Mahindra XUV500 2.2 CRDe W4
If you're looking for a relatively large SUV on a budget then Mahindra's XUV500 is sure to catch your attention with its starting price of just R249 995 for the W4.
This 4585m-long hulk from India is only fractionally smaller than a Toyota Fortuner and can also seat seven occupants in comfort, yet it sells for the price of a lower-range Nissan Juke.
Sure, you can get a similarly sized GWM Steed for five grand less than the Mahindra, but then you're stuck with a rather lazy petrol engine - the Mahindra XUV500 gives you a 2.2-litre turbodiesel with at 103kW on tap and 330Nm from 1600 to 2800rpm.
Where's the catch, then?
Mahindra did perform some equipment culling when creating its entry-level XUV W4, but I'd hardly say the trade-off is here as the W4 still packs all the basic comfort features such as air conditioning, electric windows and mirrors and a four-speaker CD/MP3/USB/iPod audio system.
And you could hardly moan about the overall performance offered by the torquey turbodiesel engine as it provides reasonable overtaking grunt on the open road, good towing ability (750kg unbraked, 2500kg braked) and it even marches off the line with little in the way of lag - although a definite nudge of torque steer if you're flooring it.
ROUGH AROUND THE EDGES
That is just the tip of this Mahindra's 'unrefinement' iceberg. The engine is noisy and the cabin isn't very well sound-proofed, so you get the acoustic qualities of a bakkie. The steering, though light, is also devoid of any sensation and the gear-lever for the six-speed manual 'box has a long throw and slightly clunky action; yet other than that the driving experience is not too bad and the ride quality passes the comfort test by a decent margin.
What would worry me, though, is the fact that it's lacking any form of traction control. Unlike its more rugged rivals it is a unibody vehicle, though, and does have a relatively sophisticated multi-link independent rear axle, but that's still no excuse for avoiding active safety features in an SUV of this stature.
If you want some off-roading ability you'll have to stretch to the R332 995 W8 all-wheel drive model, which is in itself not a bad deal given the extra equipment you're getting.
CHEAP, BUT SPACIOUS
As far as interior quality goes, I can say that nothing fell off or rattled loose during my week with the vehicle, but the plastics do look really cheap. This could have been partially mitigated by the right colour scheme, but instead the Mahindra's dashboard is a beige and turd-brown affair and the seats are the kind of light beige that will surely get dirty within minutes of a young family coming into contact with them.
Yet that also brings us to what is arguably the Mahindra's strongest selling point - there's acres of room inside. While third row accommodation is reasonable at best, the front two rows offer loads of stretching space. You'll need to fold the third row flat if you want some boot space, however.
The Mahindra XUV500 is rough around the edges in places. It might look relatively modern, but it still feels like an old-school SUV in a number of ways.
On the flipside, it feels solid enough and you are getting a ridiculous amount of metal for your money. If its drawbacks are not a hassle to you, then you may well have found the SUV bargain you've been looking for.
Mahindra XUV500 2.2 CRDe W4
Engine: 2.2-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel
Gearbox: Six-speed manual
Power: 103kW @ 3750rpm
Torque: 330Nm @ 1600-2800rpm
Ground clearance: 200mm
Consumption (claimed): 7.1 litres per 100km
Price: R249 995
Warranty: Five-year/100 000km
Service plan: Four-year/80 000km