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Mahindra Scorpio 2014 review: New Wine, Old Bottle

Introduction

 

After a few years of listening to manufacturers telling us how their new car really is new when all they’ve done is reskin it or add features, one tends to get jaded. So when Mahindra said that they’ve got an all-new Scorpio out and it even looks the same as the old one, I didn’t expect much. Yes, they said that they retained only the doors and the roof from the older model, but really, how much better could it be?

 

Exterior

The changes with the new Scorpio begin at the front, where a new set of blacked-out headlamps sit. The components inside now are LED ‘eyebrows’ that are light guides replacing the traditional 5-watt bulb, a projector unit for low beam and a second bulb-and-reflector setup for high beam. You will even get static cornering lamps on the top-spec version. The headlamps are very XUV, but look different and suit the new Scorpio. Between the headlamps sits the new grille, which is honeycomb mesh fronted with a big Mahindra logo. This is, in turn, flanked by three chrome strips that resemble the strips on the hood vents of Mercedes-AMG cars. They also resemble scratches from a great cat – another XUV inspiration? The new bumper houses oval fog lamps, a lower trapezoid grille much in the style of today’s Mitsubishis but less aggressive, and a bottom of matt black plastic and a faux bash plate. 

The bonnet has more pronounced creases than before, but the hood scoop now looks very much a part of the design rather than like an aftermarket add-on. From the front three quarters, the grille and hood show off their leaning-forward stance and almost-clamshell front end, and they still look very good. 

The same can’t be said of the side – Mahindra says they’ve retained the doors and roof, so it looks the same as the old Scorpio. With all the cuts and creases on the front, elements like the straight-edged doors and mirrors look last-gen and out of place. There is no silver plastic cladding on the doors this time, but the ‘Scorpio’ lettering on the rear door remains. The ‘vent’ that houses the indicator on the left fender also has ‘mHawk’ badging. What is really nice about the side view is the new alloy wheel design. Mahindra has taken the Scorpio’s wheel size up by one inch, offered lovely five-spoke rims with a lot of air in between which, you can spot the brakes – expect the enthusiast owners to scramble for red/yellow calliper covers. 

The step has been made black instead of the usual silver, which helps reduce visual height, and the B and C pillars are blacked out, which makes the glasshouse look like a continuous stretch. 

At the rear, Mahindra has used black to a great effect to reduce the visual height of the Scorpio. The rear glass has a black surround (and matt black plastic running up the sides where there used to be a red reflector before. These look like weird handles, but they are actually aerodynamic elements that help reduce wind noise.) The next swathe of horizontal matt black plastic is the one that connects the tail lamps. It is raised from the door itself, is a complicated shape, houses the actual number plate and its silver surround, the door handle and badging. It looks a lot worse than it actually is in the pictures – in the flesh, it grows on you. The tail-lamps have gone for the opposite colour scheme as the blacked-out headlamps. They have silver surrounds like the Mitsubishi Cedia, and have light guides in the shape of two stacked ‘D’s for brake lamps. The reverse lamps and turn indicators are bulbs that fill out the inside of the light guides. The rear bumper looks similar to the old one and houses the reflectors and parking sensors. 

In isolation, there are so many elements on the Scorpio that it should look busy – but it doesn’t. It is a cohesive design and Mahindra has visually reduced the tall and narrow perception with smart use of matt black plastic. My advice is to buy it in anything but black, and you’ll like what you see despite it not looking new enough compared to the old Scorpio. On the other hand, if you look at the competition, cars like the Renault Duster and Tata Safari Storme won’t win any beauty pageants either. The Mahindra XUV and Nissan Terrano remain the best-looking SUVs in the price bracket. 

 

Interior

The interior looks nothing like the old Scorpio, and it is a change for the better. The colour scheme is now light grey and black, with fabric upholstery in grey and blue. The steering wheel is the biggest change – it has been taken from the XUV, and the buttons have great tactile feel, unlike the buttons on the previous steering wheel, which would have your thumbs aching in no time. The buttons on the wheel control the audio system, telephone and, in our top-spec S10 variant, the cruise control as well. Also gone is the square top of the previous gear lever, replaced with a more ergonomic oval one. The dials remain twin-pod, there are two analog readouts for the speed and engine revs, but the digital multi-function display in the centre displays the rest of the information, which includes two trip meters, the speedo, fuel gauge, temperature gauge and gear indicator. No, it does not tell you which gear to shift to like the Hyundais and VWs do, and Mahindra has overlooked the fact that while blue might look like a great backlighting colour, it is very essential to provide the consumer with a dimmer for the instrument cluster rather than the screen on the centre console. 

The centre console is topped by two chrome-lined rectangular AC vents, and below that sits the touchscreen head unit for the audio/navigation system. It is very impressive, providing the driver with such information as tyre pressure and temperature. It also follows the blue lighting theme in its colour graphics. However, some aspects of the system are very confusing. The ‘Eq’ button takes you to a screen with options that are named in a way that I’ve never heard of before, and you have to experiment and remember through repetition what each of those settings do. Some of those settings don’t deal with just equalisation, they also pan the sound completely to the front or the rear, which led me to believe that Mahindra had left out a fader and equaliser. But I was wrong – both are there, but available in a sub-menu somewhere that wasn’t easy to find the first time around. Also, there are three buttons on the head unit for the phone and one each for equalisation, and ‘info’ but there’s not a single button for accessing the media that can be plugged in, like aux or USB/iPod. That takes three clicks/touches each time. Speaking of which, finding the USB and aux in ports is difficult – they are squirreled away beneath the centre console, which I understand. A lot of manufacturers like Honda and Hyundai use the same location, but in the Scorpio I found it impossible to see the ports. A little labeling in a visible place below the ‘Start/Stop’ and ‘auto wipers’ will go a long way in making it easier for new owners to find the ports easily. The screen is also not very visible on a bright day, and especially if the passenger is wearing bright clothing. The placement of the screen is also too low for the sat-nav to be used as a visual aid to the driver, because looking at the screen means taking your eyes completely off the road. 

The Scorpio S10 gets climate control, and it chills the cabin quickly and effectively. There is no roof-mounted blower for the people in the back, so it remains to be seen how effectively it will handle a full complement of passengers in the middle of summer. 

Below the air-conditioning controls are the buttons for the hazard lamps, and automatic lights, wipers and start/stop system. There are cubbyholes at the bottom next to the handbrake. The plastic cover over the rotary knob that controls the 4WD looks like an afterthought – Mahindra would do well to make that another place to keep small things like coins in, in the 2WD models. The biggest of the recesses next to handbrake will hold a 1-litre bottle but there aren’t any cupholders per se. The glovebox holds quite a lot of things, and above it sits a chrome badge that states “Scorpio” just like in the Verito. It is a nice touch. 

The doors are similar to the ones we’ve seen before on the Scorpio, with map pockets but no bottle holders. They have grab handles that are finished wonderfully, but the actual door handles are made of cheap, non-silvered or chromed plastic, on which you can feel the edges of the moulding. The seats themselves are comfortable, with the driver’s seat getting height adjustment as well. The steering wheel doesn’t telescope but the mirrors get electrical adjustment but no automatic folding. The buttons for the power windows are now in the right place, on the driver’s door, and the driver’s window even gets the one-touch up and down feature. However, the button operating the driver’s window is the same as the others and doesn’t have the two-step feel that we’ve come to expect from this feature, so actually engaging the auto up/down takes more than one try, and can get frustrating. Pedal placement is good, but even if you’re forty feet tall like I am, using the lowest height setting on the seat makes it difficult to get the perfect balance between reach to the steering wheel and the comfort of your foot against the pedals. The armrests for the front seats are a great addition if you’re going to go for long drives.  

The second row is roomy and comfortable. Under-thigh support is adequate, and the backrest angle is good. However, the pull-down arm rest and even the level of the elbow rests on the doors is too low for most people. There are door pockets in the rear doors that can hold 1-litre bottles – this means that a person in the rear seat can access at least two 1-litre bottles in the car, while the front row occupants can access only one – and there is a small mobile phone holder just below the window line, which seems like a great idea until you actually try to put your phone in it. I have a Moto G, which is a phone size that most of the world meets or exceeds, and it doesn’t fit into the holder. It also won’t be wise to keep your phone there during a Mumbai monsoon, especially since it doesn’t seem like Mahindra has thought of a drain hole at the bottom of the holder. The rear seat passengers then have a single seatback pocket behind the passenger seat. What is really nice is the 12V socket, the AC vents, and the place to store small things like phones in the space behind the AC vents. Special mention has to be made here of the jack and spanner, which are stored below the seats. Maybe it was just our car that hadn’t had the jack fixed properly, but every single time we went around a corner enthusiastically, it slid sideways and bumped against the doors. It also puzzled our video team no end, until the culprit was found. 

The rear has sideways-facing seats which are comfortable for short runs. They can be folded up and the second row tumbled forward to make for a massive load bay. 

NVH is greatly improved – the new Scorpio is a quiet place to be in, with hardly any road, engine or wind noise seeping into the cabin even at highway cruising speeds.

                                                

The Scorpio’s interior is a much better place to be in, and the plastic quality has taken a giant leap ahead of its previous version. In fact, it seems better than the Duster in many ways. However, certain things don’t add up: a really high-tech head unit for the audio system but comparatively low-rent speakers. Twin gas struts that make opening the bonnet child’s play but a rear door that refuses to stay open when the Scorpio is parked nose-down on the slightest of inclines. 

Overall, old Scorpio owners will want to upgrade on the strength of the interior of the S10 by itself, that’s how much of an improvement it is. 

 

Engine and Performance

The new Scorpio is powered by either one of two engines, a 2523cc four-pot that makes 75bhp and 200Nm or a 2179cc common-rail diesel with 120bhp and 280Nm. The S10 you see on these pages is powered by the latter and remains old-school in providing drive primarily to the rear wheels, with the fronts getting power as well in the 4WD version. It is a tractable engine, and combined with the slick-shifting gearbox, one can keep a good pace going. It is rated at 15.4kmpl, which is strangely more than the XUV’s. However, it exceeds the Safari Storme’s ARAI figure but lags behind the Duster/Terrano twins by a significant amount. The Scorpio’s engine has a little turbo lag, but things are moving nicely along by the time 1800rpm comes around, and it will rev happily to its redline beyond 4000rpm but there’s no real gain beyond 3000rpm. Keep the revs between 2000 and 3000 rpm, and the Scorpio moves along at a surprising pace. There is no automatic or petrol option available at this point in time. The turning radius of the 2WD model has been reduced to 5.4m but the 4WD remains the same as before at 5.7m. 

 

Ride and Handling

The Scorpio remains a ladder frame chassis with a live axle at the rear. In the face of the monocoque, front-drive competition will be a disadvantage for on-road dynamics. Mahindra claims that the torsional rigidity of the chassis has been increased significantly, and that it is now a modular platform that will give birth to more vehicles. Judging from the way the front and rear of the Scorpio feel connected while going around a corner, I believe them. The Scorpio rides almost as well as the Duster, with no discernible difference most of the time. Where the Scorpio lags behind the Renault is in steering feel – it weighs up well, but there is no clear message sent to your fingertips when the wheels are losing grip. The Duster delivers the message better. Another thing that works in the Duster’s favour is the front-drive architecture – it will always understeer. The Scorpio’s rear drive means that it can get unpredictable on the limit, so if you’re going to drive around corners quickly, the Scorpio isn’t for you. However, if you’re going to use your SUV off-road, the Scorpio becomes the automatic choice because the very things that make it not as good a road car as the Duster will have it scampering out of sight of the Renault when the going gets tough. It would also be my choice for cross-country trips thanks to Mahindra’s widespread service network. 

 

Verdict

The Scorpio has never been a pretty car, neither has it been brilliant at one single thing. However, it has always delivered a lot of value at its price. At Rs 11.46 lakh ex-showroom, the two-wheel drive S10 we’ve driven shows exceptional value for money. Add to that the trouble-free reputation that Scorpios have and Mahindra’s service network and you have a car that can sway you. It might sound a little far-fetched, but the new Scorpio really is quite new, and worthy of a look if you’re looking at the XUV, Duster, Terrano and Safari Storme. 

 

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