It seems 2021 was the year of resurgence for three-row family SUVs. We saw Tata’s evergreen Safari brand come back to life in a thoroughly modern avatar, the frankly brilliant Alcazar by Hyundai and finally, the all-new XUV700 by Mahindra. Here we have driven and tested all three back-to-back and let me tell you already, one of them is a clear cut above the rest in the overall scheme of things. Which one is it? Well, you will find out as you take a look at this comparison test that we have put together after driving all three SUVs in a range of real-world scenarios. The Alcazar has one-upped the Safari in our previous comparison test but now with the XUV700 finally on sale, it’s a tough road ahead for the Korean offering and a lot of other cars in the sub-Rs 25 lakh bracket.
Looks and Dimensions
A lot of buyers in this segment prioritise looks and road presence and when it comes down to it, it’s the Safari that follows the get-out-of-my-way SUV attitude more strictly than the other two. It’s a more substantial looking SUV despite having so many curves, while the Alcazar has straight, cleaner lines and is a chunky little vehicle but it still looks smaller in comparison. What’s more, the Safari’s 205mm ground clearance, chunky tires and bonnet/roofline are all higher than the Alcazar, adding to the commanding stance.
What about the new guy, then? Well, the XUV700 looks less intimidating than the Safari but because it’s still a brand new vehicle, one with snazzy design touches, it turns heads effortlessly. Its design is not simply an update over the XUV500 but an entirely new look, elements of which we will probably see in future models from Mahindra. Yes, there are certain design elements that will remind you of the XUV500. For instance, the way the headlights sink from the edge and point towards the number plate area and the vertical slats on the front grille. However, there is also a lot of new stuff like the smartly designed bumper, the new logo and the LED headlamps giving the XUV700 its own identity. The overall profile may look similar to the 500 but there have been plenty of changes that make the design coherent. First of all you have pop out door handles which fit flush when locked, giving the doors a really clean look. Then there are the wheel arches which are nowhere as pronounced as the ones on the 500. The less prominent wheel haunches on the 700 lead us to the massive wraparound taillights which taper towards the centre. The number plate housing is still mounted on the lift gate while the rear bumper features a thick, contrasting silver bash plate to give it some character.
Inside the cabin
The Safari may have walked away with a win when it comes to road presence, but then both the XUV700 and the Alcazar claw back some ground with their plush cabin ambience. We will start off with the XUV. Now we had high hopes from this cabin for quality and finish and we are happy to report that for the most part, the XUV700 delivers on both. Fit and finish is right there with the Alcazar and we like how well the buffed chrome elements go with the gloss black materials. We also like how there are softly padded materials everywhere you touch. So it all comes together really for the XUV and the build quality here is worth appreciating.
From the tan colour for the dashboard and the upholstery to the heavy usage of brushed silver trim and perforated finish, the materials used and the general layout is pleasantly coherent on the Alcazar. In comparison, the Safari and the XUV’s cabin are bright and airy thanks to slightly bigger volume and lighter colours for the upholstery. The Safari’s cabin, however, is an amalgamation of average quality plastics – the door handles feel chunky and the graining on the top of the dash looks good as well but lower down its all hard plastics, especially below the steering column and around the foot well. Ergonomics aren’t the Safari’s strongest suite, either. For instance, the USB and aux input aren’t as ridiculously difficult to access as in the Harrier but the positioning of it is still odd. And because neither is backlit it becomes difficult connecting your devices at night. Secondly, the wing mirrors are large and offer good rear visibility but because they are so big and positioned a little too high, they also create huge blind spots as you approach a busy junction – it is tough to have a good enough view of the incoming traffic (especially two wheelers) without leaning sideward.
There is some difference between the three in terms of first impressions as you start driving. The Safari feels big on the inside, is chunky to pilot and overall it simply feels like a proper SUV as you go through the substantial controls set across the high set dash. The Alcazar is quite the opposite. It doesn’t feel like the toughest thing, at least from the driver’s seat – the dash is set quite low, the steering is smaller in comparison to the Safari and it’s got a car-like driving position. Mahindra has reached a good middle ground with the XUV 700 because of two things. Firstly, the driving position is adequately commanding and you sit fairly high up compared to the Alcazar. And secondly, the glasshouse is generous and next to the Safari, the XUV is very easy to see out of and drive on congested roads thanks to better visibility aided by thinner pillars. Overall, there are positive qualities for all three but it's the better built, if less burly, cabin of the XUV700 that takes the win.
The Alcazar and the Safari we tested have six seats whereas the XUV700 is a seven-seater (because it’s got a conventional three-seat rear bench and not captain seats like the other two). If we are talking purely space and comfort, it’s the Safari with its superior second and third row that inches ahead in many areas.
First up, the seats are set at a good height and are broad with ample lateral support. The backrest, too, has good bolstering and as we found out, more comfortable than the Alcazar which didn’t feel as supportive. The Safari, then, gets that crucial lead upfront and continues to impress as you move on to the rear. Here you will notice that the beltline on the Hyundai is slightly higher, so over-the-shoulder visibility is not as good as the Safari. The captain seats are also perched high for good visibility and to allow tall occupants to stretch their legs further down the floor. In terms of seat comfort, the consensus during the test was that the Safari’s second row accommodation was not only more spacious but also more comfortable thanks to better sculpted seats, while the Alcazar’s seats were a bit flat. The Safari also scores well when it comes to that all-important airy feeling with its bright upholstery and a larger glasshouse.
So where does this leave the XUV 700? It’s also big on space and up front, there’s more than enough elbow room and knee space. And because you have a full bench in the second row, seating three at the back is a breeze. However, the second row doesn’t slide, so one cannot play with the available room in the last row. In terms of seating comfort, the second row seat is generous, cushy, and comfortable but it could do with a bit more thigh support. Also, because the XUV’s cabin is mostly all white, the overall ambience is superb and in this test its cabin clearly looks and feels the most premium. As for the third row twin seats, the squab and backrest on the Safari is surprisingly good, with a reasonable amount of cushioning. Sure, you won’t get much in terms of thigh support but there is actually a decent amount of legroom and shoulder room for two adults to spend an hour or two in the last row without whining.
In comparison the Alcazar is nowhere as comfortable as the Safari or the XUV700. The captain chairs slide forward to liberate more room, but for an adult to get comfortable in the third row is an impossible task because the seat squab is tiny and its set too low. So, it’s safe to consider the Alcazar’s third row seats for emergency use only. If you need seven seats more often then it’s the Safari that makes more sense. Now the Alcazar may not excel at outright seat comfort but it has many ambience-focused elements that the Safari or the XUV700 cannot match. In fact, second row occupants are treated with a wireless charging pad, fold out tray tables and window blinds. You even get soft cushions linked to the headrests which add to the overall comfort. All things considered, the Safari sets new benchmarks for space in this segment and the Alcazar goes all all-out in cocooning its second row occupants. The XUV’s second and third row accommodation is quite impressive and even though it’s not as spacious as the Tata or as feature-packed as the Alcazar, its cabin ambience is relatively plusher and for that reason itself it gets very close to the Safari. Speaking of which, it may not be able to pamper its occupants with as many creature comforts as the other two but with its better contoured seats and more space in both second and third row, the Safari wins the space race.
All three come with alloy wheels, climate control, steering mounted controls, height adjustable driver seat, electric mirrors and a multimedia system. However, these are all basic features at this price point and given that these are flagship models from their respective brands, they bring so much more to the table. You get a large panoramic sunroof, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, drive modes, multiple airbags, ABS, EBD and so much more as standard across all three SUVs. The Alcazar moves the equipment goal post further by offering dual wireless charging pads, ambient lighting, front and rear parking sensors, a 360-degree camera, cooled front seats, paddle shifters, rear sun blinds and blind view monitor. The XUV 700 also gets the latter and a 360-degree camera but the visuals for both aren’t as good and it also misses out on basic features like auto dimming internal mirror and a full-size spare wheel. The Safari is also decently loaded but then it ought to be considering it costs more than the Hyundai. In terms of standout features, it comes with wireless Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, ventilated seats at the back as well and lastly, what Tata calls Terrain Response System which allows you to choose between three off-road driving modes. There’s normal, rough and wet in case you ever decide to take this family-oriented, road biased SUV. The Safari also gets the option of moving the front passenger seat using a dedicated lever on the backrest, making it easier for the second row occupants to liberate more knee room. But this is where it ends for the Safari because even in its most top-end trim, it cannot outclass the XUV700 or the Alcazar for equipment. The Alcazar’s highlight is the fully digital 10.25-inch instrument cluster featuring multiple interfaces and sharp graphics overall. It also displays visuals from the lane change cameras mounted on the wing mirrors. The image quality is superb and the feature itself is so convenient we wish more mainstream carmakers would introduce it in their high-end models.
Speaking of which, Mahindra has also equipped the XUV700 with the lane change guidance tech, visuals of which are displayed on one of the two HD screens that run across half the dashboard. The digital instrument cluster is extremely fluid and smooth and it’s also packing more features than the Alcazar’s fully digital screen. The only grouse here is that this ‘Adrenox’ infotainment system isn’t as intuitive to use as the one on the Alcazar. Also in our test car, many features displayed the ‘coming soon’ sign which means the XUV 700 is due for an OTA update. The Alcazar is no longer the most equipped offering in its class. That crown now goes to the XUV700 which has set new benchmarks when it comes to convenience and safety features. You get high-end features like dual-zone climate control, Alexa built-in, a 12-speaker Sony sound system and a driver courtesy feature which slides the electric seat all the way back for easy ingress as you open the door. Better still, Mahindra has gone all-out in offering the latest of active safety features in the XUV700. There’s level 1 autonomous driving tech packed into this SUV, meaning it can drive itself and stay within the lanes (provided they are properly marked) and maintain a steady distance behind the car its following thanks to features like lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control. You also get auto high beam assist and traffic sign recognition as part of the level 1 autonomy. All in all, the XUV700 feels more advanced and is just a nicer place to be in and a lot of that comes down to the magnitude of comfort/convenience and safety features you get in the top-spec version.
We will start off with the newest player. The XUV700 uses an aluminium construction, makes 185bhp, and an impressive 450Nm of peak torque. It also weighs 1,830kg which is right on par with the less punchy Safari. On the road, it’s endearing to say the least and the way this big, family SUV carries itself is remarkable. It doesn’t struggle no matter what RPM the engine is at – you floor it and it just pulls hard. When the engine is spinning above 2,000rpm and is on boost, it turns the XUV into a hard charging bull. In our performance tests, it blitzed the 0-100kmph mark in just 9.3 seconds with 20-80kmph in-gear coming up in just 5.55 seconds. It pulls equally hard at highway speeds, too, completing the 40-100kmph sprint in 7.16 seconds. You have 450Nm of pulling power from as low as 1,750 revs and this peak torque stays flat till 2,800rpm which is the ideal operation range under normal driving conditions.
The XUV700, then, has more than enough grunt and it shows when you push it. Performance is strong all the way till 4,000rpm and the XUV will keep pulling hard well past triple digit speeds - overtakes are as easy as flicking on a switch. And it takes restraint on one’s part to keep things within the speed limits. What compliments this strong engine so well is the six speed automatic gearbox. Sure it's no dual clutch unit and the gearshifts aren't lightning fast but for driving around town and covering long distances on the highways it does the job. It goes up and down the gears smoothly, doesn't hesitate in bumper to bumper traffic as you go and off throttle. Overall it's a great comfort oriented gearbox that does its job beautifully. In terms of refinement, this engine has a smooth idle and vibrations are little to none. It's only when you get up to speed that you will hear a little more noise than you would like while accelerating. Even so it's not that annoying diesel clatter and, in fact, the engine is quite refined. Overall NVH levels are among the best in class and right up there with the Alcazar.
The Hyundai, in fact, is impressively refined at both idle and low speeds with hardly any diesel clatter. It’s certainly quieter than the Tata, thanks to a better insulated cabin. In comparison, the Safari makes 170bhp/350Nm from its 2-litre engine while the Alcazar appears restrained having to make do with just 115bhp/250Nm from its 1.5-litre diesel. The Safari’s power advantage though is hampered by its 1860kg kerb weight (the Alcazar stands at 1490kg) and it shows when we look at the performance figures. At low to medium speeds, the difference in acceleration isn’t as drastic as one would imagine. Despite all its horsepower and torque advantage, the much heavier Safari is only 1.05 seconds quicker from 0-100kmph. Its 20-80kmph kick down time of 6.84 seconds isn’t too far off the Alcazar which managed to the same run in 7.52 seconds. That said, as speeds increase it’s the Safari that’s more responsive and just outright quicker especially if you have a full load of passengers. All things considered, there is no denying that it’s the XUV700 that punches harder in every situation – it just feels more immediate in its response and is properly quick even with a full load. In this test, it’s the Alcazar that feels sluggish especially with some load. It takes its own sweet time to react to sudden throttle inputs when you are doing highway speeds and while the build in speed is decent we would hardly call it effortless. The Alcazar claws some points back with its body control and steering feel. It’s direct and more fun than the other two, though the XUV is much lighter at city speeds. The Alcazar’s steering has a nice heft to it and as you up the pace, a more natural progression to it, too. Add to that a nimbler chassis and you have something that doesn’t feel like it will end your day prematurely when you go through the corners at speed. The Alcazar’s low speed ride, however, is actually firm and a little too sensitive to surface changes. It tends to get fidgety across the same road where the Safari remains calm and settled. Sure, it rides flatter at highway speeds and is definitely quieter, but never quite as plush and well sorted as the Safari overall. The XUV700 also impresses with its balance of ride and handling as well. The ride is plaint, absorbent, and mostly flat when you are carrying a good pace. Like in the Alcazar, it’s only at slow speeds that it feels a little unsettled. Not that it rocks side to side or thump its occupants. It’s just that sharp edged potholes and expansion joints are more pronounced than in the Safari. The latter may not have the best handling characteristics but when it comes to the all-important ride quality, the Safari has the ability to adapt to changing road conditions with aplomb.
Moving onto another important aspect of this test and that is fuel efficiency. Naturally, we weren’t expecting class-leading economy figures from the Safari considering its 400kg weight disadvantage over the Alcazar. Still, it delivered a fairly reasonable 10.97kmpl in the city and 13.94kmpl on the highway. The Alcazar, on the other hand, managed 12.16kmpl and 15.44kmpl respectively. Despite being considerably heavier than the Alcazar, the XUV managed 11.8 kmpl in the city and an excellent 15.10 kmpl on the highway.
Verdict and Scores
Tata Safari XZA Plus
Final score – 363/600
On-road price – Rs 26.83 lakh
Make no mistake; the new Safari is a very capable family SUV. It’s got the road presence, the robust build and the legendary Safari moniker that it proudly carries. While it also nails the space and comfort brief better than the XUV and the Alcazar, the Safari loses out big time in many key areas. Now with the XUV700 in the picture, the Safari doesn’t feel well equipped at all and when you factor in the not so significant price gap between it and the XUV700, it’s quite disappointing. Some of its key features like the infotainment system and the semi digital cluster are also lacking when it comes to usability and clarity. All in all, the Safari’s second/third row comfort and better ride quality may offset some of its shortcomings but they are not enough to beat the other two in this test.
Hyundai Alcazar Signature (O)
Final score – 370/600
On-road price – Rs 24.35 lakh
The Alcazar has so much going for it. It’s the easiest to see out of and drive in town, it’s got the sleekest and the most user friendly infotainment system, the most refined drivetrain, the ride and handling is more car-like than the other two which is something a lot of buyers in this segment prefer. And to top it all off, it’s significantly cheaper than the other two and it’s not like Hyundai has cut any corners – the cabin looks plush, the materials used are of high quality and on the move, it offers the most refined drive experience. However, it falls short on several key areas like engine performance, seating comfort and safety tech wherein it lost a major chunk of the total 600 points.
Mahindra XUV700 AX7 L
Final score – 391.5/600
On-road price – Rs 27.69 lakh
It’s the Mahindra XUV700 that has taken over the crown from the Alcazar. It’s got the nicest interiors, loads and loads of feel-good features and a commendable ride and handling balance. Sure, it’s the most expensive vehicle here but the truth is, you can see where your extra money has gone. The engine and gearbox are right up there in terms of refinement and usability but most importantly, it’s the way this drivetrain reacts and performs is truly astonishing. In fact, the XUV700 is a properly quick car and because this particular example is a diesel automatic, it’s not just a fun daily driver but also one of the best long-distance vehicles one can get for under Rs 30 lakh. Adding to its win is the long list of ADAS-based active safety features that are likely to seal the deal for many buyers.
Pictures by Kapil Angane and Kaustubh Gandhi
|CAR NAME||Mahindra XUV700||Tata Safari||Hyundai Alcazar|
|Variant||AX7 L||XZA||Signature (O)|
|Installation||Front, transverse||Front, transverse||Front, transverse|
|Displacement||4 cyls, 2184cc||4 cyls, 1956cc||4 cyls, 1493cc|
|Power||182bhp at 3500rpm||170bhp at 3750rpm||115bhp at 4000rpm|
|Torque||450Nm at 1750rpm||350Nm at 1750rpm||250Nm at 1500rpm|
|Power to weight||99.45bhp per tonne||91.4bhp per tonne||77.18 per tonne|
|Torque to weight||245.90Nm per tonne||188.17Nm per tonne||167.79Nm per tonne|
|Gearbox||6-speed AT||6-speed AT||6-speed AT|
|CHASSIS & BODY|
|Kerb weight (measured)||1830||1860kg||1490kg|
|Tyres||235/60 R18||235/60 R18||215/55 R18|
|Type||Rack and pinion||Rack and pinion||Rack and pinion|
|Type of assist||Electric||Electric||Electric|
|CAR NAME||Mahindra XUV 700||Tata Safari||Hyundai Alcazar|
|Variant||AX7 L||XZA||Signature (O)|
|PERFORMANCE & BRAKING|
|80-0kmph||33.45m at 2.87 secs||32.56m at 2.84 secs||31.24m at 2.62 secs|
|Tank size||60 litres||50 litres||50 litres|
|Seat base length||480mm||500mm||500mm|
|Loading lip height||750mm||760mm||740mm|
|Parameters||Max points||Mahindra XUV700||Tata Safari||Hyundai Alcazar|
|Feeling of space||20||16.5||15||15|
|Rear seat ingress||20||15||15||15|
|IN THE CABIN|
|Feel of quality||20||16||15||16|
|Service cost calculator||10||5||5||5|