Test 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.
Inside, 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.
That’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.
The 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.
On 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.