Mahindra Scorpio N review - big daddy or a dad joke?
The Scorpio doesn't need an introduction. It is a model that proved Mahindra could build more than farming and institutional vehicles and that a boxy SUV could look stylish and desirable even as imported cars had started making a big splash on the Indian car scene. In June this year, the model line completed two decades of existence, with the two generations of the Scorpio garnering a sale of over 800,000 units. To say that it has been a successful workhorse for Mahindra would be an understatement. But what about today? Does the world still need a relatively utilitarian, body-on-frame SUV when the more stylish and noble monocoque-bodied crossovers rule the roost? The answer depends on your use case, but as it turns out there are still plenty of takers for this old-school architecture - case in point, the ridiculously expensive and scarcely kitted Fortuner which still has Toyota laughing their way to the bank.
Update: We've added our VBOX performance test figures, as well as fuel efficiency figures, for the Mahindra Scorpio N Petrol AT at the end of the story.
So when Mahindra set out to design the third-generation Scorpio - the debate about monocoque vs ladder-frame swung in favour of the latter. Mahindra took the proven, third-generation ladder frame of the outgoing Scorpio and evolved it to accommodate the larger structure and wheelbase on the Scorpio N while being lighter. The Scorpio N, then, is designed to be the largest Scorpio yet, with a longer wheelbase similar to the Toyota Innova Crysta and wider and taller dimensions than the Fortuner.
But the flat rear end and the slab sides make it look quite MPV-ish when seen from the rear three-quarter. The front end is the prettier angle then, highlighting the imposing stance of this SUV - which I think looks best in White or Black, or the Forest Green if you are the off-roading type.
The detailing of the headlights is unmistakably Scorpio, but has a better throw and spread than before. The silhouette of the bonnet is typical Scorpio too and Mahindra says that the face is the tallest and widest in the class. While I wonder how that will affect pedestrian protection, Mahindra hints that low-set front crash members should help.
The increased dimensions of the Scorpio N mean that the cabin is a lot roomier than before. Climbing into it isn't as steep as most other body-on-frame SUVs. Mahindra's love for brown interiors continues and unlike most modern cars, the Scorpio continues to have a big stack of switches in the centre console - all of which fall easily at hand and are exactly where you expect them to be, except maybe the SOS switch which should have been roof-mounted.
It almost feels like the cabin of the XUV500 in a passing glance, but the fit and finish are far better than what we have seen from Mahindra in this space. The shut lines are consistent and the soft-touch inlay panels feel good to the touch. There are scratchy plastics on the narrow dashboard and the hard-to-reach door pockets, but nothing feels low-rent in the Scorpio. Continuing on the nitpicking, the wireless charging pad is flimsy, there is no panoramic sunroof or electronic parking brake, and wireless CarPlay - though advertised - is unavailable (it is missing to date even on the XUV700).
The 8-inch infotainment uses a similar, easy-to-use, tiled interface as the XUV700 and doesn't feel laggy. What is laggy is the reversing camera and it is bound to cause a few accidents for a lot of drivers who rely on the system. There is no 360-degree camera, but top trims get a forward-facing unit too (helpful off the road, but equally laggy).
The infotainment is mated to a 12-speaker Sony audio (carried over from the XUV700) which sounds superb and even its punchy base doesn't make the plastics rattle, which is another plus.
While the front seats are wide and accommodating, the second-row seating is pretty flat and I would have liked better contouring for long-distance comfort. The second-row seats can't be reclined or adjusted for reach either. Leg, knee room and shoulder space are quite good, but with a fixed headrest in the centre, this space is good only for two adults and a kid. The large glasshouse makes the cabin feel roomier still and the tall seating ensures a good view out of the windows.
The second row also gets two AC vents and one USB C port, but the cabin could have done with more charging ports and AC vents too. The cooling in the third row is inadequate and the space is only good enough for kids and the new bench-type seating isn't as comfortable as the Kia Carens or the XUV700.
The Scorpio comes with an underbody mounted space saver spare wheel, though only one size smaller at 245/65-R17. But the boot is a space saver too with negligible space with all three rows up and a scanty 786l with the second and third-row folded. The folding mechanism is also pretty noisy when driving over bumps, squeaking and screeching through it all.
Driving dynamics, powertrains and performance
The driving visibility is superb on the Scorpio. The exceptionally tall seating provides a commanding view of the road, while the A-pillar, despite the presence of a tweeter and a grab-handle on it, doesn't hamper the cornering visibility. The wing mirrors are quite large but don't emit a lot of wind noise. Cabin noise insulation is surprisingly good and the new refined engine options contribute further to the relatively quiet cabin experience.
Like the two Mahindra blockbusters from the last two seasons - the Thar and the XUV700 - the Scorpio uses the new line of mHawk diesel and mStallion petrol engines. Both can be had in all combinations you can think of - manual/auto/4x2/4x4.
The petrol auto too is an absolute delight to drive because of the slick automatic transmission but with single-digit fuel economy figures, it may not appeal to everyone. It has more eager responses than the diesel, and the on-tap 200PS output gives it excellent tractability for city and highway use and its outright acceleration is quite impressive too.
But the diesel automatic is my choice for the Scorpio, as it was with XUV700 too. It is punchy, has a superb mid-range and feels more practical than the petrol with better fuel economy and load-bearing capacity.
Both the automatics work exceptionally well for the city as well as highway use and have predictable engine braking too. But paddle shifters are sorely missed for times when you want to take manual control of the gearbox (there is a manual mode on the gear selector).
"Does it feel like a boat?" Was a common question we received when driving the new Scorpio. The short answer is 'no'. Like the XUV700, the Scorpio uses the Frequency Dependent Damping (FDD/FSD), which I think is one of the best configurations for the Indian road conditions. The rear suspension uses a multi-link setup including a Watt's Link (previously seen on the Ford Endeavour), which further cements the suspension choice.
The result is that the Scorpio has a well-cushioned ride over most road surfaces you will encounter in India. Depending on the variant you choose, the Scorpio N rides on 18 or 17-inch wheels and the ride is quite comfortable even on the larger option. But with only two people in the cabin, the rear tends to jitter and bounce quite a bit.
On the other hand, it has taut handling dynamics that were unheard of on a Scorpios that preceded this model. The body movement is well-controlled despite the ridiculously tall stance of the Scorpio and you will love its agility around bends - from the perspective of a body-on-frame SUV.
It also has a conveniently light steering setup which is a boon on a car this large. But I would have liked it to weigh up more at highway speeds. We also noticed a chatter/nibble at the steering while driving on concrete surfaces.
I'm pretty impressed with the braking too. Nosedive is well controlled even under hard braking and mid-turn braking doesn't upset the car much, despite its heft. The high-speed stability is quite impressive too, with no wallowing to complain about.
The top-end models will get you six airbags, all-four disc brakes, ESC and multi-mode traction control. The off-roading kit includes 4 high and 4 low options and off-road enthusiasts or institutional buyers will be able to specify these even in the Z4 variant. The higher trims use a more advanced 4x4 system which also adds four terrain modes that will not only alter the traction control and other electronics but the behaviour of the 4x4 system as well. To that effect, it has a lockable differential too. Do watch our video review to see the Scorpio in action through the wilderness. Astonishingly, all the off-roading you will see is on the stock MRF Wanderers all-terrain tyres! It is quite a promising package then - on and off the road as well.
If you road trip often and off-roading is something you will do once in a while, I suggest choosing the Scorpio N over the hardcore Thar. It will offer more comfort and features and is a better fit as an everyday car. At its introductory price, the Scorpio is almost Rs 15 lakh cheaper than the Fortuner (ex-showroom), which makes it a value-for-money alternative to the mighty, reliable and arguably better-built Toyota. The bigger question is, would you choose the new Scorpio over the XUV700? If you need something stylish, sophisticated and easy to drive, it is the XUV700. But if the robustness of a body-on-frame SUV is what you want from your daily driver, the Scorpio is the easy pick.
In a nutshell, then, it offers more value than the Fortuner, is a big leap forward for a Scorpio and despite sticking to an old-school structure, it feels agile and easy to drive as a modern-day SUV should.
Mahindra Scorpio N Petrol AT: Performance (tested)
0-100kmph - 9.9s
30-50kmph - 2.0s
50-70kmph - 2.2s
60-80kmph - 2.5s
100-0kmph - 42.7m/3.1s
Mahindra Scorpio N Petrol AT: Fuel efficiency (tested)
Photography: Anis Shaikh
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