Compact SUVs, otherwise known as bulked up hatchbacks, are becoming increasingly popular in the APAC region. From the Suzuki's Vitara Brezza to its rebadged cousin, Toyota's Urban Cruiser, these cars are becoming the go-to choice for the middle-class family who wants the style and image of a Sport Utility Vehicle but lacks the budget and real-life need for an actual SUV.
Mahindra, traditionally known for their road-legal tanks, decided to throw their own hat to this segment with their SsangYong Tivoli based XUV 300. And although we have reviewed the fully optioned out W8 trim of the car a few months back, let's see what the standard-spec XUV 300 has to offer.
Back to basics
Visually, the W6 remains similar to the W8, if less shiny in a few places. The SsangYong engineered, Pininfarina designed (both owned by Mahindra) subcompact has always looked good, and with the right paint job, the blacked-out plastic claddings create a nice contrast. The middle grille with the Mahindra badge remains chrome, while the LED DRL headlamps have been swapped for tried and trusted halogens. The integrated LED fog lamps are omitted from the base trim with the empty space covered up with plastic accents.
At the rear, the LED taillamps are still present, though the rear bumper has been painted all black. Something I find to be an improvement over the W8.
Officially, the W6 comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels. But the folks at Mahinda Bangladesh will swap them for alloys at cost. Despite losing an inch in wheel diameter, the car still sits a respectable 180mm off the ground, making it quite suitable for our roads.
Built to last
The interior of W6 remains largely unchanged from its donor, anyone who's been inside a pre-facelift Tivoli will feel right at home. Mahindra stuck to their "durability over comfort" philosophy when it comes to material, using hard wearing plastic in most places and finishing the seat with diuturnal cloth upholstery. The use of dual-tone inside the car works brilliantly, making the interior feel bright and welcoming.
The feature list of the W6 has been bought down to essentials, but what is there is perfect for daily use. There are still 10 cup holders, steering mounted audio controls and a 4 speaker audio system for your aural needs.
The 17.78cm infotainment system retains its Bluetooth, USB and aux capability, but backup camera function is now offered by an aftermarket unit mounted on the rearview mirror. What is also retained is the excellent standalone navigation system, which works without the internet and rival Google Maps in terms of accuracy.
The storage situation of the W6 remains largely the same, including the problem of the high trunk lip at the rear. The small rear deck size makes hauling large items a bit challenging, though flipping down the rear seats solves that issue.
Finally, the Mahindra staff informed us the W6 retains the 5 star NCAP safety ratings, meaning it is just as safe as its higher-spec cousin.
The fun bit
Of all the Compact SUVs we have reviewed so far, the XUV 300 remains the most entertaining to drive. The 300Nm of torque generated by the 1.5-litre turbo-diesel engine makes this sub-1.5-ton car bolt like a bat out of hell. The Six-Speed-AMT displays a noticeable knockdown between first and second gear, but that can mostly be avoided through clever modulating of the throttle to stay in the powerband.
The smart steering system of the car comes in three modes, Normal, Comfort and Sport. In Normal and Comfort mode, the steering behaves like any other car in its segment, with half an inch of dead zone on either side. Switch it to Sport, however, and it's a completely different experience. The steering becomes much more direct, with the car responding to every little input. Combined with the car's brisk acceleration, gives you the feeling of driving a —somewhat elevated— sports car.
This level of engagement has been carried over to the car's brakes, which are quite sensitive in sport mode. At low speed, the slightest brake input causes the car to jolt to a stop, which can be quite a surprise if you are not ready for it.
The suspension of the W6 is much stiffer, allowing the car to stay level even on spirited sharp turns. Conversely, it means the car is less proficient at smoothing out the bumps on the road, which can be a discomfort after a long day at work.
In terms of sound, the diesel motor is surprisingly quiet, and you can barely hear it inside the vehicle. From the outside, you hear the motor idling on very quiet roads but on normal Dhaka traffic, one would find it almost impossible to identify the XUV 300 as a diesel without prior knowledge.
The XUV 300 W6 fills an interesting niche in the "Compact SUV" segment. It has everything needed to be a regular family car, but its torquey diesel motor, relatively stiff suspension and smart steering give it a performance pedigree that practically does not exist in its category. Anyone looking for a cheap to run, comfortable crossover with just enough power to scratch their performance itch will be wise to keep this can in mind.