Transcendent Mahindra XUV500 changes perceptions

The value is staggering. The gearbox is confused. It's genuinely interesting.

The ability to change one’s perception of a car brand is not easy. But, it’s not impossible. It’s the culmination of little things. Like what your neighbour says. And then your friend. And then, by chance, it’s what you come to believe when you sit in one for the first time because your brother just bought one.

Almost always he says it’s “great value” and “it does what it needs to”, and then, the ultimate compliment comes when he assures you that “it’s just like a Golf - just like it - but cheaper.”

Of course, the Mahindra XUV500 is nothing like a Golf, but we’re not talking about Mahindra just yet. We’re talking about the Kia Rio 2006 hatch back, which was the first Kia in our family, but not the one that changed everything.

About 10 years earlier, the Kia Sportage of the 90s arrived in South Africa with a funky, rear-mounted spare wheel and a sense of Toyota Rav’s adventure. It was the small, durable alternative to the Japanese, but where in the world was it from? Was it as good?

Well, I’m not sure because I never drove one, but it did become the first of the Kias to become that very Kia that started changing our perception of the brand at large.

“Have you seen it? Cool-looking thing isn’t it?" quirked a neighbour without any intention of buying it.

Years on then - and a change of design team by the South Koreans - what we have now is the new Kia Sportage, which is nothing short of spectacular and everything any middle class neighbour would probably buy. If he didn't, he might have gotten the Hyundai Tucson instead, which is our point exactly.

Long story short then: An evolution of quality, design and perception ultimately changed what we thought of Kia. So much so that now we rank the South Koreans – Hyundai and Kia – up there with Toyota and Honda, which just twenty years ago was inconceivable.

As such, and for reasons you best believe it, Mahindra is on the very same path.

For it starts off with the little things. With what your neighbour says. Then, your friend – then, your brother...

I am that brother this time round and when I saw mine recently, after a week in the Mahindra XUV500, I said these very words. It’s great value. It does what it needs to and to be honest, driving it kind of feels like a Land Rover Defender, which if you’re Mahindra right now, is surely everything that you want to hear.

An evolution of design and small steps towards greater quality and reliability means that Mahindra is becoming an affordable alternative to other things more expensive than it and I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t like it.

Sure, its gearbox is a little confused - it struggles to find the correct gear. Its steering wheel is unnecessarily big and it’s a tragedy that it doesn't come in 4X4.

But, as a seven seater, fully-leather and spec'd-out machine with an impressive 2.2-litre turbodiesel, there aren’t any cars that will beat it for value, especially at this price. The thing starts at R299k, which is unbelievable if, ironically, you consider the fact that you can only get an entry level Kia Rio for just R60k less.

Sure, this very XUV500 is the W10 AT, which sells for around 400K, but still – the size and feel of the thing is massive enough to justify the truthfully-minimal price tag.

As such, consider me a neighbour then and hear this: Mahindra is not there yet. But, it is well on its way and it won’t be long until you consider it like for real for real. Inevitably, this Indian offering, or a version of it to one day come, will be first and foremost in your mind if you’re a family man that needs his space.

Truthfully though, and truth be told, it wouldn’t hurt you to consider it now.