Words: Fritz Moschitz
Photos: Fritz Moschitz and Mahindra
Mahindra have been upping their game in the Australian market of late. The release of two new SUVs in 2023 is evidence of that. One of them is the Scorpio N, and while first impressions of this large SUV are good, some time with the vehicle reveals there’s room for improvement.
The ”large SUV” tag for the Scorpio N is a bit of a misnomer, as the Mahindra is shorter than some of its rivals in this space that includes the Isuzu MU-X, Toyota Fortuner and LandCruiser Prado, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, Ford Everest, Ssangyong Rexton, LDV D90 and GWM Tank 300. Even with around 30cm less length, the Scorpio N manages to fit three rows of seats in, which is impressive, but as you can imagine, some compromises come with that.
Having recently tested the XUV700, Mahindra’s other new offering in 2023, I thought I’d find a lot of the same stuff in the Scorpio N. I was wrong. The two are very different vehicles. Where the XUV700 is of monocoque construction, petrol-engined, seats seven and has a decent swag of safety tech, the Scorpio N is body-on-frame, diesel-engined and seats six, but is lacking some key safety features. Another difference is that the Scorpio N is a more serious proposition for off-roading than the XUV700.
The cheapest new offering in its class (like the XUV700 is), the Scorpio N starts at $41,990, which is $10,000 or more below that of some rivals. But in the same way that squeezing three rows into a two-row SUV comes with compromises, there are some compromises with that bargain pricing, too.
Four, Six and Six
The second-generation Scorpio N released here shares some key components with the Pik Up ute that’s been Mahindra’s longest-running model in Australia.
The ‘mHawk’ 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel from the Pik Up is carried over to the Scorpio N, but tuned to deliver 129kW at 3500rpm and 400Nm at 1750-2750rpm. That maximum torque is down on most segment rivals; even the aging Pajero Sport can muster 430Nm, while the Everest offers 500Nm. Both those rivals are more expensive, though – significantly more, in the case of the Everest.
The engine is matched to a six-speed automatic and Mahindra’s own ‘4XPLOR’ part-time-four-wheel drive system. A two-speed transfer case – 2H, 4L and 4H – and auto locking rear diff are standard, as are four selectable terrain modes – Normal, Snow, Mud/Ruts and Sand.
Kerb weight is 2100kg for the higher spec Z8L grade I tested, but the base Z8 is only 15kg lighter. Other measures include 4662mm x 1917mm x 1857mm (LxWxH), a 2750mm wheelbase, 2610kg GVM, 5155kg GCM and 2500kg braked towing capacity.
For off-roading, the approach/departure/breakover angles are 27.2/21.3/23.5 degrees, with 227mm ground clearance and 500mm wading depth. A note on the ground clearance is that the position of the AdBlue tank for the diesel makes it susceptible to damage and fuel tank protection is minimal, so those who plan to drive the Scorpio N hard in the rough stuff should invest in some underbody protection.
With engine stop-start fuel saving, the listed economy from this package is 7.2lt/100km (combined cycle), but I’d suggest real world usage is higher - into the 8.0 bracket - with regular low-speed off-road work making it higher again.
Inside, there’s seating for six, which is an anomaly for a three-row SUV. Normally, the second row would be a three-person bench, but the Scorpio N has two captain’s chairs in this space. The positive with this arrangement is that the seats are comfortable (as good as what’s up front), with the space in-between allowing access to the third row without having to tilt/tumble the seat. The negative is that it limits capacity to six persons. The third row is a two-person bench and the packaging means these seats are best suited to children, especially on longer drives.
The six-seat set-up has its critics, but I really enjoyed the 2-2-2 arrangement. It looks great and I love that you can get your friends in and out with ease, thanks to that middle walkway. Entry and exit is easy - a pleasure, really – and those seats (except the third row) are comfortable, spacious and a pleasure to sit in.
With all three rows occupied, boot space is minimal, to the point that Mahindra don’t even provide a figure. Two or three shopping bags or your cricket gear bag and a couple of backpacks will max out the space. The third row can be folded two ways – fold the upright flat against the squab, or tilt both to lie upright against the rear of the second row. Do this and space improves to a claimed 765 litres, which I’d venture is loaded to the roof. A 460-litre figure I saw on an Indian test seems more realistic.
The tailgate is side-hinged – an oddity these days – and the cargo space is odd, too. As mentioned, you can fold the third-row two ways, but in the second row, only the passenger-side seat can be tumbled forward. The base on the second-row driver’s-side is fixed, leaving you with a weird, multi-level storage space that’ll make packing some items a challenge.
Looking over the Scorpio N for the first time, I was impressed by its appearance. The first-generation didn’t look too bad, but a series of facelifts didn’t do the vehicle any favours. Thankfully, Mahindra have got the design bang on for the second-generation, combining modern styling touches with the appearance of go-anywhere capability. The latter comes courtesy of lower body and wheelarch cladding, proper sidesteps and a front skid plate.
The boxy, rugged look is clearly trying to make you feel confident about taking this thing out into the wild. Given there’s all that bona fide 4x4 gear under the skin, the Scorpio N certainly isn’t a vehicle for those who do not plan to take full advantage of its capabilities.
Viewed in profile, there’s a Land Rover Discovery-style kick-up in the roofline, but it’s almost imperceptible. What you can’t miss is the chrome window trim that wraps around the lower edge and terminates in a barb like a scorpion’s tale – a clever touch for the ‘ScorpioN’. Selective use of chrome and satin finishes like this provides a more premium look than you’d expect out of a Mahindra. Nothing that screams luxury, mind you - more of a ‘work hard, play hard’ vibe.
Open the doors and there’s definitely a luxury look. The two-tone coffee and black upholstery is a welcome change from the endless swathes of grey or black in most modern SUVs and gives the appearance of something from Europe, not India. The actual seat trim is artificial leather and extends to the dash, centre console and doorcards, too. Satin metal finishes add to the premium look, as does selective use of chrome on things like the air vent bezels, door handles and centre console accents.
The negatives with the interior space is the actual space – storage options are minimal. The centre console bin is too shallow and the handbrake lever takes up a ridiculous amount of room, forcing the gear lever, drive mode selector and one cupholder to run single file alongside. That’s the only cupholder in the entire vehicle, although there are pockets in the front and rear doors to take drink bottles. A narrow storage tray sits below the infotainment screen, but at least the glovebox is of decent size and has an outlet for the climate control system to keep items in there cool.
That infotainment screen is of 8.3-inch size and easy to both see and operate. For the driver, there’s a 7-inch colour TFT screen nestled between analogue speedo and tacho gauges. That’s only on the Z8L grade, though. The Z8 gets a 4.2-inch mono screen. As a sidenote, analogue gauges are going the way of vent windows and column-shift transmissions, so it’s nice to see them being retained by Mahindra.
Other features that the Z8L offers over the Z8 include a six-way power adjustable driver’s seat, forward-facing camera and front parking sensors, a wireless phone charging pad (in the aforementioned dash tray) and a Sony 12-speaker sound system.
Interior and convenience spec common to both grades includes keyless entry, push-button starting, power windows, a sunroof, two USB ports in the first row, a USB-C port in the second row, 12V socket in the rear, dual zone climate control, power mirrors, auto headlights (all lighting up front is LED, with combination LED and halogen at the rear), auto wipers, rear-view camera and rear parking sensors.
There’s no digital radio or built-in satnav on either grade, but there is wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, so you can run navigation from your smartphone, as well as Spotify, messaging, etc.
At present, the Scorpio N comes in a choice of five colours – Red Rage, Napoli Black, Deep Forest, Dazzling Silver and Everest White (wonder how Ford feel about that last one!). It’s worth noting none of these carry a price premium – Mahindra are alone in this, but I wish more carmakers followed their lead.
Get In and Go
In the driver’s seat of the Scorpio N, the steering wheel controls are what you’d expect, offering media and cruise control adjustments. There’s only tilt adjustability of the steering column, so you’ll need to work the seat to find the ideal reach. The elevated position gives a very good line of sight ahead – what you want from a larger 4x4. Thick A-pillars do not impede vision as much as you’d think and the side- and rear-view mirrors are excellent.
Having driven the Mahindra XUV700 with its phenomenal infotainment system, I was left underwhelmed by the Scorpio N’s infotainment. It’s modern and easy to use, but seemed to only come with the bare minimum and below what you’d expect from a new vehicle in 2023. The unit in my vehicle was glitchy, too. At times when reversing, the camera would not fill the screen - only occupying a quarter for some unknown reason. Turning the vehicle off and on did fix it, though.
Additionally, various warning lights popped up - and didn’t go away - during my time with the Scorpio N. That’s something you don’t want to see on any car, let alone a brand new one, so I’m hoping both issues were limited to my test vehicle.
The engine stop-start can catch out the unwary, too. Deactivate this switchable system when the engine is off, if you’re stopped at the lights for example, and the vehicle won’t start up again when you press the accelerator – you have to hit the start button again.
On the road, the 2.2 turbo-diesel feels a little anaemic, with a 0-100km/h time of more than 12 seconds and 80-120km/h time that’s almost as long, making highway overtakes a challenge. Those used to larger-engined or petrol SUVs will find the responsiveness slow, but not enough to complain about, in my view.
Engine noise is apparent in the cabin, but that’s par for the course with a diesel and I actually like it - a loud engine gives me tingles. There’s something about a rough and tough diesel engine that can make you feel like you’re driving a man’s car that should be in the outback – even if you’re not! There’s also a vibration when accelerating, but like the noise, I was comfortable with it. What I wasn’t comfortable with was a whistle at speed, no doubt caused by ineffective sealing somewhere around one of the doors or perhaps from the sunroof.
In terms of ride, the Scorpio N’s body-on-frame construction and suspension set-up plays a big part in its surefootedness, both on road and off. The double wishbone front and Watts link rear was tuned for Australian conditions and works well, even if the combination isn’t as sophisticated as that offered by some of Mahindra’s rivals. Wheels (18-inch with a full-size spare) and deep, 60-profile tyres contribute, too, especially on the road.
While I only did mild off-road work in my time with the Scorpio N, I never felt the capability was lacking. Play with 4L, 4H and the terrain modes and I’m sure you will find a combination that’ll get you into – and out of – most situations off the beaten track. Swap out the standard rubber I had for proper mud terrain tyres and that capability will increase.
Steering in both situations was good, aside from a numb spot either side of dead centre. Traction was also good and braking solid, with strong, immediate response to the pedal and no fade.
The Elephant in the Room
If you’ve read other reviews of the Scorpio N or done your own research, you’ll know it lacks some fundamental active safety tech, resulting in a zero-star rating by ANCAP. Yes, this SUV has been given a 5-star Global NCAP rating, but that testing criteria isn’t the same as ANCAP’s.
The main reason for the local zero-star rating is the lack of autonomous emergency braking (AEB). There’s no forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, driver attention monitor, lane keep assist or lane departure warning, either.
Here’s where it gets complicated. ANCAP have no say on whether a new car can be sold here or not, despite many people thinking otherwise. The Scorpio N met ADR requirements when it was introduced. Since then – in March, 2023 - AEB did become mandatory for new passenger vehicles sold in Australia, but as the Scorpio N had already been introduced, it didn’t need to meet the new requirement. Mahindra say that AEB will likely be added with a mid-life update, but that’s probably 18 months away, at least.
While it lacks active safety tech, I must stress that the Scorpio N is safe. ABS, EBD and ESC are all standard, along with Hill Hold and Hill Descent Control, tyre pressure monitoring and front/side/curtain airbags, although the latter don’t extend all the way into the third row. There are also ISOFIX anchors in the second-row seats.
Obviously, the lack of active safety tech will be a dealbreaker for some, especially families, but I’d expect there are just as many who are comfortable with what the Scorpio N has – and their own driving ability. They’ll welcome a vehicle that doesn’t force tech on them that they neither need, nor want to pay for.
My first impression of the Scorpio N was that it’s a modern, stylish SUV. After spending some time with it, that impression mostly remains, with good looks, reliable performance and a very positive driving experience overall. The veneer wears through in some areas, though. Those glitches with the camera and warning lights, minor build quality issues and the lack of space is something you only uncover on a longer test.
Aside from improving those areas, I’d also like to see heated/cooled front seats added to the spec list. They probably won’t come, but a three-person bench for the second-row will, likely added with AEB and some other goodies as part of an upgrade.
When it was launched back in April, 2023, the Scorpio N’s drive-away pricing offer - $41,990 for the Z8 and $44,990 for the Z8L - was said to only be guaranteed until the end of June. As I write this review in late December, 2023, it’s still valid for the Z8, with the Z8L only rising $1,000 to $45,990 drive away. For budget-minded buyers, that’s a good thing. Even better is a 7-year/150,000km warranty, 7 years' roadside assist and 3 years' free scheduled servicing. That last feature is a major bonus.
Like the XUV700, the Scorpio N is the most affordable vehicle in its segment and that terrific pricepoint will be what seals the deal for many. Yes, there are issues with the tech and the lack of active safety equipment is a concern, but I expect a decent segment of the market will be prepared to live with those compromises.
In the current financial environment, would battling Aussies rather spend an extra $10,000, $15,000 or more than they need to on a new SUV or have that money to put toward their mortgage? I’m sure they’d pick the latter. Let’s see if I’m right.