Competence and confidence

My first introduction to Mahindra was through their commercial offering the S10+ Dual Cab 4×4. I’ll admit it left me pretty darn impressed. It was uncomplicated, perfectly suited to its intended purpose, and no doubt provided bewildered competitors with a pricing comparison headache. So, I was intrigued with their latest offering to the Australian market—an all-new family orientated SUV with genuine 4×4 capability. I wondered if Mahindra would again leave other brands feeling a little exposed when it came to features, capability and outright value for money.

The Mahindra name might seem relatively new to us, especially compared to the tenure of other brands here in Australia. They’ve been quiet achievers, establishing their position with no less than 49 outlets across six states, and successfully playing in the commercial arena with their solid utilities building a very loyal and happy fan base. I should know, as the brother-in-law purchased an S6 and he’s worked it hard over the past few years on a large cattle stud with mud, dirt and dust as its daily routine.

Not to mention using it to haul heavy loads through creek crossings, and provide a rear tray that is the perfect height for 800kg Poll Hereford bulls to use as a back scratcher. Is it any good? I assume so, as he has fewer visits to Perth for vehicle repairs. With no need for expensive badge bragging rights, he also appreciated the lower pricing that allowed him to spend his savings on farm equipment and fencing.

Buying from a well-established company seems a logical option when considering product quality. So, a little back story for those who might not realise how long Mahindra has been around and just how large they are.

Founded in 1945, it’s one of the world’s largest multinational companies, with 260,000 employees working across information technology, financial services, renewable energy, agriculture, logistics, hospitality, and real estate.

They are the world’s largest tractor company by volume, a manufacturer of large farm equipment, and have a range of utility vehicles.

In 2015, they acquired one of the world’s most highly respected automotive design houses, Pininfarina. Which is famous for designing the seductive forms of Ferrari and Maserati, and also supporting body work design for other prominent brands. Much of the Battista Pininfarina’s design language is seen in modern vehicles today.

Moving from design to full vehicle production was the founder’s lifelong dream, and the Mahindra Group has transformed that dream into reality. Named after the founder, the Battista Pininfarina EV GT hyper-car is pure automotive jewelry that generates performance figures which threaten to distort reality. Check it out here.

With so much experience and intellectual property at their disposal, Mahindra is poised to challenge our perceptions for how we should drive in the future. Allow me to introduce the Mahindra Scorpio Z8L.

From the moment you check out the external contours, accept the key fob, open the driver’s door and slide into the front seat to admire the internal aesthetics, everything suggests this is worthy of closer inspection. With all new company branding, the smart looking modern bold large twin peaks of the chrome M seems the perfect highlight on the stylish front-end design of this all-new SUV.

The fetching Deep Forest green metallic finish perfectly complements the rich coffee and black leatherette interior. Alternatively, you might prefer Dazzling Silver, Napoli Black, Everest White; or for something a little racier, why not grab the go-fast assurance of Red Rage? All colours are available at a no cost option, well done Mahindra!

The front end has a strong robust appeal. The bold grille combines horizontal blades and vertical chrome bars neatly framed between the double barrel LED projector headlamps which taper back into the front guards to accentuate the Scorpio’s width rather than height. At just over 4.6m long, 1.9m wide and 185cm tall, it’s by no means petite—but it doesn’t feel unnecessarily up-sized.

Smart looking DRLS encompassing fog lights sit in recessed cavities that have discreet air vents opening into the wheel arches, just below the center line on either side of the broad and shallow honeycomb air intake, complemented by a thick decorative cross bar and silver stone guard lower fascia. The Z8 and L both get silver roof rails, with practical black body moldings around the lower body panels and over the wheel arches to protect paint from wayward stones, whilst the lower door panels and rear valance also receive silver highlights to complete the package.

From either a rear or front three-quarter profile, the Scorpio is nicely proportioned. Nothing looks ungainly or out of place, the subtle body contour lines create an understated elegance. It’s a good-looking design, and I suspect there are Pininfarina influences throughout which have helped achieve a graceful less is more appeal. 

A nice styling touch is how the window ledge chrome edging follows around the rear most side window to finish with a barb as if mimicking the tail of a scorpion.

Naturally, any good outfit deserves matching shoes, and the 18-inch diamond cut alloy rims work perfectly. Mind you, the standard 255/60 road rubber would be better replaced with a more appropriate AT style tyre to take advantage of this SU’s potential and 4XPLOR intelligent 4×4 system with selectable terrain modes.

Our test vehicle was the Z8L, priced at $45,990.

The key differences over the standard Z8 which comes in slightly less at $41,990, is a 6-way power adjustable driver’s seat, wireless charging, and the Sony 3D 12 speaker audio system with a larger 7-inch TFT as opposed to the 4.2 inch on the Z8. Plus, there’s a front parking sensor, and a forward-facing camera that can take photos.

But don’t be fooled, because both versions of the Scorpio are well laden with goodies.

The two-tone interior looks good, and gives it a classy look and feel. For the most part, human contact points are softly covered whilst other surfaces and door inserts are the same coffee coloring but plastic. That’s not a bad thing when it comes to wear and tear or wipe-over cleaning.

For the driver, there are two large crisp analogue gauges for speedo and tacho and a 7inch TFT screen in the center which provides an array of vehicle information and settings, with audio, phone, and cruise control settings on the steering wheel.

Making up the center stack is an 8-inch colour infotainment touch screen, with several Mahindra standard apps. There’s cable Android auto, no Apple car play yet, that will be an update through the dealer later this year. Blue tooth streaming and navigation is via your phone. 

The Sony audio is OK and does a respectable job of Spotify. You can select AM or FM, but there is no DAB support. I do like the fact there are rotary dials for volume, mute and tuning, with a row of shortcut buttons for phone, audio, home menu, settings, and favourites so you can get to what you want quickly and not search through menus, making life very easy in busy traffic. Topping up your phone or devices is courtesy of the wireless charging pad up front with USB outlets for front and second row passengers.

You get dual zone climate control, a cooled glovebox for drinks, rear vents, and fan speed control for second row, but third row occupants will need to lean forward for cool air, or you can open the sunroof for a flow through breeze. There are super practical large chunky buttons for auto stop/start cancellation, front camera, stability control and hill descent control. And a real hand brake, be still my beating heart!

Oddly, there’s only one coffee cup holder up front, and the second row gets nothing, although there is room for bottles in the doors. I’m sure the production line workers laugh every time they think about a new owner opening the center console for the first time. Doh! It’s barely deep enough for a packet of wet wipes! Obviously, a little more design consideration needs to go into the ducting for the rear vents.

The gear shift lever is standard fare for the auto’s operation with sequential manual shift when tackling more challenging off-road work or needing to set engine braking on steep descents. You also have a rotary dial to select terrain mode settings to leverage Mahindra’s intelligent 4×4 system and optimise the vehicle for road, snow, mud and ruts or sand. For additional help, you’ve got a mechanically activated locking rear differential, aided by traction control. Selecting 2WD, 4WD high range or 4WD low range is as simple as pressing a button.

Seating is a mixed bag in terms of comfort and functionality. First, the front pews are comfortable and supportive, allowing easy ingress and egress. There’s just enough bolstering to keep you snug over bumps and dips in all but the roughest off-road driving challenges. 

The driver’s seat has ample adjustment to accommodate both tall and shorter drivers with good height adjustment making forward visibility for peripheral clearance much easier on tighter tracks. However, the steering wheel lacks reach adjustment, offering tilt-only movement.

Our second row was a dual captain’s chair arrangement, which I prefer to the stereotypical bench seat. But that’s because I rarely need to have three across the back seat and prefer the extra room and comfort for longer trips, which won’t suit everyone. I believe Mahindra is looking to address the options available. But both chairs have ISO fixed points and upper tethers. With an almost stadium staggered-height arrangement, rear passengers will enjoy the entertainment on offer through the large side glass as the outside world zooms by.

Third row is a limited option as there’s no slide function on the second row to equalize leg room front to back. The curtain airbags don’t extend all the way to the end of the third row plus, when they’re in place, you’ll be struggling to carry anything bigger than a small backpack behind them.

You can fold the back rest down to increase storage or tumble them forward to sit flush behind the second row. If you’re looking for more room, the third row needs to be physically removed as there is no fold into the floor option. But that’s not a deal breaker—four easy to access bolts, and it’s gone.

Whilst we’re talking about seating functionality, only one chair flips forward in the second row and you need to remember to push the head rests to their minimum height, otherwise they’ll catch on the back of the front seat. The second seat only folds, making an odd L-shaped arrangement. In summary—a mix of good and bad and not quite right.

On the black top is where the Z8 displays its best, with Mahindra’s latest generation body-on-frame structure. Both ride comfort and handling are very good. It’s not the world’s best handling dynamics, but as a family SUV, it delivers a very respectable level of control and stability, letting you relax behind the wheel to enjoy cruising long distances or travelling winding country roads.  

I appreciated the Scorpio’s ability to deal with undulations at speed and remain composed thanks to Frequency Dependent Damping (FDD) technology, which provides an assuring level of confidence for on-road handling. Running a double wishbone front end and Watt’s link on the back, the Z8 is compliant and stable through bends. While there is progressive and predictable body roll through the corners, it doesn’t lean over, or get squirrelly unless you’re being silly.

And this is a direct result of the R&D that Mahindra has put into the Scorpio to set the vehicle up properly for our Australian roads and to meet the high expectations we have about how a vehicle should ride and handle for long distance touring.

Mahindra conducted extensive testing over 120,000 kilometers to gather intel for the design teams about the Scorpio’s resilience under tough Australian conditions. They recorded data across a range of crucial parameters, including driveline performance, off-road capabilities, technology reliability, ride and handling, interior noise, vibration and harshness, whilst monitoring materials for durability and appearance.

The vehicles were subject to driving conditions beyond those most owners would feel comfortable putting their own vehicles. Drivelines and cooling systems were pushed to deal with towing in 45+-degree heat conditions over consecutive 17–18-hour days. They even pushed one vehicle through a 10,000-kilometer non-stop test on dusty, dirt roads to ensure suitability for a long-distance trip through Australia’s outback.

Under the hood is Mahindra’s newer version of the mHawk 2.2L direct injection turbo diesel. An all-alloy setup running higher injection pressures and revised turbo for a better response. With a modest 400Nm and 129kW on tap, it’s off the pace compared to the class benchmark figures of 150kW and 500Nm of torque.

The Scorpio might not be a threat to more powerful competitors in sheer straight-line acceleration, but it holds its own in traffic and never feels lethargic in daily driving duties. Mid-range power delivery is firm not fierce and will move the Scorpio’s 2,100kg kerb weight without complaint.

Which brings us to the paper figures for towing capacity. Listed as having a braked tow limit of 2,500kg, it sits well within this class of vehicle. I’m assuming the tow ball weight can handle approx. 10% of the van in tow at 250kg, as I didn’t have confirmation available at the time of writing. With a payload of only 510kg that effectively leaves you with a mere 260kgs for passengers and any additional luggage or gear you might like to take.

Whilst we’re on the subject of hauling a load, it’s worth noting the fuel tank capacity of the Scorpio is a tidy 57L. With an indicated drinking habit of 7.2L/100km, that’s close to an 800 km range. But with a combination of suburbia, highway, secondary country and off-road driving, I was closer to 10L/100 so keep that in mind if you intend to hook up a big camper trailer for the family vacation.

Around town, the six speed auto works well and will put the Scorpio’s available torque and power to good use. It’s smooth and barely noticeable, happily performing without fuss or disruption to cabin serenity. Reliability and durability should be assured, given the number of other prominent manufacturers using the Asian brand auto in their own vehicles. 

Steering is courtesy of a Dual Pinion Electric Power Steering system. The DPEPS allows for the primary pinion to be optimized for vehicle dynamics and performance, while the secondary pinion is optimized for the required level of driver assistance. From a driving perspective, it feels light and responsive, making U-turn and car park ventures much easier. For an SUV, the on-road feel is direct and allows you to place and keep the Scorpio on track with ease, handy as there is no form of lane keeping assistance.

Venturing off-road wasn’t a problem, but I was mindful of two important factors, one this wasn’t a Mahindra media vehicle, but kindly provided by Shirwin Govender and the team from Magic Mahindra in Burswood. And secondly, it was fitted with standard road tyres, which turned to slicks at the first sight of sticky mud.

Selecting 4WD high range requires a simple button push and can be done on the move, up to 80kph. Through winding gravel tracks, the Scorpio felt as though it was on rails. Vehicle placement and control were effortless, thanks to the light steering and good high seating position. What really impressed me at moderate speed was how well the suspension absorbed and disposed of bumps and dips, with soft supple movement, keeping the cabin well cushioned from abrupt thuds and bangs.

Moving over slightly rockier terrain, the traction control system made itself evident on some of the slippery ball bearing gravel sections. Not as polished in its operation or as prompt to react to wheel spin as some others, it none the less sorted itself out with smooth consistent throttle application to redirect torque where needed, allowing the Scorpio to keep pushing forward. Despite modest ground clearance of 227mm, and approach, breakover and departure of 27, 23 and 21 respectively, the Scorpio could tackle most obstacles with careful wheel placement and picking the best path around larger obstructions.

Wheel articulation isn’t stellar as the Scorpio lifts a wheel rather easily on larger moguls. But with gentle throttle, the rear diff lock bites, accompanied by a thud from the rear indicating its intervention, and forward momentum is regained. To be honest, the Scorpio was very capable when driving to the conditions and allowing the vehicle time to adjust and execute the task rather than trying to rush through. Allow the vehicle to do its job and it will; surprisingly well.

Coming across a few inclines that had been chewed up in the wet, I knew I didn’t have the clearance or rubber to stay in the ruts. With only one way home, we had to straddle the deep grooves. Which wouldn’t normally be much of a challenge, only the center was covered in a thin dry crust which gave way to a slick coating of clay offering all the traction of a dog on lino! And remember, I had road tyres. The challenge was set with both the passenger’s front and rear tyres having zero traction. The only way forward required the Scorpio to redirect all the driving force to both right wheels only. Kind of like sitting on one of those slope roller test rigs.

Starting off, there was a hopeful confidence as it began the climb – until I realized both rear wheels were still pushing off from terra firma. As the passenger’s rear tyre stepped into the mud, we stopped. With a quick reset to the drive program Mud & Ruts, I slowly added engine torque to the mix. After an initial wheel slip and a slight sideways movement, there was that reassuring thud from the back as the mechanical locker took up the challenge whilst the front traction control worked feverishly to keep the power directed to the wheel with purchase. Remembering that slow and steady wins the race, and not wishing to overcome the available grip with too much throttle, the Scorpio growled and snorted its way slowly to the top, where we were rewarded with dry flat ground to continue our journey.

There were a few other sections of mud, but on flat ground, the Scorpio acquitted itself admirably despite the tyres having as much purchase as patented leather. After driving through slush, you appreciate the self-cleaning ability and performance of disc brakes all around for the long drive home. It was also comforting to know there was a full sized spare onboard rather than a jar of goop!

Note that this version of the Scorpio doesn’t yet have an ANCAP rating, and do not be confused with its current 5-star rating in the Global New Car Assessment programs (GNCAP). The two are different in their criteria.

To gain an ANCAP 5-star rating, the Scorpio would need driver assist systems such as autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and adaptive radar cruise control. And the current curtain air bags don’t cover the full extent of third row passengers. With such a strong start out of the gate, it’s disappointing. The Scorpio snuck in just under the 1st of March cutoff date for all new models entering Australia, but Mahindra has indicated increased functionality will be available on the next model update.

The Scorpio is the first model for Mahindra in Australia to introduce a factory backed 7 year / 150,000 km warranty for private buyers.

The Mahindra Scorpio is a well-priced vehicle, which offers great value for money in a comfortable, good-looking form factor. While there is room for improvement, especially in driver assist safety, the Scorpio offers considerable bang for your buck. It’s more than worth considering if you’re after a vehicle in this class and care more for features and functionality than badging.

Add some decent All Terrain tyres, take the time to tackle off-road obstacles with careful placement and sensible driving and you’ll be able to travel far more difficult terrain than a simple gravel track and follow those with much more ambitious off-road machines.

Model as tested: Scorpio Z8L

  • Price: $45,990
  • Engine: 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel
  • Output: 129kW/400Nm
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic
  • Fuel: 7.2L/100km
  • Warranty: 7 year / 150,000 km
Drive Editor - Ray Cully
Drive Editor – Ray Cully

About our Motoring Editor: Ray has been passionate about all things automotive since he first started collecting Matchbox and Hot Wheels models when he was five. Since leaving his executive role at General Motors (GM), he’s been sharing his driving experiences with Australian audiences for nearly 20 years, commencing his automotive journalist career with a popular WA-based magazine and was writing his own column in The West Australian for 8 years.

Ray’s strong love of automotive engineering and clever design has seen his articles and photography featured in prominent national magazines in Australia and the UK. He loves sharing his passion with other drivers, including via a long running stint as Senior Instructor for Land Rover Experience, providing training and education for new vehicle owners.

Recently Ray has been presenting on TV shows including Ready for Adventure and the very popular Caravan and Camping WA, to showcase some of the great products, vehicles and companies that make getting out and exploring Western Australia that much more enjoyable.