The 2018 Mahindra Scorpio S11 2WD Review. #ShotonHonor7X

For the longest time, the Mahindra badge on a vehicle has been a symbol of frugal manufacturing and swadeshi swag. The brand’s uncanny ability to read Indian conditions, get under the skin of its consumers and build products that get the job done without much fuss, has been admirable.

Back in 2002, the company hit the sweet spot with its first SUV, the Mahindra Scorpio. An aspirational home grown urban product, it was truly one-of-a-kind. As hot on the high streets as it was in the Himalayas. Fifteen years later some may call it an ageing icon, but it continues to have a cult-like following amongst Gen X users and has shown remarkable consistency in sales all through. Mighty and muscular, the vehicle’s butch untamed appearance and rugged construction clearly differentiated it from competition, and instantly connected with the individual’s pursuit for power, freedom and adventure. Nothing else really came close.

The Scorpio got its first update in 2006, which saw the introduction of the hybrid version. The next major overhaul in 2014 brought in some design changes and creature comfort, and added the automatic transmission to the portfolio.

Somewhere along the way, Mahindra acquired South Korean automobile manufacturer SsangYong Motor Company in 2011 and made its global ambitions clear. This was followed by snapping up the legendary car design firm Pininfarina in 2015. The latter considerably raised expectations on the design and engineering front, thanks to the Italian company’s storied past. Ever since, every new announcement or roll out from Mahindra has been closely scrutinised for the ‘Pininfarina effect’.

The 2018 facelift adds some cosmetic changes to the exterior, a new engine & transmission option, and some other upgrades inside. While power and torque have improved, the body shell remains the same. Much of the vehicle still looks and feels true to origin. Which may be a good thing for die hard fans, but millennials (read new SUV customers) clearly have different yardsticks than Gen X in their consumption habits. And from a seller’s market, the SUV category has now moved on to become a buyer’s market, littered with choices. So it’s a new order out there.

The 2018 Scorpio comes in 4 variants – the S3, S5, S7 and S11. The S7 has two options (with power output of 120 bhp and 140 bhp respectively) and the top of the line S11 has an optional 4WD variant as well. We drove the top end S11 2WD variant for a month, and after clocking close to 2000 kms. on the odometer we had a tsunami of thoughts racing through our minds. About how relevant the Scorpio would remain in its current format with the next generation of car buyers. After all, both the market and the consumer have moved ahead. But then you only have to look around and notice the number of new Scorpios on the road to know that loyalty is intact, and all is well.

To put things in perspective, the S11 2WD variant comes at an ex-showroom (Delhi) price of INR 14.87 lacs. The 4WD goes up to INR 16.10 lacs. Expectations obviously run high when you step into that price bracket. One may also argue that in this range there is a fair bit of choice now. Between Jeep Compass Sport, Tata Hexa, Hyundai Creta, Nissan Terrano, Renault Duster, Honda BRV, Isuzu D-Max V-Cross or even its own sibling XUV500, there would be an evenly priced variant that scores higher on parameters of design, built quality, technology, refinement and safety. And we reckon that new SUV enthusiasts who didn’t quite grow up to witness the Scorpio phenomena, may like to consider their options carefully. While the latest facelift gives the naked brute another set of new clothes, it throws new challenges at it by way of comparisons. You would have to be a die hard Scorpio fan to lap this one up without batting an eyelid. And I can assure you there are many out there.

Coming back to the design. While we would have loved to see a hint of the ‘Pininfarina effect’ in the new Scorpio, clearly the thinking at Mahindra points in another direction. Rather than burden the design team with an ageing product, they seem to be giving them space to think afresh, ground up. Which is fair. Which also brings us to the point that the Scorpio hasn’t changed much in its outward appearance. The original wasn’t the most brilliant design, but still held its own.

The 2018 version is more of the same but now comes with a new 7-slat grille that mimics the classic Jeep design. With Jeep already taking Indian roads by storm, the comparisons are obvious and could have been avoided with some original thinking. That apart, the bonnet scoop looks sleek, there are new body coloured bumpers in the front and rear, fog lamps with chrome bezel and LED ORVM indicators. The projector headlights with static bending technology and integrated LED eyebrows are on fleek. It all adds up to an imposing front end, sculpted with lean muscle.

The rear gets a redesigned tailgate with an integrated aero blade wiper, a prominent chrome applique band that runs across the centre, and new red lens LED tail lamps. The 17″ 5-spoke alloys look better than before, and the ski racks, side cladding, metal badging and roof mounted rear spoiler complete the profile.

Inspite of the subtle changes, the overall design looks a bit dated. While some may still swear by its boxy design, Indian roads are now used to more aesthetically sculpted metal. And the Scorpio has a bit of catching up to do on that front. It is neither classic nor contemporary, and to carry forward something in between is always a challenge. Road presence remains unquestionable though, and is savagely imposing.

The interiors are reasonably well appointed and lift the ordinariness without breaking new grounds. While it checks most boxes, it is not exactly crafted to precision. The dual tone dash board has silver accents above the glove box and chrome lined knobs and AC vents in the central console. The steering wheel too has a combination of textures to maintain continuity. The faux-leather upholstery is as good as an after market add-on and storage spaces have been reconfigured to provide for a smartphone slot, bigger cubby holes and a non skid flat surface on the floor console. The front seats continue to have individual arm rests without any storage underneath. The glove box is small and door slots are severely compromised on space. There are no bottle holders in the front doors and the rear armrest doesn’t get any cup holders. The cabin seems to be put together dispassionately, and the surfaces and buttons are hard plastic, devoid of any tactile feel.

Cabin space is ample and the wide rear seats and the cargo hold area is a great advantage for larger families with kids and pets. Rear legroom isn’t the greatest considering the size of the vehicle. The third row in our variant came with two side facing jump seats instead of a bench. Headroom is more than sufficient thanks to the Scorpio’s tall design, even at the extreme rear.

The cabin however has some ergonomic issues and there are a few areas that could do with some attention. The driver’s door doesn’t get a grab handle. The ignition is located far from the driver’s line of sight deep behind the steering wheel, making it difficult to access. The narrow space between the door and the seat makes it difficult to reach the seat adjustment lever. The armrest gets in your way when you fasten the seat belts. The electronic window buttons are placed too far behind on the door panel, making access difficult. Gear shifts can be uncomfortable with your elbow on the armrest, due to their awkward placement in relation to each other. Then there are notable omissions, like the dead pedal and a central locking button.

While the S11 has the most refined cabin experience amongst all variants, it does feel a bit underwhelming when compared with competition. But where it falls short in refinement, it makes up with its loaded feature list.

The climate control with front & rear vents is efficient. The infotainment system comes with a 6″ touchscreen which offers built in navigation, media connectivity through bluetooth/ USB/ AUX support, radio, phone connectivity and a rather redundant CD player in an era of streaming music. It also throws up critical vehicle information and reminds you if the tyre pressure is low or service is due. Which is nice. We would have liked to see Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration though, and that is something that should now be standard across the industry. The sound system is too high pitched and tinny for our liking, but that’s a subjective opinion and others may not have a problem.

Back to ergonomic issues. The flat, forward facing touchscreen is rather small and placed low, while the driving position is high. That makes it almost impossible to refer to navigation maps without taking your eyes off the road. It is a dangerous distraction. A bit of an upward tilt, angled towards the driver would have been more appropriate.

Other notable features include a reverse camera, cruise control, rain sensing wipers and automatic headlamps. The micro hybrid engine start/stop function adds to the efficiency, but is not the most refined unit. It shakes up violently when it wakes up.

The big change however, is in the way the 2018 Scorpio drives. The S7 and S11 variants get the XUV500’s drivetrain under the hood, which is the mHawk 4-cylinder turbo charged CRDi unit that churns out 140 PS of peak power and 320 Nm of torque. The bump in power is a welcome change, and the drive is undoubtedly the stand out feature of the vehicle. It is not just better than before, but better than many others. There is good low end power, and the 6-speed manual transmission is a smooth shifting unit that makes city driving a breeze. The self adjusting clutch requires minimal effort and complements the new gearbox commendably. Our only grouse with the gearbox is the placement of the reverse gear, which is to the left of first. Though there is an audible beep that goes out when you engage reverse and the display screen switches to the camera mode, there is still a fair chance that you would mix things up. We did on several occasions.

Overall, the Scorpio S11 scores with its new engine + gearbox combination, offering a fairly engaging drive experience. The power delivery is linear with a lot of punch and response to throttle inputs. The surge is confidence inspiring. Be it a long drive on an open stretch or traffic choked city roads, it adapts well and doesn’t disappoint. Being a large ladder-on-frame chassis, it isn’t the best handling SUV in the business, but stays relatively stable on straights even at triple digit speeds. It is only when you take it down a windy road or change lanes abruptly, that you get thrown around a bit. The ride is stiff and bouncy and though it is well behaved on smooth city roads, it doesn’t quite tackle potholes and broken roads with aplomb. There is a fair bit of noise that creeps into the cabin and vibration levels at idle don’t go unnoticed. However, it is a big improvement from its predecessor. There are a few other minor irritants like squeaking cabin sounds from the rear and wiring issues with the audio system, but nothing that cannot be sorted.

Efficiency figures were remarkably good and we managed to return an impressive 15.6 km/l during our test run. With a huge fuel tank and efficient engine, long drives into the wilderness in a Scorpio would continue to remain in vogue.

Safety features include dual airbags in the front, ABS, collapsable steering column, crash protection crumple zone and a sharper braking system that feels significantly more capable.

So how does the all-powerful new generation Scorpio score overall? Well it’s kind of a mixed bag. It does have its shortcomings, but loyal fans will continue to swear by every single detail of the Scorpio experience and hail it as the king of the Indian road. The brotherhood will thrive and memories will continue to be made in it, alongside friends & family. In short, the Scorpio still has the sting and a lot of juice in it.

For a die hard fan there may be nothing quite like it. But for those who don’t share the emotional connect it would be one of many choices. The Scorpio can be polarising in its appeal. The fact that a Creta or a Compass can instantly find a firm footing early in their life cycle, reveals a bit about the kind of choices Indian SUV buyers are making now.

Having said that, one has to give it to Mahindra for continuing to believe in the product and throwing its weight behind it. The Scorpio’s tenacity and ability to hold strong after fifteen long years is a case study in itself. It remains an iconic piece of India’s automobile history and its success is yet to be emulated. The only other vehicle that can beat the Scorpio, is the Scorpio itself. Not with a facelift, but with a reimagined version that raises the bar and builds a connect with the next generation of SUV enthusiasts. Till then, it may have to put up a tough fight to remain relevant and secure its position. We in the meanwhile, will be keen to see Mahindra’s idea of what the future of Scorpio looks like.

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