Does this look like a cheetah to you?

Mahindra has taken a big step up from its tough-as-nails utility bakkies and 4x4 wagons with what it has termed its first "global SUV contender", the XUV500 (pronounced XUV five-double-oh) - which made its SA debut on Friday, only 24 hours after it was shown to the world media for the first time in Pune, India.

The seven-seater XUV500 and the recently-launched Genio one-ton bakkie range will be the main attractions on the Mahindra stand at the Johannesburg International Motor Show from October 6-16.

Mahindra styling mavens have likened the five-double-oh to an African cheetah, its body styling line "inspired by a pouncing cheetah" with a "cheetah-inspired jaw-like grille" and vertical "paw-styled door handles", as well as the "pysics-defying agility of a cheetah".

Makes us at IOL want to say, "Meeow!"

The XUV500 will be available in two and four-wheel drive format, each with a transversely-mounted, four-cylinder, 2.2-litre turbodiesel for which Mahindra quotes 103kW at 3750rpm and 330Nm from 1600-2800rpm.

Transmission is a six-speed manual, with a low-range transfer box for the all-wheel drive version. The all-wheel drive system on the W8 4x4 model has an interactive torque management system that switches seamlessly from two to four-wheel drive.

The XUV500 is built on a unique platform independent suspension all round to limit body roll and power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering. It has disc brakes front and rear with ABS, electronic brake distribution and emergency brake assist, and runs on 17" rims (steel on the entry-level W6 model, alloy on the upmarket W8) shod with 235/65 radials.

Driver aids include automatic hill descent and hill hold, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, light-sensing headlamps and rain-sensing windscreen wipers. Electronic stability control is standard, as are swivelling, projector-type xenon headlights, tyre pressure monitors and front foglights.

W8 models have two-tone leather upholstery, while the W6 model has hard-wearing cloth trim; both trim levels include dual-zone auto aircon, power windows and remote central locking.

The sound system is based around a six-speaker FM radio/CD player, with satellite controls on the steering wheels and voice-command capability. W8 models also have a CD shuttle, controlled from a centrally-mounted 150mm touch screen with a navigation system as well as MP3, USB, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity.

The coolbox in the centre console is cooled by the aircon system and the glove compartment, says Mahindra, is big enough for a laptop.

PRICES

W6 4x2 - R239 900

W8 4x2 - R269 900

W8 4x4 - R294 900

These include a three-year or 100 000km warranty, a three-year or 60 000km service plan and roadside assistance for the first year.