km’s from my appartment, never took a ride, they mainly have SUVs.

    The other, and one that might make for a rather funny read has to be the Chinese Landwind. I remember reading reports that it achieved the worst possible score (possibly of all time) in the European crash testing agencies and when I saw pictures, I don’t think anyone would survive a hit with a shopping cart. It kind of makes the previous generation Ford F-150 look like a Volvo in those tests.

    Well, the Landwind is a Opel Frontera clone, except it is made with shitty materials, as the Brilliance B9… I’m willing to accept this for an iPod, not a car, and you ?

  • avatar

    Pch101: I’m curious about the anticipated price point. The writer indicates that this thing is on the wrong side of US$20k in India (translated into American: 8 lakhs = 800,000 rupees, at approximately 40 rupees = US$1.) Federalize it to US standards, and the price point will likely increase.

    From the author: Road taxes are very severe in India and can add up to to 30 per cent, sometimes more, of a car’s cost at the showroom. Even though M&M hasn’t released any pricing plans for the US yet, the car should be available around the $15,000 mark, depending on the Dollar-Rupee exchange rate, which isn’t terribly good for the Rupee right now.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Frank, thanks for the info on pricing. That might help matters, perhaps this can be made into a cute modern variant of the Suzuki Samurai of old (but without the rollover problems, we hope…)

    To me at least, the Mahindra appears to be a truck based vehicle that is meant more for country roads and low speed driving than the interstates of the USA.

    That’s another problem, which the author identifies: “the Indian SUV isn’t exactly gainly above 100 to 110 kph. Karma lives between 70 and 90 kph, where both on-road composure and fuel efficiency are maximized.” Translated into American, its sweet spot is at 40-55 mph, but not so great above 60-65 mph. American consumers aren’t going to take too kindly to characteristics like that.

  • avatar
    Geotpf

    Hyundai proved that the key for a low end foreign manufacturer to succeed is an extra long warranty (provided the quality is there to not bankrupt the company due to that). If M&M does that, they have a shot.

  • avatar
    Joe Chiaramonte

    Cool review! M&M might aim this more appropriately at US buyers who long for a Rover Defender or Toyota FJ – remove the frills, toughen it up, price it low, bring it on.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    Mahindra will do well in three primary areas.

    3) The Indian-American community.

    That’s just as likely as getting a large percentage of White America to stop buying German/Japanese cars and consider something from Detroit.

    My people do love the Camry and anything with the Lexus “L” on the trunk. :-)

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    I think a diesel SUV for around $15k could be a big hit. Problems will arise from the lack of a dealer network and other forms of support.

    Nemphre: 11 kms/liter works out (by my seat-of-the-pants calculation) to 27.5mpg which is pretty respectable for a body-on-frame SUV.

    The million dollar question is whether they can get their diesel up to US emissions specs. Many have tried and most have failed. Sorry to be biased, but if this had a Honda or Toyota motor (or even Isuzu, which is a big diesel builder) I’d be more sanguine about its chances in the US market. As it is, I think it will remain a question mark. Most likely it will have to debut in big cities on the West coast (Seattle? Portland? L.A?) and establish a foothold before it will be practical to those of us in flyover country.

    I’d hate to buy one of these and then see the company pull out due to disappointing sales. Every now and then I see a Daihatsu Rocky around and I figure its owner must either be really dedicated or just a glutton for punishment.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    What are your thoughts on how well it’ll sell here?

    It should sell well. Even though it’s crude, it has a funky charm and as a diesel it will be easy to convert it to run on used veggie oil. A hip new fashion accessory for the early 21st century!

  • avatar
    ex-dtw

    I have a tough time believin’ a car that get’s all funky above 65mph is going to be a big seller regardless of other attributes.

    Taking forever to get up to speed is one thing, never getting there is another…

  • avatar
    pariah

    Good review…seems like it has a lot of potential stateside. My only issue is with nomenclature — I don’t wanna say “Mahindra and Mahindra” every time I talk about it; I wanna eat M&Ms, not drive them; and every time I read or hear “Scorpio” I can only think of a certain German way of saying “Mercury.”

  • avatar
    Ryan

    The potential is there for something that could sell, maybe. But in its current form, and at a 15K price point, you’re bumping up against several small pickups (admittedly, without 4WD). Besides, if there was such a big market for a small body-on-frame SUV, why has it been all but abandoned (you’ve got the Wrangler, and the uniframe Grand Vitara)? Plus, this thing is several kinds of ugly.

    On the other hand, what I would like to see brought over from India, if I remember correctly, is the Maruti Esteem (which, if I’m not mistaken, is an early 90′s Suzuki Swift).

  • avatar
    blue adidas

    Let’s crash it into a wall and see how it does. If it doesn’t fold in on itself and has passable reliability like a Hyundai, it’ll sell fine to anyone who can barely secure a six year loan. I know that sounds snotty, but that’s simply how unestablished lower-rung imports gain a foothold into this market.

  • avatar
    cchanner83

    I agree I like the international focus here. Let’s see a nice review of say the venerable GAZ Volga, or the perennial favorite the LADA

  • avatar
    seldomawake

    depending on the Dollar-Rupee exchange rate, which isn’t terribly good for the Rupee right now.

    Frank, my understanding is that the rupee is doing quite well, mostly because the dollar is sagging.

    As an aside, I hate the slanted center-console vents that grace M&M vehicles.

  • avatar

    seldomawake:
    depending on the Dollar-Rupee exchange rate, which isn’t terribly good for the Rupee right now.

    Frank, my understanding is that the rupee is doing quite well, mostly because the dollar is sagging.

    That statement came directly from the author, who is in India. I’m not up on current exchange rates.

  • avatar
    wahwah

    Dont think the US-spec Scorpio is getting the 2.6L pushrod diesel. Instead, its a DOHC 2.2L common-rail diesel. Mated to a six-speed automatic. As an SUV, I think it will be too cramped for American tastes.

    The Tata Safari is a much better thought out vehicle, and is a much much much better cruiser than the Scorpio. The Safari is also getting a twin-cam 2.2L diesel. Besides, the Tata TL Sprint pickup truck (google it!) , has already started production. The next generation Safari will be based on that. Infact, the SUV version is already being tested, and you can spot several heavily disguised mules in and around Pune.

    South America is going to get a rebadged version of the TL-Sprint, because of the Tata’s alliance with Fiat.

  • avatar
    ThisWas

    Someone mentioned the Isuzu Trooper. I bought a new ’88 Trooper II with a 2.6L four. Basic transportation, and we kinda liked it. Isuzu split with me the cost of an expensive cylinder head repair. But what finally convinced me to dump the truck was the constant breakage of the wheel studs. These were expensive to repair (labor, not parts) and although I drove around a lot with only 4 studs on one or more hubs I had to have them all in place to pass inspection. Moral of the story is that expensive repairs make a cheap truck an albatross. Lots of my neighbors bought a Trooper; no one bought a second one. No Mahindras for me.

  • avatar

    The author, via Frank W:…depending on the Dollar-Rupee exchange rate, which isn’t terribly good for the Rupee right now.to which “Seldomawake” replies:Frank, my understanding is that the rupee is doing quite well, mostly because the dollar is saggingGuys, I think the author meant precisely that the dollar is “sagging”: From an exporting-to-USA standpoint, a *strong* Rupee is bad for the Indians. It means that they won’t get as many Rupees for each car they sell in the USA, where they get paid for them in US Dollars.


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